Staying resilient during turbulent times in policing
Of importance is to show your communities you are part of the 99% who put the uniform on daily and carry out their duties with dignity and pride
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines resilient as capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. That is exactly what law enforcement is currently experiencing. We are experiencing rupture and misfortune.
The misfortune is that on May 25, 2020, our profession changed as we know it. An incident in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sent shockwaves through our nation and beyond. Some of the citizens who we protect and serve each day do not trust the police anymore. They don’t trust us because they believe what happened in Minneapolis and other related unfortunate incidents can happen to them.
What do we do about that? Do we as police officers turn our backs and give up? Absolutely not! Because 99% of police officers are exceptional in what we do, and we do it because it is a profession we love.
We have been ruptured, and now is the time to overcome it through our own form of resiliency. Here is how to accomplish that.
Understand what we can't control
Dr. Kevin Gilmartin, the author of “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement,” writes that the only thing we have control of is our “integrity and professionalism.” We must understand we cannot control the actions of others.
We are currently faced with the prospect of police reform and police accountability bills. In my state of Connecticut, this is police reform Bill No. 6004. In many states, some kind of police reform is or has been put into motion and voted into law. What can we do about it?
First, we must trust that our leaders, chiefs, police lobbyists and advocates are fighting what they find wrong in these bills, but keep in mind, not all of what is in these bills is negative.
The main takeaway for officers is that these bills are meant to open the doors of transparency and maintain accountability. As officers, this is out of our immediate control, but what is still in our control is how we respond to the public.
Understand what we can control
Of importance right now is to show your communities you are part of that 99%, the good men and women who put the uniform on every day and carry out their duties with dignity and pride.
Get out of your patrol vehicles and talk to people. Answer the questions they may have and show them you are human.
A short while ago in my department, a few of us were asked to speak to a committee of representatives who were looking to create a civilian review board for use-of-force complaints. I, as well as other officers, who spoke to the committee, were candid in our responses and expounded upon our beliefs. At the end of the meeting, everyone on the panel noted that not only were we forthcoming with information and honest in our answers but we also showed we were human, just like anyone else.
Do this on the road when you investigate incidents, or when people make unnecessary comments based on social media; be candid, be honest and be real. Nine times out of ten, those same individuals who viewed you as a “cop with a badge” will more than likely look at you from then on as an honest human being.
For that officer you work with who is on the fence, unsure of how this is going to play out in the end, remind him or her that there are always controversial times in policing. Not just now, or five years ago, but 10 and 20 years ago. Our profession has got through difficult times before and so will we. Five years from now, we will be going to a call for service with some changes in how we police but it will be the “norm” because we were resilient during this controversial time in policing and more than that, maintained how we treated people to continue our strong bonds with our communities.
A note for supervisors
One thing my department does from the chief on down is to talk about the police reform bill. When there is an update, a change, a rumor, it is addressed. It is addressed in person and e-mails and leaders in the department – including captains and lieutenants – review what is going on, how it will impact us and how we will maintain our resiliency despite it all. All departments should do the same.
Both the formal leaders – sergeants and above – and even the informal leaders (the cops other officers look up to and respect), should do this. Talk about the current climate and show your officers that this is going to pass. There will be changes, but what you can control – your integrity and professionalism – will never change. That is how we will stay resilient during these turbulent times in policing.