There are a number of motivational posters in our department’s briefing room. They are all so good, we often frame them for all to see. Among the posters is one that says “In this family no one fights alone.” The word family is what caught my attention.
Like most of you, I have been part of a number of different families. In addition to my biological family, there has been my family during my years at a Christian college, a number of church families, and now I’m among the family of law enforcement.
According to Merriam-Webster, one of the definitions of the word family is “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.” So by definition, we are a family. Our convictions are the law of the land and the Constitution of the United States, just to name a few. Our affiliation is working together to enforce the law in our communities. And our affiliation is nationwide and, in some ways, worldwide. That means our part of the family of law enforcement does not stop at a border, a county line or a state line.
For the purpose of this opinion piece, my concerns have to do with the law enforcement family we belong to in our own hometown. These observations and concerns come from the various agencies I have been associated with when I was a volunteer chaplain and now a veteran law enforcement officer.
Some agencies do reflect the ideals of a family of law enforcement but not all of them.
I haven’t always been a part of healthy families. I grew up in a dysfunctional family which has had a lifetime of repercussions in my life. I have also been a part of a number of church families as a regular member and a pastor. Some of these have certainly skewed my perception of the local church. I have seen some of these family members treat other family members in ways that are all but shameful.
If I was honest, our family of law enforcement has similar problems. I have been amazed at how we treat one another. We are really good at pointing out the faults of our brothers and sisters in blue or brown without taking a good look in the mirror and do so without an ounce of respect. I have been on the receiving end of this behavior and have seen it dished out on others. It makes me wonder how many individuals have left the profession of law enforcement simply because they never seem to measure up no matter how hard they try.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am all for pointing out mistakes and misinformation in those we work with. This is a life and death kind of work so we can’t afford to allow actions, reactions and performance that will jeopardize the lives of those who are involved in what we do. This is especially true when it comes to trainees and maybe even veteran officers as well. I know that we don’t need to “pamper” ones who are extra sensitive and easily hurt by the criticisms of others. However, I do believe that we can address problems and performance issues in a manner that will build up rather than tear down; in a way that actually helps someone become a better cop.
And then there are those that we “just don’t like.” The ones that tend to get on our nerves or the ones that cause us to cringe when we see them coming in our direction. As long as humans wear the badge, we are going to have those kinds of people in the family.
How Can We Improve
First of all, we must remember that despite what we may feel about someone we work with, they are involved in the same fight as the rest of us are and face the same dangers and risks. We should also understand that no matter how good we may think we are, we likely get on someone else’s nerves as well. Most importantly, before you make that snide remark about that individual, or even to that individual, keep in mind that it might be the last time you see that brother or sister who ends up losing their life in the line of duty. And the way things are going in our communities that is becoming more and more of a possibility.
I firmly believe in the process and stages of discipline such as reprimands, warnings, suspensions and even terminations. It’s not supposed to be easy but I believe that this can also be carried out with respect, compassion, dignity and maybe even discretion.
A long time ago these words were uttered by a very famous Person and they are just as pertinent today as they were back then. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew 7:12
If there has ever been a time in the history of law enforcement, the times in which we are living and doing our work, calls for us to pull together like never before because, in many ways, we are all that we have. I have no doubt that we will have each other’s backs out in the streets but what about within the walls of our agency?
Thanks for entertaining these thoughts and I welcome your thoughts and opinions and hope this has given us all some pause to think about who we need to be.