When Cops Kill

I’d rather be judged by 12 of my peers than buried by six pallbearers. Law Enforcement trainer

I investigated crimes in the worst areas of Chicago long ago. I played by the rules. I support police officers on the front-lines. They do a dangerous job. But I support justice, respect, excellence and professionalism more.

America’s had a recent and ongoing outbreak of horrific killings and beatings of black men by white police officers. Technology has given us a look into the dark side of law enforcement. Are these violent acts—even murders–random events or a deeply ingrained cultural pattern? A law enforcement colleague wrote me: “After 35 years, I am pretty astute in what is required in most police confrontations. When I was on the street using my weapon was the last option, today it seems to be one of the first options.”

How can officers who shoot or use other deadly force as a first option be so self-assured?

I believe their confidence comes from a culture that makes it okay to mistreat people. Trained to be in control and aggressive, officers don’t take lightly to resistance or challenges to their actions. They cannot lose a confrontation: their culture demands that they win.

Many suffer chronic stress. An “us vs them” mentality fans anger. Group-think drags people down. Cynicism runs deep, secrets abound and some suffer burnout. Racism is real and conformity required. Police work in the underside of the community and can become desensitized to verbal and physical violence. Some officers come to the job unfit; others become unfit because of the job. Power gets abused.

Officers first get away with verbal and physical assaults. Minor abuses become larger cruelties when values are not upheld. Bonded by secrets, danger and loyalty, good cops usually go along to get along and suffer their failure of moral courage in a culture that values physical bravery. Police administrators—most former officers–exonerate bad cops. Self-policing favors the police officer. Strong police unions fight for the guilty. Prosecutors rarely charge cops for wrong doing. Violence and abuse become normal. “I feared for my life” becomes, for a few, a free pass to kill.

Responsible for their actions, those who break the law should be held accountable. But police leaders, the silent good officers, the unions with misplaced priorities, political prosecutors and citizens who look the other way share the systemic responsibility for the culture that makes it okay for officers to mistreat people—from verbal abuse to murder.

Responsibility and accountability have diminished as personal values in America. As a consultant, a lack of accountability cut across every organization I worked in. Many executives don’t want to know what goes on in the enterprises they lead. They don’t want to deal with painful or embarrassing issues. Instead they prefer quick fixes that provide the illusion of real change.

Former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza wrote (2012) that police are out of control and said the same on April 15, 2015 on the Chad Hartman radio show.

Video evidence and public outrage will result in accountability for some. But a broader and deeper transformation is needed in police cultures for change to endure.

Efforts to transform organizations most often fail or succeed only temporarily. Few leaders have the talents and skills needed to lead transformative change.

For sustainable change to happen in the police culture an awakened and outraged citizenry must put nonstop pressure and demands for change and accountability on mayors, prosecutors, city councils and police administrations.


Isn’t it Obvious?

That life not be governed by fear. James Hollis in What Really Matters.

Everyone has fears. Some about the present; others about the future. Some of us live our lives by rigid black and white rules of right and wrong, either/or, and good and bad. That’s not how life is. I think those folks live frozen by fear of a gray and unpredictable world of change and complexity.

We can confront our fears and step into a time of renewal for ourselves and America. Or, we can deny our fears and push them into the dark shadows. There, frozen by fear, we resist change and greater maturity.

Some of our neighbors want to heal our planet. Others want to devour her in an addictive frenzy. Consuming our biomass is not sustainable.

Some of our neighbors want a robust middle class. Others want a few to get most of the America’s resources. Such inequality is not sustainable.

Some of our neighbors want to treat immigrants with dignity. Others want to build walls and put people in jail. A monoculture is not sustainable.

Some of our neighbors want to evolve rights for women, workers, animals and minorities. Others want to roll back justice for all but themselves. Such regression is unacceptable.

Some of our neighbors want to educate all children. Others don’t seem to care. Uneducated masses do not make for a sustainable democracy.

Some of our neighbors want government to help and protect citizens. Others want everyone to be out for themselves. Such separation is not sustainable. Life requires cooperative relationships.

Some of our neighbors want peace so we can renew America. Others want the distractions of perpetual war in far-away lands. Chronic war is not sustainable.

Some of our neighbors imagine a diverse, creative, cooperative and engaged citizenry. Others have a vision of a paternalistic and wealthy white oligarchy in control. With compliant masses, we regress to a more primitive time. Such an attack on Democracy is not acceptable.

Some of our neighbors live the promise of America’s future. Others model the dark side of America’s past. Allowing darkness to lead us is not sustainable.

Some of our neighbors are willing to change how they live to evolve life. Others are not. Without massive change by all, America will not sustain herself.

Which vision enlarges America; which makes America smaller?

Many of us suffer from a failure of nerve and a distorted perspective of how life works.

Fear should not control our nation and determine her future

Isn’t where we should go obvious?

My Favorite Time of Day

I get up early in Southern Arizona. I look at the dark sky filled with stars so close and bright you feel you could reach out and touch them. I put the dogs out, love them up and feed them. I do some odds and ends and keep an eye on the mountains about 15 miles to the east of us—the Santa Ritas.

The sun comes over the mountain—a different sunrise every day.


I wait for the cool air to warm a bit and then Casey, my American Eskimo, and I go out and sit on the patio enclosed by a stone wall. Casey follows me wherever I go and he moves routinely throughout the morning to find the shade as the sun rises and moves.

I sit in my chair and face the sunrise. The air is cool and my skin feels the sun warming the sky around me. I’ve turned the fountain on, and I listen to the water gurgle and flow. The birds come alive and visit the feeders to eat and the fountain to drink. Their songs fill the air: the laments of the mourning dove; the loud call of the quail; the melodies of the Cardinal; the loud, staccato assertion of a road runner (who does not go beep-beep) and the buzzes and whistle of the world’s smallest bird—the hummingbird.


In the complex, diverse and interconnected natural world that teaches us about sustainability, I feel peaceful.

After a while, I do my workout with stretching, dumbbells and resistance tubes. My breathing grows deeper and faster and sweat goes down my forehead. My efforts feel good in the fresh air. Some days I do a meditation guided from my iPhone. I focus my awareness on the in and out of my breathing. Thoughts and feelings distract me. Sometimes I sneak a brief look at the birds I hear near me. I bring my focus back to the slow in and out of my breath. Other days I read for a while.

Melanie joins me with her coffee and iPad. We chat and make plans for the day. If food sits on the table, Maddy, our black lab, is sure to be near us. She begs with great focus and intensity. Casey lies in the shade along the patio wall and watches the birds come and go.

We stir to begin our day. We can’t sit still for long: We walk, hike, photograph, take day trips and sit in the pool and float.

Nothing we do feels as good as welcoming the sun and a new day’s fresh air.