Writers sometimes look for ‘inspiration’ or just a topic to address. On my way to work today I was planning to write about ‘altruistic’ policing based on some recent readings. I was on the highway and an oncoming car was facing the glare of the morning sun. The driver was leaning over almost all the way to the passenger seat and was peeking out a little clear area where her defroster had removed a heavy frost. The frost and the glaring sun was a recipe for disaster! Nevadans should be able to relate to these dangerous ‘winter’ driving circumstances; I certainly remember frosty days in the desert. Nevadans can also relate to the idea that there has been significant loss of trust in the police (locally and nationally). I wrote about ‘Trust’ (http://www.reviewjournal.com/opinion/letters/trust-community-key-police) back in 2010 and, as it turned out, it was the beginning of the end of my career.
So how can a driver (or a law enforcement agency) avoid the hazards of a frosted windshield or a frosted ‘trust’ relationship? By looking straight ahead at the oncoming traffic through a completely clear windshield! And how do you get a clear windshield? With preparation, planning, and being proactive. A motorist can scrape the frost off a windshield before attempting to drive. A motorist can start the car before the trip and have the defrost working to clear the windshield (back here in the cold climates we even have remote car starters to achieve the results we want without having our cars stolen by having to start them and leave the keys in the ignition). A motorist can also even use a cover for the windshield or park the car in a garage to avoid the frost.
I doubt that many people pay attention to the weather forecast at night to decide if they’ll need to rise early to clear a frosted window. I can’t remember ever doing that myself, but the outcome of being proactive is a safer trip to work in the morning.
This can also work in an organization such as a police department. Why wait for a crisis to respond and be reactive? One of the lessons I learned in an Emergency Management training class pertained to Tylenol. Decades ago, someone was tampering with Tylenol bottles and some people who used the product were poisoned and died. This crisis could have destroyed the company but their ‘crisis management’ was touted as saving the brand. Experts have widely praised the actions of Johnson & Johnson to reduce deaths and warn the public of poisoning risks — they looked straight ahead after clearing the windshield. They didn’t deflect, distract, and deny that they had a problem.
Johnson & Johnson faced a crisis of trust and needed people to trust them to correct the problem (the public needs to have the same trust that police will correct their problems). They developed tamper-evident packaging and survived. Police departments who have a crisis in trust are almost always more bull-headed and change-resistant and think they have a monopoly on public safety. If Sheriff Lombardo wakes up to a heavy frost on his windshield and doesn’t remove the frost, will he just bend over and drive a few blocks with an obstructed view, or will he look straight ahead and deal with the problem (i.e., stop the car, scrape the windshield off or spray the de-icer, and move ahead safely).
I’d have more TRUST in the LVMPD if I knew the leadership was committed to improving public trust, was consistent in handling problems, and if Sheriff Lombardo had the COURAGE to say “enough is enough!” Instead of ramping up their ‘public relations’ propaganda (seeking unequivocal support from the public), police leaders in the U.S. must stop trying to steer a ship with a blind spot right in front of their noses. That blind spot is not realizing the magnitude of consequences from declining public trust and also not realizing how good Metro has it from a supportive local media. Things can get very ugly very quickly (scandals or ‘fake’ scandals in training, departures of multiple deputy chiefs, corruption investigations in Vice, cops still getting huge comps in topless clubs) IF the media acts like a watchdog instead of a lapdog!
We admit we made a mistake. We are sorry. We will get better. These are messages that I have rarely heard from a police chief or sheriff. They often focus on preserving their personal legacies so maybe one day they will have a building named after them. It isn’t easy to be a leader of a half-billion dollar organization. It isn’t easy to identify those who have character flaws and who are self-serving rather than altruistic. It isn’t easy to investigate complaints and correct problems and/or discipline officers with consistency. The documentary, ‘What Happened in Vegas’ is an example of how one person who has had a bad experience (and sees no accountability) can tell his story to tens of thousands of others.
Why not look ‘straight’ through the windshield and face the facts? Do a complete investigation and obtain statements and video. Don’t offer more credibility to officers unless the facts support that credibility. Especially do NOT send a form letter to a complainant who had his own witness(es) and tell him the complaint was UNFOUNDED — that it did not happen! It is one thing to let trust deteriorate, but it is even worse when citizens develop an actual animosity toward our police.
ALTRUISM is ‘the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others (opposed to egoism ).’ EGOISM is ‘the habit of valuing everything only in reference to one’s personal interest; selfishness (opposed to altruism).’ Which characteristic is needed for our police now and in the future? I recently read a column entitled, ‘Remembering why we became police officers – to serve, protect’; it does a good job of answering the question.
Michael Morse wrote; We knew that a career in public service would be difficult and we accepted the challenge. It is easy to draw the line in the sand, circle the wagons and hide behind the uniform. There are individuals shooting cops and not respecting the badge. While some of them have strayed from the rules of a civilized society, it is because of them the rest must be protected by us. Good, honest, hard-working people deserve no less than our best. We are here for everyone… There are the protected and the protectors. We are the protectors.
They could have been protectors – we do not have exclusive rights to courage commitment and valor – but they choose to depend on us for protection, just as we depend on them for keeping our society a prosperous, positive place. We are all in this together. There is no us and them. There is only us. This is the straightforward attitude that can defrost relationships between police and the public!