As law enforcement professionals continue to navigate what might be the most challenging time in modern-day policing, I think back to one of my early experiences as a young police officer. I responded to a domestic dispute call between an elderly couple.
The door opened and I was met by the husband who asked, “Are you old enough to be a police officer? I want someone older.” His words made me realize that police credibility wasn’t instant because I wore a uniform and carried a badge. It was at that moment in my career I realized that credibility is based on how officers conduct themselves in all circumstances, how they treat others and how well they verbally communicate that supports the quality of being trusted and believed in.
Modern day culture emphasis a need for mutual understanding, mutual respect, error-free policies, tactics and behavior on the part of the police. At the beginning of every police officer’s career, they are required to take a solemn oath of public service. Soon after, police officers are subjected to some of the most dangerous scenarios the environment has to offer, are exposed to some of the most depressing human conditions that are created by society (extreme cases of human abuse), routinely have their veracity questioned and they walk out of their homes not knowing whether they will return to their loved ones at the end of their shift. They must make split-second decisions that other professions have the luxury of taking hours, days and even weeks to determine. To top it off, they work in a culture where waiting isn’t always an option or acceptable, and where perfection is a constant expectation.
There is no disputing that time itself affects everything. Time on the job impacts every police officer’s opinion, skills set and perspective. It dictates the proactivity or reactivity of a police agency’s service. It influences behavior that impacts the development of an agency’s culture, and it can make a difference during a life-and-death situation. So, imagine that in an 8-, 10- or 12-hour shift, police officers might be subjected to a death of a fellow human, the severe abuse of an innocent child, a physical confrontation with a raging drug addict — and all in a day’s work. Yet we demand that they be free of error, function with complete perfection, and then disconnect and recharge in just a few hours before they go back to do it all over again the next day.
Why is it so important for police to connect with their community? The answer is simple: perspective, balance and proper mental preparation. It’s no secret that police officers are working in what is likely the most volatile societies in history. The thought of being humiliated or sanctioned for even the slightest of errors can be daunting in a profession that emphasizes being proactive but professional in everything you do.
However, much of the fear and anxiety that comes with policing is reduced or eliminated when there is a mutually supported effort in relationship building between the community and police. We know that often this requires one side or both to step outside their comfort zone. But when you consider the mutual benefits of having a strong police-community connection, the possibilities for a community are endless.
These are a few things I’ve learned over the course of my career in public service. Thank you to everyone who contributes, has contributed, and will contribute to the improvement of our communities.