A New Year's Challenge: Take Responsibility for What Needs to Change in Your Department

For the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of being deeply involved with the Below 100 effort, the mission of which is to drive down line-of-duty police deaths to less than 100 annually. Below 100 stresses common-sense approaches to officer safety and many articles have appeared in our magazine and on our website that outline simple steps to make important changes.

However, I’m often surprised at the frequency with which I hear comments about perceived barriers to implementation. Put simply, the department or boss won’t make the needed changes.

As an example, I just wrote a short piece entitled “Shootings at the Station: It Can Happen to You” and provided seven tips on minimizing the danger. Only one of those seven tips was “department-centric” and that had to do with controlling access beyond the public lobby. The other six tips dealt with areas of individual responsibility and action. Nonetheless, some comments alluded to management and department action, including this one: “Darn good advice! Problem is getting departments to implement them.”

Law enforcement personnel are known for independent thinking and the value they place on autonomy. Even those at the lowest level of a police agency are empowered with full arrest and seizure powers along with the authority to use deadly force when required. You’re allowed discretion on enforcement  because your jurisdiction trusts that you can decide what needs to be addressed. Whoever chose to hire you apparently believed that you have the ability to make life and death decisions. Why then, do cops so often voice the opinion that making things better (safer) within their own organization is someone else’s responsibility?

Officer safety is the responsibility of everyone, regardless of rank or position. If you see something that can be improved, do something about it. If you don’t have the authority, ask someone who does or offer to do the research to make it happen. That’s how things get done. The reliance on “somebody ought to . . . “ is flawed from the outset because no organization has an employee named “somebody.”

At the very least, have the courage to say something to a work partner known for taking chances or the light-duty officer assigned to the front desk who thinks body armor is only for the guy assigned to a patrol car.

It’s time for our culture to embrace a sense of personal and collective responsibility and stop the cop-out excuses about the lack of action on the part of “somebody” else.


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