Carrying on the Tradition

I had the honor to attend the Christmas party for my agency which I retired from many years ago.  The party was sponsored by the command and patrol unions.  It was great seeing other retirees as well as the current officers some I don’t really know , how time passes so quickly.

The party is also used to present the previous years awards.  I am constantly amazed and proud to hear the deeds of honor, courage, selflessness and outstanding police work.   There were awards of officers putting themselves in harms way wrestling with an armed man, going the extra mile in following up on investigative leads to solve a crime and many more.  As this is my agency I was also aware of deeds not awarded such as the officers caring for a baby that was dropped off at the station, obtaining diapers and food until protective services arrived and purchasing and handing out bottles of water to citizens during extreme heat this past summer.

This is not a story about my agency which is the Garden City Police Department but about all of Michigan Law Enforcement.  My job takes me across this state and allows me to interact with many agencies and officers and I see this kind of dedication regularly.  Garden City is one of approximately 590 agencies in our State and whose officers perform these acts daily.  What occurred to me at this awards ceremony is that the stories I was hearing I have heard before in years past.  The only change is the names and these officers are continuing the great tradition of law enforcement that we have come to expect and many times take for granted.

These officers are to commended even further as despite the reductions in their pay, retirement and healthcare they continue without hesitation to perform at exceptional levels.   They do so despite the negativity portrayed in the media and despite the rise in attacks on them.  While my generation faced some of this it was not to the levels of today.  I am so proud of this generation of officers who many were rookies working for me years ago.  They have become the senior officers and commanders who are setting the standard for the future.

I left that ceremony so very proud of our men and women in law enforcement, not only Garden City but in every jurisdiction.  They continue the tradition of excellence and in many ways raise the bar of expectations for our future.

 

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Recruiting is the priority and the problem

I travel the state frequently and interact with numerous agencies and their members from administrators to rookies.
While many agencies are different in how they look and maybe their mission they all share the same dilemma today which is recruitment. I hear the same complaints about the inability to attract quality candidates and especially an ethnically diverse candidate pool.

We could debate for hours the reasons for the inability to attract good people and especially people of diverse backgrounds. The fact is that many reasons exist one of which is the good economy and low unemployment rate and the other is the decline of benefits and pay. I am not even discussing the negativity that exists in the media with regard to the police profession.

We need to discuss those issues and resolve them, however, we must realize first the crisis that is before us. Over 60% of the police officers in our state are over the age of 40. That means that those officers are eligible to retire soon if not now and they are exercising their retirement options as soon as they become eligible. That number suggests to me that we will be facing a continual drain of experienced mature officers for the next decade at least. Even if the profession was attracting a large number of quality  candidates they are still young with no one of significant experience to train and mentor them.

The need is never been more great than now for hiring mature candidates. We need to find a way to bring members of the community who would join the profession if they could afford the academy and afford the 18 weeks of not working while at the academy. That is very difficult to do with someone who has other responsibilities at home.

Having been a City Manager I had to prioritize and allocate funds to the most serious of issues first. I contend that this is that serious and we as communities must find the funding to recruit and pay for the type of quality person we want and need for our respective agencies. It is time that this goes to the top of the list and other issues take a back seat. Otherwise the large payout for liability for poor decisions made by inexperienced officers is the outcome.

Doing the right thing everyday

I have the privilege of instructing new procedures on how to conduct photographic line-ups. The new procedures were developed through the work of the State Bar of Michigan Task force on Eyewitness Identification. After being trained by a Police Chief from Connecticut I have been traveling the State with the training.

I was challenged recently by an attorney who was skeptical if law enforcement was listening to the training especially when I highlight how misidentification can occur with current procedures. My response to him was that no police officer I know or have known wants to see the wrong person go to jail. If for no other reason than the actual perpetrator is out continuing to commit crimes.  But overall we always strive to do the “right thing”, mistakes happen as they do in any profession.

To believe that law enforcement is infallible is either self-serving to prove a point or establish a position or very naïve.  This is a people business and the police are people.  As Sir Robert Peel put it, the police are the people and the people are the police.  This is a dynamic profession that changes daily.  We accept our mistakes, adjust and move on.   It is not just the responsibility of the police to accept blame, but it is for everyone involved in the community especially those in leadership even outside of law enforcement.

I had the opportunity to serve as a City Manager.  I had oversight over issues such as staffing and adequate funding for training.  If a mistake occurred it was my issue as well as my Police Chief’s. It was my responsibility to hire or promote the right person as the Chief and to offer them continuing training.  It was my responsibility to provide the police department with the adequate tools and overall training to do their jobs.  My City Council also was responsible for the overall approval of those resources.  So to blame it just on the police is just not correct .

I know of no other profession that is held to such a high unattainable standard as law enforcement is.  Yet we strive to be better everyday, minimize mistakes and move forward  “doing the right thing” for our citizens.

 

Telling our story

It is just a fact of the industry in national and mainstream media that only the most dynamic stories get any air time or make it to print. Unfortunately law enforcement has seen its share of press lately and most of it has not been favorable.

Unlike large corporations law enforcement does not do damage control very well. We see everyday the spins that companies will do to offset some bad press. We don’t do that in law enforcement because we don’t spin the truth. We are a profession based on ethics , honor and truth. Spinning is not in our nature nor should it be.

But we should be telling our story instead of letting the mainstream media do so. We can tell the truth and thus offset much of the bad press just telling the world what we already do day in and day out.

As an example, recently two particular stories caught my attention as I am very familiar with both agencies. One agency had the officers hand out on patrol bottles of cold water to those they thought would need it during the high temperature days recently. The other agency had a video of an officer rescuing a fawn trapped in a fence. Both of those stories were on Facebook and the local papers. Neither would rise to the attention of the major news organizations but to me are major news nonetheless. They are major not because of the individual deeds but because they are both examples of what law enforcement does everyday and has always done.

The lesson to be learned is that if we don’t tell our story no one else will. We as a profession need to embrace the technology of the day such as Facebook and Twitter. It’s how much of the world communicates today and seemingly is making the mainstream media obsolete. We can use it to our advantage while maintaining our ethical standards and high moral values by just telling the truth about the good work we do day in and day out and have been doing for a long time.

Perspective

Several years ago I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Lagos, Nigeria to work with the Governor’s staff  and evaluate their police academy training system.  During that visit, I was fortunate to have a formal meeting and take part in a press conference with the Governor of Lagos.  The Governor commented to me privately and made the public statement that he desired to raise the standards for the police as he wanted well paid, educated and “pensionable” employees as his police officers. He saw this as a path to eliminating the corruption that was in the police agencies by hiring and retaining better officers.  I found it interesting that he saw that as the path, which I whole heartedly agree with, and unfortunately in the United States, we have cut pay and benefits and are now experiencing recruitment and retention problems.

I had one other  interesting encounter that is very relevant in today’s environment of the hatred of police as portrayed in the media. On the 11 hour flight home, I sat next to a very pleasant Nigerian man who owned a cement business in Lagos. I shared with him what my work was in Lagos after which he responded that he was very glad that I was helping the Governor as the Lagos police were seen as very corrupt. After a moment’s pause, he shared with me the thought that although the Nigerian police needed help in eliminating the corruption, he did like a certain level of lawlessness. He continued that he had grown up partially in the United States and spent time in Washington, DC. He stated that he was always concerned in the States about having issues like expired license tabs or driver’s license and that in Lagos that was not a worry. My response to him was that I can see how a certain level of lawlessness would be attractive, but I asked him at what level of lawlessness would he accept. I continued that we as humans seem to always take it one step farther and using the example of speed limits, that no matter what speed is set, we as humans will go past it. Thus if we agree to a certain level of lawlessness, someone will take it to the next level. I pointed out to him that he was a fairly young, strong person who could take care of himself and his family, but that one day he would be of an age or possibly ill of health that he would not be as capable. Then who would protect him and those he cared about?  He agreed citing that he had not thought about it in that manner.

Regardless of the number of people who want less police, which I believe are very few, that reality is not feasible and I believe even those that want it know that. Once the media lets go and this is not in our face everyday, we as the police and the community will work out the issues.  Let’s be patient and continue to serve out communities to the highest manner possible.

Very proud

Last weekend I attended the Michigan Sheriffs Association Conference banquet. As part of the banquet awards were given to deputies for various actions they took in the performance of their duties. All of these were serious incidents and the deputies risked their lives for either a citizen or each other. Most of these involved a shooting and one deputy had been wounded but thankfully  recovered and attended the ceremony.

I was amazed that, despite my role in law enforcement in this state, I had only heard of one of the incidents. I was riveted by the accounts of each incident and moved to emotion at the professionalism , dedication and heroism displayed by these officers.

A feeling of overwhelming pride overtook me as I looked at each of the award recipients. I could not help but think how many others took part in the success of each of the incidents that were behind the scenes, such as dispatchers, supervisors and trainers from the basic academy to in-service.

It takes a team and it takes preparation and dedication to train that causes these successes.  We have amazing law enforcement officers in this state who are every sense of the word professional and I am proud to be a part of that family.

Legacy

Last week I had the honor to attend and present the Outstanding Performance Award at the Detroit Police Academy Graduation. Chief Craig and his staff did an outstanding job of conducting another academy and preparing 13 new officers for the streets of Detroit.

There are 20 academies in our state and I attend many graduations. I never get tired of these events and feel privileged to share that moment with the graduates and the academy staff. After 6 years and many graduations I still get emotional at each and every one.

There was a specific moment in the Detroit Graduation where at the end the graduates were marching out in cadence at the conclusion of the ceremony. For me the symbolism of them marching in step, singing, very proud and happy , marching into the unknown was very strong and moving. It was a notable moment for me as I wondered had I personally done enough in my capacity to prepare these new officers for this profession? Did the Detroit training staff do all they can do, has my staff adequately prepared a curriculum that gives these graduates the tools they need to be successful? The answer I realized is yes but can we do enough?

It is a delicate balance of providing adequate training in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable amount of costs. Training is a joint venture between MCOLES and the agencies for which the graduates work. Each of us has to take responsibility for providing the skills and tools for these officers to survive and provide excellent service to our citizens. When I say each of us that includes not only myself, MCOLES staff but FTO’s , supervisors, and fellow officers.

It is the primary responsibility of us veterans of law enforcement to take a part in the training and mentoring of these new officers. Training and mentoring are a daily process. I consider these graduates my legacy and so should every current law enforcement professional. I challenge each of us to take a strong role in the development of our next generation of officers. Their success becomes our greatest legacy.

Remembrance

I was very humbled to be the keynote speaker at the Livonia Police Memorial ceremony last night. Chief Caid organized a very moving and wonderful tribute to not only Livonia’s fallen but to all of the State’s law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. The Chief also recognized the Livonia officers who retired and have passed in the last year.

As the roll call of all of the officers was read I was reminded of the brotherhood and sisterhood of this great profession. I did not know the officers who died in the line of duty at Livonia but I did know many of the retirees who have passed. Having retired from Garden City and just down the road from Livonia I worked and socialized with many of them. There were many retirees in the audience as well whom I know and have been friends with for many years.

While I did not know the officers who died in the line of duty I felt I knew of them. In fact my speech was about that fact. While I did not work with —  or have the honor to have met them — I have been them, working patrol. I experienced many of the things they did, working nights, holidays, adrenaline highs, emotional lows and all the other experiences that police officers go through. So while I never spoke to them, I feel that kinship and likewise that sense of loss.

It reminds me to not take for granted these relationships we develop in our profession. Especially it is relevant to remember all who have passed and to cherish those relationships we still have during the coming Police Memorial week,

Nationwide Standards

I was recently in Denver conducting an audit of the Colorado version of MCOLES.  I did this as part of my role with the International Association of Director’s of Law Enforcement Standards and Training  (IADLEST).  Essentially it is an association of my counterparts across the country and internationally as well.  Other membership includes police academy directors and law enforcement trainers.  My goal is to bring IADLEST to Michigan for an audit to see how we stack up across the country in all aspects of what we do.

I know there is criticism in the profession about having national standards for police.   It is understandable as we pride ourselves on local control and resist the federalization of police.  I don’t disagree with local control and feel that local governments can determine best the type of services that they want and can afford.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we cannot have some basic training standards across the profession as other professions do.

What I observed in Denver, as I have in many other states, are similar training and operating standards.   My point is that we already have many of these standards in place in our basic training.  As an example, I was observing a subject control class at the Aurora Police Academy whereby the recruits were practicing ground fighting techniques.  Ground fighting has taken the place of the traditional boxing and other subject control classes.  This is logical as most of the physical encounters end up on the ground.  In 1980 I was trained in boxing but had already received ground fighting techniques in the Army which assisted me in the field more than boxing.  Over the years law enforcement has learned and changed to new and better techniques.

So my point is that we already have national standards to a certain degree.  Why be so fearful of it and not take it to the next level?  While in Washington DC attending a summit on the 21st Century Policing task force report, I suggested to the COPS organization that a nationwide Job Task Analysis should be conducted as we already do state by state.  This would give the profession a basic level of tasks that a police officer conducts all across our nation.  Thus some nationwide basic standards could be developed.  Basically a set of best training practices could be developed and shared across the entire profession.  This would make reciprocity agreements by states accepting other states training easier and allow officers to transfer if they so desire.  Ultimately the public we serve will receive similar services regardless of the location which is something they already expect.

 

 

 

 

Community Education

It seems that daily the public is bombarded with negative stories about law enforcement. Simultaneously positive stories are not presented or do not get significant coverage. That is just a fact of life and life in the public setting. The media handling of law enforcement is not restricted to just the police but is how public service is covered in general. I lived the life as a City Manager for 6 years and found that to be true in all facets of the government. Law enforcement, however, is such a dynamic profession and the possibility of a major incident looms around every corner every day. It’s part of the profession and it’s volatile as both sides of the equation, the public and the police are both human and subject to mistakes.

What I strongly agree with in the Presidents 21st Century Policing Task Force report that was published in May of 2015 is the need for developing community trust. It is not a new idea as many agencies have been developing those relationships for years prior to the report. The report does highlight the need, however, and there are several ways to accomplish that trust. I have always believed and practiced that community education about police processes is a useful tool for relationship building. Agencies for years have been utilizing programs such as Citizen Police Academies and outreach programs like Police Athletic Leagues.

Recently Danny Rosa from MCOLES took part in a discussion panel that outlined what students should do if stopped by the police. This discussion took place at Cass Tech High School in Detroit and Danny was joined by Judge Kenneth King of 36th District Court; Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Kim Miles; criminal defense lawyer Cliff Woodward; former Detroit police commission attorney and prosecutor Aliyah Sabree, as well as Black Lives Matter activist Angela Waters Austin. Danny discussed and demonstrated the reality of reaction time for officers when they encounter hostile situations to give the students an understanding of why the police train the way they do and react the way they do . The program was well received and was covered by the Detroit news;http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2016/04/08/black-lives-matter-detroit-students-police/82814604/.

Congratulations to Danny Rosa and all of the other panel participants for taking their time to educate these Students. Also congratulations go out to the 800 Cass Tech Students who attended and were very engaged in the practical demonstrations and discussion. As Danny stated to the audience, it takes everyone talking these issues out if we are to ever resolve them. Several months ago Danny, Mike Logghe and I all from MCOLES took part in a practical demonstration and discussion with the group, Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (APLACT) at the Washtenaw Police Academy. Members of the group were exposed to real life situations utilizing the digital firearms training system that police recruits are put through. We also had honest in-depth discussions about police/ community relations.

These are just a few examples of ways that law enforcement is engaging the public. It is a continual process and we cannot rest on previous accomplishments and be ever mindful of taking advantage of every opportunity to be open and honest with our public and seek every chance to exchange dialogue.