I’m writing this article in response to an unethical interaction I’ve recently encountered involving a police officer. After leaving the police department in 2008 and becoming an inner-city teacher, I felt compelled to write my memoir, Service, in hopes of bridging this terrible divide between citizens and police. As a teacher and as a citizen without a uniform, I have learned an ugly truth: people hate cops, and some of these people have guns they aren’t afraid to use.
As a former police officer, my training tells me that with this knowledge, I need to have my “head on a swivel” and I should “always be aware of my surroundings.” Stay alert, stay alive, because it is “better to be judged by 12 than to be carried by 6.” I know this. I understand this. I have lived this mindset. But it is this mindset, in my opinion, that is leading to the targeted assassination of our brother and sister officers. It is this understanding that has driven me to try to warn anyone that is willing to listen about this threat.
As a former counterintelligence agent for the army, I saw the way extremists would manipulate media footage, images, statements, and personal accounts so that the youth would grow up believing Americans were the most evil people in the world. This propaganda, some of which had merit, was ultimately used to recruit fighters to kill US soldiers. What I am seeing in America among the “revolutionaries” is no different. Everything you do is scrutinized. It no longer matters if you were justified – what matters is the perception of your justification in the eyes of the public. I mentioned this in my book, on my Changecasts, and in several articles I have written just prior to the targeted assassinations of uniformed officers.
It’s time to make a drastic change to some of your approaches and tactics. Officer safety is still of the utmost importance, but once that is established you need to scale it back. As an intel agent and a cop, I always treated people as if they may one day be in a position to provide me with valuable information – or as if they may one day be hiding in the shadows with a weapon. I believed that if I made a positive impact with mutual respect, they would think twice about pulling that trigger. I encourage all of you to do the same.
It’s time to think strategic and plan for the future. We need to go beyond our street-level tactics and create more allies by building a trusting community instead of giving citizens more reason to hate. Violence brings more violence, and makes the uniform a walking target. Below are some suggestions that can be easily implemented. Remember that you are professionals, and your job is to interact with people when they are at their worst – not to fight them, but to help them. Sometimes what is needed is force. But sometimes what is needed is compassion.
1. Be Polite
Too often, my students have complained that police officers don’t even say hello to them. They simply roll up and shout at them to leave an area. At an early age, their mistrust and hatred for cops is reinforced by such interactions. Take a day and watch your Community Services Officers in action. I bet that in most areas, they have a calmer approach and meet less confrontation.
2. Use Your Discretion Wisely
Discretion is a powerful tool for officers. Use it to issue LESS tickets. When you are issuing a citation, ask yourself why. Is it to bring about the balance of justice, or is it to provide an attitude adjustment to someone who is having a really bad day and your traffic stop sent them over the edge? If you find yourself writing citations to meet a quota or to beat your best score, you need to take a long hard look at your chosen profession and recognize that your actions are a direct contribution to the growing violence against our brother and sister officers.
3. Minimize Your Arrests
Is an arrest always the best option? Sometimes a brief conversation with a warning can create a valuable resource to provide you with intel and early warnings. Ask yourself what impact an arrest is going to have not just in the short-term, but also in the long term. Does that punishment fit the crime? I often found myself worried that my arrest based on someone’s carelessness or stupid mistake would cost them job opportunities, relationships, or create unnecessary financial burdens that impacted their families and children. I worried that my arrest would inspire future crimes. I’m not saying arrests aren’t necessary – but I am saying that some of them are. Take some time and do some research into the prison industrial complex and the money they make off of the cells you fill. Look into the correlation between the decline in education and the increase in prison populations. Are you contributing to the problem, or are you part of the solution?
4.Call in Community Resources
Become aware of mental health, family counseling, crisis intervention, financial support, homeless shelter, and other community-based organizations. Sometimes advising someone that you are going to connect them with a resource is all you need to deescalate a situation. Once someone realizes you are trying to help you may be deescalating a situation that could have turned violent and even deadly. Add this approach and tactic to your bag of tricks and you will find your violent encounters decrease.
5. Speak Up!
As a police officer, one of the greatest bonds of love I ever experienced was the night my partner and I were taking a beating. He ended up with an almost career-ending back injury as we wrestled with a suspect high on cocaine. A large crowd formed around us comprised of family and friends of the suspect. I made one call for help, and officers came from everywhere. People I didn’t know risked their lives to come save mine, and it is a debt I will never be able to repay – but will always continue to try. We risk our lives for one another in the heat of battle, yet we are afraid to speak up when one of our brothers or sisters is just a plain old ass-hole. We are willing to die for one another, yet we aren’t willing to address those officers who give our departments a bad name. It is these officers who are clogging the social-media feeds. It is these officers who are making unnecessary arrests and stops, yet we do nothing about it because they stand behind the same badge we wear. They are the ones who are ruining OUR future. They make your job harder. They are the reason citizens are challenging your authority which sometimes results in the murder of our brothers! Address the problem now, and save the lives of not just our brother and sister officers – but also the members of our own communities.
6. Remember Why You Became a Cop
Why did you become a police officer? Was it to help people? Was it to be a member of the fraternity that stood for defending the American Constitution, its people, and our way of life? Or did you join because you like to get in fights, wear a uniform with shiny buttons, and drive really fast? Remember your oath, and remember people are depending on you. It is time to start thinking beyond the tactical and begin thinking strategically. It’s not as exciting and its not as dramatic – but I’d rather give up some of the excitement of the job than attend another officer’s funeral. Traditionally, police have been a reactive force. It’s time to do something proactive and rebuild the communities trust in your ability to do your job. It can all start with a smile. It can all start with you.
If you have taken the time to read this entire article, I thank you. When I published my book in 2013, my hope was that it would inspire healthy dialogue that would lead to change and prevent all of this violence and talk of revolution that plagues our society. Unfortunately, my book did not get into the right hands or did not get into as many hands as I had hoped. But whether you are a cop or a citizen aiming for reform, I encourage you to read it. It may just give you an alternative perspective on the society in which we reside. Such a new perspective may give you the tools you need to bring about change. Stay safe my friends.