Being an (Uncomfortable) Prophet

“Prophets are respected everywhere except in their own hometown and by their relatives and their family” — Jesus of Nazareth.


imagesIt’s true, isn’t it? Except in policing it’s not only in one’s hometown or by relatives and family, it can be among almost all police across the nation.

It’s not easy being a police critic (I’ll call it being an honest “helper”). Critics express unfavorable opinions — and it often doesn’t matter if what they are saying is  helpful.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Few of us appreciate the unfavorable opinions of others; even when they come from people with experience; even those who have served and now are suggesting there might be ways to do things. An effective critic, however, is one who not only criticizes, but identifies a problem and offers a creative solution.

As a critic or helper, I am doing what police simply cannot do on a day to day basis — that is being able to consider the big picture of what’s happening across the nation. When I was a chief, I spent most of my time putting out fires, managing internal conflicts and discipline, along with struggling with elected officials, community leaders, and the press trying to explain )and defend) what we were doing. What I didn’t have time for was to step back, reflect, and think about ways in which we could do an even better job and, most importantly, be supported and trusted by more people in our community.

No one urged me to be an informed voice on matters of police, the same kind of passion I had when I wore a badge continued on into my retirement — I care about police.

But when someone offers to help and what that person is suggesting challenges the status quo, the full force of the subculture comes down upon that person and suddenly he or she is no longer a welcome member of the police club. It’s just the way it is, they way it’s always been.

So, if you, as a senior retired officer, want to make improvement suggestions, you must be prepared for a major pushback. It’s uncomfortable. You will be ignored (seldom will you get thoughtful responses to your suggestions). You will be overlooked, not invited to police events and no longer considered to be part of the brethren; the “community of police.” You will, in effect, be shunned because you violated the code.

I have recently been thinking about the continually and current discussion surrounding “warrior-guardian” roles in policing. I think there is more to this than has met the eye or the ear. We all know that police cannot be solely one or the other. It’s a matter of proportionality. How much of the time do you, as a police officer, work in a “warrior” mode versus that of a “guardian?” On most days, being a guardian is 90+% of what you do. But you also have to have warrior skills in reserve.

Let’s look at the “guardian” role. In it rests two important behavioral choices — two methods of policing. How one guards is very crucial to this discussion.

The first method is to get the job done as quick as possible and the person using this method does this by being authoritative and coercive (and, ultimately, imposing fear on others).

Officers using this method believe that to be effective they need to be totally, and at all times, in control. This is accomplished by having a “command presence” and voice. These officers further believe that compliance to an order or request is based on the receiver understanding very quickly that something bad will happen if they do not comply with the order or request. It is fear-based and coercive. It is also very short-term thinking and detrimental to building trust and relationships.

Officers using the second method get the job done by being courteous and respectful. They use this approach because they believe respect comes by treating others fairly and respectfully (remember the Golden Rule?). These officers are committed to practicing what is called Procedural Justice; that is, they listen to others, treat them with dignity, and are helpful and fair in their decisions.

Do police sometimes have to get coercive and impose fear on others? Yes. But when and how they do it is the point here. (And here’s where Emotional Intelligence comes into play; the ability to regulate one’s emotions (especially fear and anger), and being self-aware. The good news is that contrary to our I.Q., Emotional Intelligence can be significantly improved through learning what it is, why it is important in relationships, and practicing it.

I grew up policing the street in the 1960s. In the mid-60s, I had to make a decision and it was a very personal one. If I was to return home safe after work, I had to understand what was going on around me (the anger and hostility of the civil rights and anti-war movements) and not to take it personal or be overly defensive. I knew I had to improve my E.Q! I listened to those who were criticizing me and my fellow officers. I came to learn that I needed to change my approach to others. And what worked for me was being respectful, controlled in my use of force and coercion (including the speech I used) and treating all people fairly.

I admit that at first it was a survival mode. Years later, this approach was empirically affirmed by the work of Prof. Tom Tyler at Yale University (see this video and book).

I carried my learning into my time as a detective. I found that one can “capture more bears with honey than a stick.” Suspects are often lonely when they were in jail. And when I listened to them, was respectful, and made fair decisions concerning them, I received cooperation, information, and solved a lot of crimes.

Good policing then and today involves using the second method. These practices helped me as a police officer, detective, and leader (police officers, as well as other community members, appreciate the use of Procedural Justice by those who have fate control over them). They don’t appreciate being led by men and women who do not listen, disrespect them, use coercion to carry out their orders, make poor decisions affecting them, and are not helpful to them.

This learning is not rocket-science. It goes back to our earliest value-training; e.i., the Golden Rule). But it does challenge a certain type of police method and behavior that should have been left back in the 1930s when it was first identified by the Wickersham Commission  as improper and illegal:

“In the desperate effort to compel obedience to law, experience has shown that those charged with the high function of enforcing the law sometimes stoop to attain their ends by means as illegal as the acts they seek to punish or suppress.”

images-1Smart cops do not act this way. They do not use coercion because they have come to understand it is ineffective in either dealing with community members or leading police officers and they do not act illegally because their job is to honor the law and what it requires from all of us.

What do you think? If you are a police officer, what kind of Guardian are you?


  1. Been away resting… read your post and you are right on when you say a Profit is not respected… When you want change for the better you will be met with resentment. Jeremiah & Jesus only wanted the well being of the people in Israel and for that they hated them. It’s no difference today than back then.

    It’s based all in the condition of the Soul=The Mind, The Will and the Emotions.
    If you have a Good person he will on a better average day make good decisions and if you are an evil person on a better than average day you will make bad decisions.

    A cadet was interviewed a month before I was shot. He was called in and started the day after I was shot, on June 2, 1981. He had a wife and children and was very concerned that he excepted to work and been hired to work from a new graduate of the Charlottetown police Academy in Prince Edwards Island. So the first thing he did was hit the street to find out what kind of police officer I was. He thought I must of been the worst police officer and that’s why I was setup and shot 5 times. He told me he approached the rich, the middle class and the poor and what he was told surprised him. He was told I was the fairest one on that police force. So who was behind the assassination attempt? I will leave that decisions to you to make as the evidence of the crime was destroyed 5 months after it was committed and remains unsolved.

    The journey starts with the 5 senses or a thought (good or bad)
    When you except it and/or give into it, it goes in to the heart.
    From the heart you make a choice, that’s the will, I’m going to do Good or Bad

    The uniform does not make the man/woman it’s the other way around.
    Frank Serpico from New York city said it best.
    There is no such think as a croquet police officer, what you have is a crook in a police uniform. He was a prophet discerning the times and for his concern he was also shot.

    A good person will always want to do good… thanks for your commitment to this cause.


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