Betrayal and abandonment by someone you hold in high esteem feels like a punch in the gut. It’s precisely what law-abiding Americans experienced during the summer riots of 2020.
We watched on our screens that year as demonstrators were allowed to create mayhem in cities across the country – as they set fire to buildings (including a police department and a government building); destroyed family businesses; harmed police officers and attempted to blind them with lasers; assaulted citizens; toppled statues and vandalized police memorials; threw Molotov cocktails into police squad cars; and blocked streets and highways.
How could this happen in the United States of America, a nation whose citizens are bound by the same laws, we asked. We were appalled and stunned.
Police Leaders MIA
It’s a simple concept. Police leaders take an oath to protect the citizenry and defend the rule of law, without regard for a person’s background, ideology, or politics. Yet that year, these leaders -many reportedly receiving direction from their mayors- were ordering rank-and-file officers to retreat. They told them not to make arrests, not even those suspected of committing heinous crimes.
My own city of Madison wasn’t immune to this phenomenon. A police officer had confided in me that command had ordered rank-and-file officers not to intervene during the demonstrations, “even though the crime was happening right before their eyes.”
Granted, crowd control -especially during periods of civil unrest- is grueling. There’s a high level of confusion, so it can be challenging for cops to discern protester from instigator. Understood. Yet it’s hard to reconcile this part: “Our command post then passed down the order that we would not be making any arrests at all, even of suspects that were able to be taken out of the area.”
The second betrayal that year came when I wrote to police command to express my outrage at how the demonstrations were handled.
As an advocate for local law enforcement, I never expected or asked for special treatment; and in fact I was always mindful about public perception. What I did expect -but don’t feel I received- was proper acknowledgement of my valid concerns. Just like any other tax-paying citizen might expect. In fact, one command officer requested that I not contact MPD officers until after the holidays.
Cops feel the betrayal and abandonment from police leadership, too. They work in fear of reprisal or that their own departments won’t stand by them in their time of need. It’s tough to be an effective law enforcer when you have to work like that.
Weak police leadership, it seems, is prevalent. So much so, that Major Travis Yates was compelled to write a book about it. In The Courageous Police Leader, Yates contends that the number one enemy of policing is “the cowardly police leader.”
We all deserve better, don’t you think? Which is why I’m working on a series about police leadership.
About the New Police Leadership Series
It will be a deep-dive into how weak police leadership impacts policing and the citizenry, as well as what real leadership looks like. We had that with retired Madison Police Chief Mike Koval; and I’ll be referring to him in the series.
If you’d like to be interviewed for the series, whether you’re a police officer, command officer, or citizen, I’d love to speak with you. We can talk via phone, email, Zoom, or if you’re local, meet in person. And yes, I will absolutely respect your privacy and anonymity if that’s what you’d like.
My email is [email protected]
Still Need Help With Election Project
Speaking of leadership, we’re in dire need of strong elected officials whose priority is to serve we the people. A lot of politicians say they support law enforcement (especially around election time), but without taking steps to defend police officers, their statements are vacuous.
Which is why I hope you’ll consider helping me with my project to hold elected officials accountable on policing issues. I’ve now contacted all Wisconsin candidates running in the mid-term elections. About a third have already committed to completing my questionnaire, and though they’re not due until the end of June, I’m already receiving thoughtful replies.
I’d love to replicate this initiative on a nationwide basis -because I strongly believe it’s effective- but I need help. If you or someone you know who cares about police officers & public safety live outside Wisconsin and would like to help, please let me know ASAP. It’s not complicated and won’t take a lot of time.
This article originally appeared at For The Blue.