The storm of hate is upon us. People hate the police, but not because of the uniform. It isn’t even for the occasional use of force, even deadly force, involved during the millions of contacts cops make each year. No, the reason they hate the police is our attitude. Not all of us, but a small percentage of badge wearing, gun carrying, sworn protectors and servants of the law. We are to blame.
It wasn’t always this way in my career. For a few short years after 9/11 we enjoyed an appreciation, maybe even admiration, from the public we served. Maybe it was because we had shared a national tragedy and were viewed as heroes for running into the face of certain death. I believe it was for another reason. Attitude. We, collectively, had a good one.
Now I know some folks first reaction is to flip me the bird, or utter an emphatic “F-bomb.” I spent over 30 years in the law enforcement field – 26 years sworn, three years as a civilian investigator working human trafficking cases and four years as a prosecutor. I know a little about what I am sharing. We are our own worst enemy. And it all begins with our attitudes.
I bet when you were asked, “Why do you want to be a police officer?” your response was somewhat along the lines of, “I want to help people.” You had an ideal, not idea, of the job and the impact you could have on your community. Your attitudes reflected this idealism and enthusiasm for giving back, protecting and serving. Then reality collided with your idealism over the first three years of your career.
Slowly, but without a doubt, you slipped from idealism into disillusionment. People didn’t appreciate you any more. The media attacked you, for something another cop did. Your family didn’t understand your midnight job and missing times with the kids. Supervisors and command staff were too far removed from being real cops to have your back when you needed it. It is Us vs. Them. And your attitude reflected this change in how the job was supposed to be and shaped the new you.
So what is attitude? We all know when we see it. Right? But what is it really. Clearly defined, so we can get a handle on changing bad ones and improving on good ones? Attitude is a settled way of thinking that is typically displayed in behaviors. Example, gang bangers killing gang bangers is not really all that bad. Attitudes shape actions. You stop caring about gang infested areas or gang related homicides, even if it is an innocent bystander shot or killed.
Repeated actions become habits. And habits become the culture. Culture is the accepted and expected way to think, talk and act within a defined group. So from attitudes grow cultures. And the prevailing attitude amongst cops is Us vs. Them. So we think, talk and act that way. People can’t read our minds, but they can see our actions. And they don’t like what they see. In fact, some hate what they see, and act according to that hatred. And they are wrong.
So what is the answer? Is there even an answer? What if I change but others won’t? I’m not going to hug a thug everyday. You can KMA, it’s not my problem. And there is the answer – attitude. You have a voice. You, not someone else can do something. Yes, you can lead.
True leaders know how to win hearts first, then minds. Leaders know respect is more important than authority. Genuine leaders know they can achieve more with others than alone. Leaders know when to ask and when to tell. Real leaders know it is never about themselves. Leaders know it is always about others. Leaders know leadership is nothing more than influence. Yeah, right?
In 2008 Dayton, Ohio was faced with an epidemic of group member involved homicides – “gangsters” killing other gangsters or innocents. About 40 percent of our homicides were gang related. It had to stop and the police department was taking the lead. How did we answer the challenge? Attitude.
First we met with community leaders, faith based groups and social service agencies. The gang homicides were not just a police problem—the prevailing attitude of the law-abiding community. It was a community problem, that required a community solution. We all had to be on the same page with the same attitude—the killings MUST stop. We gained that mindset.
Next, change the attitude of the gang members. Especially the ones on parole or probation for felonies. Our attitude changing message: your group drops a body, we are coming after you by any and all legal means to revocate your probation or parole. We reduced gang homicides by 64 percent in two years. No new money, no more cops, no specialized unit—just a change in the community/police attitude and working together.
So, you have a voice. The question remains, what are you going to say? Are you willing to take the leadership challenge, even when some of those you work with and for might ridicule you?
Are you willing to challenge, encourage and support other cops and citizens to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way and for the right reasons? Moreover, are you ready to stop talking about the problem and start acting like a leader? Furthermore, are you ready to change attitudes—yours and others?
Every life matters, starting with yours. What are you going to do with it? Someone out there is counting on you. Hate is no longer an acceptable casualty of being a Warrior, Servant and Leader for your agency and your community. What are you going to do about it?