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.