In an interesting turn of events, after writing for the law enforcement community for over 20 years now and having spent 10 of those years running an editorial team, I received my first ever, “your writing is offensive and you should resign,” email. It came from a Sergeant serving on a major metropolitan police department and he clearly stated that he understood my opinion was my opinion and he didn’t have to agree with it. Then he stated his opinion: my opinion is offensive and I should resign. It was a very brief email and I DID reply both thanking him for taking the time to send it and to ask for clarification on exactly what part of THIS BLOG entry he found offensive.
Without identifying the man I did a screen capture of the email and shared it on my personal Facebook page. Please understand, as I said in my reply email to the Sergeant, this bothers me a lot. I couldn’t care less if someone holds a different opinion than I do. In fact, I love it when we can discuss those different outlooks; it’s how I get to learn things and/or validate my own outlook. What bothered me was that I said something so unacceptable to a brother officer that he’d be offended and call for my resignation. I’ve only gotten that response from one other person in my 36+ year career as a police officer so far.
As I pondered the piece I wrote, the Sergeant’s response, and the events that occurred at the Starbucks in Tempe, AZ on the Fourth of July, I came to a realization: how you view the actions of the barista depends entirely on your ability to consider a wider variety of circumstances and attempt to see another perspective. Without dissecting the barista’s actions in requesting the officers to leave the establishment, let’s take a look at the various reactions we can have to those actions.
Anger & Offense: Yep, we all get that surge. How DARE that barista ask US to leave? First off, we’re doing nothing wrong. Second, we’re customers like everyone else. Third, they NEED us there if a problem arises and they sure expect us to show up in a timely fashion! Fourth, SO WHAT if ONE other customer is made uncomfortable by our presence. That’s not our problem. That’s the customer’s problem. Finally, there are several of us and only one of that customer. Why would you risk losing our business to save the business of that one individual? Yep, anger. What the actual f*ck is going on here!?!?!
Coldly professional: Some officers have embraced this outlook. I’m on the job. I’m in uniform. Lots of things that get said or done are not personal and I shouldn’t let them bother me at all. My actions should serve to either maintain peace or de-escalate ugly situations if possible. This isn’t a criminal scenario. Someone doesn’t like me. I couldn’t give a sh*t less. Yep, I got my coffee. Me and my boys are headed out. Have a good day. This outlook takes a few years on the job to develop and requires a developed level of self-assurance. Some people (in general) and officers (in particular) never master this (yours truly is guilty). If you think about it, though, it does help reduce the stress of the job if you can quit caring what total strangers have to say (unless it’s threatening and you’d better pay attention).
Empathetic: At least one of the officers reportedly knew the barista due to repeated visits to the shop. We don’t know the nature of their interactions or the depth of any friendship they might have had. If the barista came to that one officer with the request that he and his fellow officers leave the establishment because their presence was making another customer uncomfortable, it’s entirely possible that the officer would understand, want to be helpful to his friend the barista, and impose upon his fellow officers to leave with him. No hurt feelings. No insults. No anger. Just an understanding of the position the barista is in.
Sarcastic Justice: This is my favorite and probably the one I’d embrace. It deeply concerns me that any citizen is so afraid of the police that the mere presence of a uniform makes them uncomfortable. I like that reality though. It adds credence to the listing of “Uniformed Presence” on so many Use of Force guides back in the day. So now here I am, friendly, relaxed, hanging with my buddies - all of us in uniform - and some poor citizen is made uncomfortable by our presence? They obviously don’t understand us or appreciate us and it’s my civic duty to help them. I view it as part of my professionally required job performance to communicate with this citizen with the goal of helping them to understand that I’m just a man doing a job and getting through my day... much like them. I would ask the barista to point out the customer so that I could politely approach, introduce myself, get their name, inquire as to the source of their discomfort and see what I could do to alleviate it. I’m pretty sure one of the officers I’m with will make note of the citizen’s name and if their words or body language cause any safety concerns, someone will check to make sure there aren’t any open warrants for them. If there are, then we have to do our duty and serve the warrant. If there aren’t, then don’t we have a legitimate interest in alleviating their concerns? Doesn’t it behoove us, and benefit all officers everywhere, if we can actually have a discussion with them that alters their perception of law enforcement to the better?
Now, of the four, each of us has to pick a response. The challenge is this: We can’t start out angry and offended and jump into checking for warrants. That’s abusing the power we are supposed to carry responsibly. We can’t start out coldly professional and then jump into being empathetic with anyone. The two don’t go hand in hand. Embracing a lack of emotional response and then depending on your ability to understand emotional response just doesn’t mesh.
I’m willing to bet, and this is no criticism toward the younger officers, that the veterans reading this would embrace that last approach. On the one hand, it feels kind of “social worker”ish. On the other hand... you either bag a bad guy OR you make a positive impact (or at least try to) on how a non-criminal citizen (you know, those people we’re supposed to serve and protect?) views the police.
Thoughts? I’ll stand by for some more emails telling me I should resign because my opinion is offensive. Send them to.