We have all heard the expression, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” I always agreed with this statement. I figured it was the ultimate good advice for cops. Until I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
How often have we heard people bad mouth the police because of a story they heard on the news or from someone they know? Or, how many people spout off “I know my rights. You can’t….”? Our first thought or statement is, “Yeah, right, you don’t know jack buddy.”
So this bumper sticker got me to thinking. Of all the things civilians think about cops, how much of this information should they not believe? Probably a lot. We all don’t eat donuts, for one. I personally prefer bagels. Not all cops are jerks, but I’m sure there are a few among us.
But, there is more that people think about cops. Many think all cops are rude and lack compassion. I would venture to say that many people think all cops are racist, bigoted, and narrow minded.
That’s what they think and believe. My question, why do they think that? The short and simplistic answer is to blame the media. If it weren’t for the media running story after story of “cops gone bad” we wouldn’t have this reputation. Right? If you think this, don’t believe it.
That’s right, don’t believe everything you think. It’s not the media’s fault. Granted, they can slant stories or jump the gun, so to speak, with the “facts” without knowing all the facts. As a general rule, the media is just reporting what people will tell them. Who will tell them what jerks the cops were? The people who hate the cops.
But I digress a bit. The “cops gone bad” stories are usually sporadic. Few, but the worst, make national news. Even locally, you don’t hear that many horror stories about cops. Why, then, the seemingly overwhelming dislike of the police? Why do people think and believe we are all POS?
Keep your guns holstered. They think and believe these things because of how many cops think, believe, and act. That’s right, their thoughts and beliefs are a response to how many cops think, believe, and act. If someone has consistently good experiences with cops, they think positively about cops. Bad experiences, bad thoughts.
Do I believe most people have bad experiences with the police? Absolutely not! Can our demeanor, even unintentionally, give the public the impression we are rude, insensitive, and cold hearted? Absolutely yes. They think we are these things, but they should not believe it.
I was the Commander over the Investigations Bureau that included the Homicide Squad, Robbery Squad, Burglary Squad, Grand Theft Auto Squad, SVU and Misdemeanor Squad. We had great people doing hard, sometimes thankless, work.
When someone is the victim of a violent or property crime, their world is tossed upside down. To a cop, these crimes are routine, or at least ordinary. We have built in psychological self-defense mechanisms that keep us from getting in an uproar, even at the scene of a horrific murder. We know that and expect to behave in a certain way. Even when it is an officer involved death, those who have to investigate it maintain a certain detachment while others are consumed with loss and emotions.
To the outsider, we are cold, rude, and lack compassion. That’s what they think and believe. Sometimes we reinforce these thoughts and beliefs when we say things, like: “Shut up!”; “I’m sorry ma’am, you shouldn’t have left your purse on the front seat.”; “It’s not my fault your son was a doper.”; “There’s nothing we can do.”
While we may be telling them truth, these kinds of statements are not heard in the same context as we speak them. The message delivered is not the message received. The message received is we don’t care, they aren’t important enough for our time, and they are at fault for being a victim. Hence, they think and believe what they perceive.
What can we do to improve their thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs? That’s right, it is our responsibility to help change what they think about us.
We start by being better listeners. People won’t care about us until they know we care about them and their circumstances. Listening, not just hearing, is a sign of caring and empathy.
Have you ever been talking to someone at a party or an event and as you are trying to engage them in conversation, they are scanning the room for someone more important than you to talk to? How does that make you feel? Think of how a citizen feels when you don’t truly listen to what they are saying.
Second, cultivate silence. It may be true that the person did something really dumb that caused them to be victimized. You don’t need to tell them, they know it already. When you tell them you only reinforce the image of being rude, cold hearted and the butt end of a human being.
Third, believe and act. Believe it really is your job to protect and serve the folks of your community. Believe you really do have compassion, empathy,and a servant’s heart for those who fall prey to tragedy, criminal conduct, and misfortune.
Criminals are going to hate you for catching them. That’s on them. Victims are going to hate you for not helping and caring about them. That’s on you.
Not only believe your job is to protect and serve with compassion, empathy, and a servant’s heart, you must act like it. You can spot a phony by the way they act. So can citizens and bad guys.
I remember the first time I worked undercover vice. I couldn’t get a rookie prostitute to proposition me. I was thinking and acting like a cop, not a john. The girls could spot me for a cop the moment I pulled up to them. I had to change not only my beliefs, but my behavior as well. It was acting, but I had to genuinely believe I was a john to be convincing.
With victims, if you are acting they will know you are insincere and resent the way you are treating them. Truly believe your mission and vision of being a cop and act like you believe.
Fourth, when you fail start over. We all have our moments, bad days, when you just want to knock the bejesus out of some people. That repeat call location where there is probably some substantial evidence of inbred stupidity existing. We all lose our cool on the job. Get over it, apologize if you have to, and start over.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. You aren’t a failure when you learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them. It’s not a mistake when you keep treating people like they are objects of scorn and a waste of your time. That’s called arrogance, meanness and wrong. Find another career, because you are giving the rest of us a bad reputation.
I want folks to think and believe we truly are the thin blue line that protects and serves them, even if we have to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is your duty to the community and your brothers and sisters in blue to always protect and serve with compassion, professionalism and honor. Then and only then will what people think of us be worth believing.
Our youngest son is in the Air Force. Their motto is Aim High. Fly. Fight. Win! They are Warriors committed to fight our enemies to protect us, but they do this with their Core Values always imprinted on their minds and hearts: Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do.
What is your motto and core values statement? Do you believe what you think?
Pat Welsh is the Founder and President of PJ Welsh and Associates, LLC. Mr. Welsh retired in April 2012, as Major, West Patrol Operations Division on the Dayton Police Department. He was recognized throughout his 26 year career in Patrol, Narcotics, and Investigations by such groups as the FBI, the United States Secret Service, the National Police Athletic League, and the Dayton Police Department. A graduate of the FBINA and Police Executive Leadership College, Mr. Welsh specializes in law enforcement training, keynote speaking and coaching services. Mr. Welsh is also a Certified Speaker, Teacher and Coach with the John C. Maxwell Team. Visit www.CourtSurvival.com, http://www.JohnMaxwellGroup.com/PatrickWelsh or contact Mr. Welsh at [email protected].