4 ways 'leave no trace' leadership harms cops

We need our leaders to vehemently defend our profession and educate the public about our profession now more than ever

I have been fortunate over the last several months to interact with chief law enforcement officers, elected officials, officers, and citizens. The perspective I have gained after these interactions has convinced me that our profession is in desperate need of a different style of leadership.

Those of you who were in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts are very familiar with the concept of “leave no trace.” The essence of “leave no trace” is that campers minimize the impact they have on the outdoors — an awareness and an attitude that you leave the space you’re visiting just as you found it.

The “leave no trace” practice is great for outdoor preservation, but when used by police leaders, it’s detrimental to law enforcement. Our society needs strong law enforcement leadership now more than ever. Listed below are four areas in which law enforcement managers may want to reconsider practicing “leave no trace” leadership and instead make a true impact.

1. Collective Bargaining
Collective bargaining agreements have been taking a lot of heat from citizen groups for providing too much protection for police officers.

In some instances this may be true, but law enforcement leaders have failed to utilize the collective barging process to protect the identities of officers who are involved in critical incidents. I have spoken with several officers over the last few months who were involved in high-profile critical incidents and each echoed the same sentiment. They were traumatized by their identities being released prior to being able to get their family affairs in order.

One officer said, “It was like trying to get my family out of town before the hit man arrived.”

Having a specified time of 10-14 days for releasing the identity of an officer involved in a critical incident in a collective barging agreement would provide officers with some time to get their affairs in order. In right to work states, law enforcement leaders could advocate to get such language placed into their respective Police Officer Bill of Rights documents.

2. Public Protest
In this country, the right to protest is sacred and those of us who took an oath to uphold the constitution will always protect the rights of people to peacefully protest. When protests cease being a matter of civil disobedience and prohibit or hinder the delivery of emergency services they must be disbanded.

This winter in Minneapolis, protesters were allowed to occupy a police precinct for over two weeks. As you can see from the pictures in this photo gallery, this type of behavior cannot be tolerated or anarchy could take place. The public needs to see our leaders take a stand and not allow this type of disruption of public safety to happen.

3. Community Engagement
Over the last several months I have had the opportunity to speak with citizens from around our great nation about what they would like to see from their police departments. The overwhelming response was more community engagement — and not the typical type of engagement our leaders are promoting.

The typical approach of having a few officers assigned to do community engagement and crime prevention is not going to cut it. Our law enforcement leaders should consider having more officers go back to the old school of walking a beat.

According to Gallup, in 1965 seventy percent of American households had respect for the police in their area. In comparison, only fifty six percent of American households indicated the same in 2005. In the 1960s we had protest and civil disobedience, but a lot more police officers walked a beat and as a result had better relationships with those they served.

I understand that walking a beat may mean less traffic stats and may even result in fewer arrests, but the public perception of our profession and neighborhood safety could be improved by doing so.

4. Media Relations
The public by and large doesn’t fully understand how the law enforcement profession works. The public doesn’t understand that police officers don’t have a duty to retreat when confronted with life-threatening situations.

The public doesn’t understand that police officers train to deal with the worst one percent of our society. The public doesn’t always accept that police officers are human and susceptible to the same things as “normal” people.

Our profession has been the low-hanging fruit for politicians and other opportunist as of late. We need our leaders to vehemently defend our profession and we need them to educate the public about our profession now more than ever.

We are the protectors of our society. We are the tenets that hold the social contract together. We need our leaders to lead. I understand that many of those who manage organizations find it easier to practice “leave no trace” leadership because it’s safer for them personally.

Although it may be safer for them and their career, practicing leave no trace leadership puts officers and the public at risk. If our leaders stop practicing this type of leadership in the above mentioned areas the positive perception of our profession will be restored. 

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