Courage: It’s More Than You Think

“The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty; from the Latin “cor “– heart.*

Courage, of course, is what every police officer wants and aspires. Without it, a police officer cannot do his or her duties and will not be accepted by others in the ranks.

But what is often forgotten is that courage is more than running toward gunshots while everyone else runs away from them — and it is more than checking out a dark building on an even-darker night. Yes, courage is physical bravery, but courage is also five other actions in the face of danger that are just as important for a 21st century police officer.

  • The courage to follow your heart.
  • To persevere the face of adversity.
  • To stand up for what is right.
  • To expand your horizons by letting go of what is safe and familiar.
  • To face suffering with dignity and faith.

Each of these actions demand courage. And that courage comes from inside your heart; the place that holds your core values. It is nurturing a well-developed heart that has thought through in advance about what to do when others around you are doing wrong, how you are going to pursue personal growth in a place that sees it as unimportant, and being able to always treat others with dignity and respect. [From Psychology Today.]

Michael Nila, a retired police commander from Aurora, Illinois, was a principle developer of the popular program which is traversing the country today called “Blue Courage.”

Nila and his team define Blue Courage as “a transformational process focused on the human development of a police officer. It draws on relevant, proven literature and research on human effectiveness, positive psychology, leadership development and neuroscience. The goal is personal and cultural transformation through institutionalizing the heartset, mindset, skillset and toolset of our police officers.”

Blue Courage is about developing character and the courage it takes to act on one’s core values – respect for life, treating others with dignity and respect, making fair decisions, being honest, and ascribing at all times to the rule of law. Blue Courage explores all six of the types of courage. (You can find out more about this program HERE.)

I sense that courage is perhaps more important today than it ever has been in policing. In the past, lapses were not caught on video. But today, the eyes of our nation have been on their police and questions are being asked. What millions of Americans have seen on both official and unofficial video has become personal.

To regain the trust and respect that police have enjoyed for many years is going to take highly courageous police officers and their leaders; men and women who will speak out and act when their colleagues are about to do something wrong (peer intervention), commit to honesty in all matters (“I will not lie for you,” and committing to transparency and integrity at all times.

When trust of our police officers increases, everyone will benefit. But building trust is no easy task; especially between police and communities of color. What it will take is two important (and courageous) steps:

  1. Provide an opportunity for every person who gets arrested to give feedback on how they were treated both during the arrest and the jail process. This will give police data on how they are doing and highlight areas in need of improvement.
  2. The next step is to take a random sample of every person who has had a police contact. This will provide even more important data.

Foolish? Impossible? Not so. Many years ago, I did this in Madison, Wisconsin. I didn’t survey everyone but randomly selected every 50th police contact the department had and sent a personal letter asking for citizen input on a self-addressed form. It was highly successful. We had a 30% return rate and, most importantly, it showed over the years that we were committed to “continuous improvement” and indicated to me what I needed to work on.

Prior to doing this, I had the support of my officers. I pledged that nothing I obtained from what we called our “customer survey” would be used for discipline. The citizen receiving my letter was told that there was another mechanism (Internal Affairs) that they could use to make a complaint — but this survey was to improve our service, not to catch cops! (This is because I came to believe, thanks to Dr. Deming, that if employees were making mistakes, the first thing to do was to improve the SYSTEM, not focus on disciplining individual officers.)

Today, savvy police can use on-line survey methods like Survey Monkey to develop their own data base and provide incentives (A free weekly bus pass? A fast-food meal? A drawing?) to incentivize the feedback process. (I would also recommend taking a look at what is being done at, my blog on the subject, and Dr. Deming’s work on improving systems before blaming people!)

One of the problems today is that there is a lot of “sound and fury” around the topic of police trust. Police leaders say they are working on it. They know it is important for their officers to be trusted and supported – but what doesn’t happen is data collection — leaders really don’t know how they are doing or how a particular approach is working. So they cannot speak of whether public trust is  up or down, stagnant or improving.

Most certainly, public trust of police is a vital and essential aspect of our democracy. And recent polls have shown that among certain members of our society, trust is at an all-time low. Now is the time to some implement creative solutions and analyze their effectiveness!

As they say in the world of customer service, if you want to know how you are doing ask those people who receive your product or service.

And that always takes great courage!

*Merriam-Webster Dictionary.


  1. There seems to be a problem with analyzing data after you collect it in this country and not only coming up with solutions but having the courage to implement and see that they last for a long time on a sustainable basis. The only people I see who gather, analyze, making recommendations, and carry them out are corporations, right-wing think tanks, and the Republican Party.


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