One cannot watch the evening news, pick up a paper or have a casual conversation without somebody questioning or bashing law enforcement. I think it is time we as law enforcement leaders stop and gather our thoughts, then lead and not cower down. These are perilous times and call for real leaders, not pretenders.
The New Era
Granted, law enforcement has been through its eras and the transitions that come with each change. Old School has had to adapt or move on. The “Professional Era” of the late 70’s was demonized by the social unrest of the era and all of the anti-war peace movements. In the 80’s, it was discovered that law enforcement was disconnected from its service populations and we were asked to fill several social gaps, henceforth “Community Orientated Policing” (COP) was launched. A sidebar and to me the greatest benefit of this era was the “Problem Orientated Policing” (POP) where the officers were allowed to participate with the problem recognition and solution process of developing a better methodology for handling issues and problems. The POP era was for me the greatest moment, where we proved that we could do better and did so.
Then came the “Comp-stat” era or data driven policing. This often led to the “Intelligence Lead Policing” concepts and both have their strong points. I am a Comp-stat disciple, and have used its data products for measurable goals to sustain crime fighting initiatives within my departments. Careful use of it products will aid a chief or sheriff in budget defenses, seeking grants and proving departmental effectiveness. There are as many variations of this model out there and no one size fits all model, so adapt to your needs.
Now, without a formal title, we are entering into a technological era of policing. We have more computers, cameras, and electronic devices for crime solving than Dick Tracey ever dreamed of. Granted we have used technology to our advantage but have become so attached to it, now we are nearly disabled by it. Recently, I had an officer say that a car could not be used for patrol for the mobile data station was down. I know, I am “old school” where my first cars had only one switch for the lights, a siren box and radio with an off/on volume knob and four channels to pick from. Alas, I pine for the good old days again, a lot simpler and way cheaper to outfit.
Today’s Media Driven Response – The New Era?
I am not going to even start on the past year’s episodes with law enforcement, various movements and the media. You all live it every day and do not need another to weigh in on who is right or what is wrong. The biggest thing is that the media overwhelms their customers with unfettered power. They can dictated who we vote for by their interpretations of the news and candidates. They tell us where and what to eat (advertising), what to wear (fashion reports), how to raise our kids (educational programs) and so forth. They are the most powerful monster out there and only self-policed at best. They are an unharnessed beast that stalks law enforcement. Why so? The prime hunting season of cops is their rating season. How many times have you heard “if it bleeds - it leads” and most every breaking story is “Fuzz and Was” (Cops and dead people). This misery sells and getting the story makes the ratings.
Our New Directions
When I was in the military we always had ‘safety briefings’. Why you ask, we had young soldiers who needed friendly reminders not to do stupid or unsafe acts. Today, most lesson plans for police training always and better have a safety statement. We use equipment and perform tasks that have a peril attached.
When did you give yourself a safety briefing? Looked into the mirror and told yourself to keep within due bounds? I am talking to leaders here, for if you can’t lead by example, do not expect your officers to follow you. Set a positive example at all times. What worries me is when there are leaders that throw their officers under the bus that the media is driving. You are paid the big bucks to lead, so stand there and take the heat. I have grown so weary of chiefs and sheriffs that are throwing their officers to the political wolves.
We know that the entire world is watching us. Everybody has got a camera phone and seemingly an agenda. You don’t go out on the town without a wingman, battle buddy or a handler. Remind your staff as a part of the safety briefing not only to be tactically safe and sound, but not to become a lead story for some unsavory reporter. Not because of the things we legally do but the stupid stuff that is avoidable. With the move of entire shift taping with body cameras and public right to know, I know this will be another chapter in the book titled ‘Why Oh Why, Did I Do This’?
We don’t stress common sense like we should. You see, when one officer has an issue, it is not a local issue but a possible pending national issue if unchecked. We are under immense public scrutiny now, more so than ever. Our personal professionalism counts more than it ever has. Be the one that does not create the next breaking news. It is going to be difficult I know, we all slip now and then. Everyone is now that safety officer or wingman. Law enforcement will survive this, I know we will. We have risen above the fray many times in the past, and we collectively will do this again. One of my favorite lyrics from a Robert Earl Keen song is “the road goes on forever and the party never ends”. As much as some movements or groups seem to think that they can do without the police, they are wrong. We will be there for those who support us and those who hate us, it is what we do. We serve and protect without hesitation or reservation. So we will get by this and enter into the next era proudly, the road never ends.