A beautiful Monday morning finds me reflecting on a career in law enforcement, a profession I knew nothing about until I put the uniform on and hit the road. I walked away from the profession with mixed feelings, primarily as a result of the inevitable shifting of focus from the road and street, where a difference is really made, to the office where your attention is diverted to survival in the management ranks. I just watched a video clip of a state police officer as he went off the air for the last time and it reminded me of the incredible contribution that officers make to the American way of life every day they work. He was a working officer and retired from the same place he began, thirty inches off the ground and twenty four inches behind the windshield. God bless him.
I was blessed and cursed in my career. The blessings were rich and the rewards great when I came on the air in my driveway and turned my attention to providing that razor’s edge between what was clearly right and clearly wrong in my zone. The blessings continued during my years as a field supervisor, providing structure to working schedules and supporting my guys as they delivered a police response. A field supervisor in most State Police organizations is a working proposition. You are on the road with your officers, which serves to keep you firmly in touch with the realities of the job, sharing the elation when a remarkable difference is made and the crushing sadness when rules are broken and death comes calling. When I look back, I was blessed to work with bright, energetic officers who were deeply committed to excellence in a science where excellence goes unnoticed by the folks we serve.
My blessings continued when I was given a field command. The troop that I was handed the reigns to was a mature, settled and capable troop in a conservative corner of the state. These guys were good, amazing me every day with their ability, energy and sense of service. I was jealous. The Colonel, my boss, gave me clear direction when he sent me to this assignment. He told me that when he called, needing something, he did not expect me to answer the phone from headquarters. Instead, he admonished, he would find me where ever I was in the field, as that was where good commanders belonged. I took his advice, showing up at odd hours in the field, working DWI checkpoints at midnight and visiting with my officers for coffee when they least expected it. I was constantly amazed at the quality and quantity of service these guys delivered. I was able to stay in my element, behind that windshield and just off the road surface in the seat of a patrol car.
I write today in response to the zany antics of various police commanders who are embarrassing their departments by bowing down to demonstrators and washing their feet. They are not the heart and soul of policing, rather their red faced officers are. In policing, when your emphasis shifts from lending dignity to undignified situations to the inevitable politics of senior management, you begin to lose focus on what really matters. These are brutal times for the men and women on the street. I suspect there are any number of good commanders still out there, but they are not getting the headlines. Instead the political wimps who will casually toss an officer under the bus with the first whiff of trouble are the peoples choice. There are two points that need to be made here.
The heart and soul of policing belongs to the men and women who are on the streets and roads, not to the commanders who are busy testing the political wind with a wet finger. Secondly, if you have not been in the business, your best course of action is to rely on those who have been for advice. I am, at once, sickened by the current assault on policing and deeply appreciative to have been associated with the men and women in my organization. Policing is not for the faint of heart, advice that applies equally to the folks in the field and the leadership behind them. The weaknesses I see in police leadership today, both internally and politically, make me nauseous…..
Have a great week.