I was talking with one of our gym staff about how we train and reward officers for being hunters. He said we develop a mentality of “anything to get the bad guy; constantly on the hunt,” that leads to acting with impunity and recklessness.
A lot of officers feel that helping is not “real” policing. That it’s an intrusion or not worth their time because it interferes with locking up bad guys. Arrests are often what garners acceptance and recognition from peers and bosses and every once in a while, the public. For a few, it is simply fun to mess with people because we can, it feels good in the moment, and nobody stops us. According to Dr. Neal Trautman of the National Institute of Ethics, every major police scandal involves bosses ignoring, and often rewarding, violation of citizens’ rights because aggressive hunters bring in “extraordinary” arrests.
If police agencies reward hunters and ignore or ridicule officers who help people, what message does that send? What does your agency reward and punish? A sergeant I interviewed said, “We reward people for doing the craziest s–t ever!” He cited several officers who received awards for reckless behavior that violated department policies. Officers receiving these awards are held up as brave. What message is being sent?
Aristotle’s Golden Mean says that the virtue of courage has two sides: lack of courage is cowardice, and excess of it is recklessness. The proper action, the Golden Mean, rates the action as having the right amount of the virtue. Too much or too little is not good.
I retired with about fifty department awards, most gained in my young, reckless and stupid days, and not one was for helping. Citizens, on the other hand, recognized my service because more than fifty of them wrote letters of commendation that made it to my personnel folder. When talking with officers, many say that helping takes time they don’t have because jobs are waiting. Bosses get on your case for taking too long, particularly if no cars are available. They even say, “That’s bullsh-t, do some real police work.”
In a neglect case I had with a six-year old and his two-year old sister for whom he was caring, a watch commander reamed me for taking too long trying to route the children properly. He said, “The kids are already screwed, you aren’t going to make a difference.” I responded, “Do what you want, I am not going to screw them while I have charge.” The next day he told me that I was right. He was under pressure because of manpower shortages. A good man; he needed to be reminded.
Helping in the form of service and protection is our purpose, yet it is uncommon. In classes I have posed this question. How many here have had a family member stopped by the police and that person was treated rudely until they made known they were related to a police officer? Half the class typically raises their hands. The question that follows is: was your family member treated differently once the officer knew they were related to a LEO? The answer is mostly “yes” with an occasional respondent saying, “No, he still persisted in being an (insert expletive here).” It seems that some officers see citizens as the powerless (THEM) and respect is unnecessary, but dealing with one of US, a police family member, respect is due.
Power is at the root of this. Law enforcement has tremendous power and it tends to be handled poorly. PercyBysshe Shelley said, “Power, like a desolatingpestilence, pollutes whatever it touches.” I think he was right. What makes this so terrible is that most join law enforcement because they want to help make a difference.
Upon leaving the academy they are more interested in hunting than helping. In doing so, the first few years are terrific, exciting, fun! Many say, “I can’t believe they’re paying me for doing this sh-t!” Somewhere between years five and ten, the same officers are saying, “This job SUCKS!” What happened? Does the job change? No, same circus, different clowns. Tell me this negative view does not bleed into an officer’s family life.
There are laws that govern human behavior that are incontrovertible and as Winston Churchill once said of truth, “…ignorance may attack it, malice may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” One of the incontrovertible laws is, “You cannot help another without helping yourself.”
What’s important is how officers view their purpose. Are they focused on helping people, applying the help-others/help-selflaw? Or are they focused on hunting because it is fun, exciting, garners recognition, awards and moves one up the agency’s ladder? If they view themselves as a helper first (as they should), it is likely that that arrests will come in abundance. However, if they focus solely on hunting, selfishness is the motivating factor rather than generosity.
Dr. Jonathan Shay is a doctor and clinical psychiatrist specializing in counseling Viet Nam veterans with Post Traumatic Stress. In his book, “Achilles in Vietnam” he says the three main cause of PTS are:
- Exposure to trauma,
- Betrayal by leadership and
- Dehumanizing people, typically those seen as the enemy.
Law enforcers are certainly exposed to trauma. Ask officers in your agency if they feel betrayed by leadership. The words officers use in conversations with one another to describe those they supposedly serve are typically negative and foul. Isn’t that dehumanization?
I am not saying officers who say, “This job SUCKS!” are suffering from PTS. Breaking the “help-others/help-self” law because using power is fun or seeking acceptance and recognition from bosses and peers has consequences that take years to manifest themselves as self-disgust. Subconsciously, we know the purpose of police is to help people, not hunt them. This causes disharmony; a guilty conscious needs no accuser.
“This job SUCKS!” translates to, “I do not like the way I am behaving, but don’t know how, or refuse to change.” We become disgusted with ourselves as we move further away from who weoughtto be.
Been there, done it; tell me I am wrong.
I realize that some law enforcement leaders set a tone and agenda that rewards helpers as much as hunters, but I believe they are the exception. Which is the case in your agency?