The gossip problem in law enforcement
Thursday, March 29, 2018
"Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people." — Socrates
In my 11-year career in law enforcement, I have found few things that are more destructive, self-induced and entirely preventable than gossip. Apparently, it is not enough that law enforcement is under the microscope of the public — and rightfully so since we serve them — but we must also add to that burden the weight of disunity through malicious gossip.
For some unknown reason, we — trained fact-finders — suspend all our hard-won training and instincts when we turn our attention inward. We become guilty of everything that "grinds our gears" when critical incidents are second-guessed by individuals outside of law enforcement. However, we then insist upon sowing discord among ourselves.
Why have we become our own worst enemy?
I have come to realize that my brothers and sisters in law enforcement gossip worse than a sewing circle that has run out of yarn. Many of you may already be aware of this and simply shake your head at me for being the last one to show up to the party. However, the question that I pose to you remains why do we persist in such self-destructive behavior as a profession? Why do we constantly seek to bring others around us down instead of raising them up?
We in law enforcement are a team and a family. A rising tide raises all ships. Furthermore, our team is only as strong as its weakest member.
Now some of you may say, "kick the weak ones out," and that may be a fair point. But which agency do you know of that has a surplus of folks?
Let me be clear, we should not keep people in this line of work who are unfit to perform the duties required of them just for the sake of filling an organizational chart. But I am a huge advocate of addressing an issue directly instead of simply saying, "Oh, Officer ______ is worthless."
Talk to that officer and figure out how to help him become better at his job. This is of critical importance, because that officer who is "worthless" may be the first one on scene one day to save your bacon.
On top of that, criminals already employ this practice. Unlike law enforcement, criminals exist in a world where evolution is king, and those who fail to improvise, adapt and overcome will be caught. Criminals now resource their knowledge among themselves. They actively seek to become better criminals and to out-think law enforcement.
However, we in law enforcement seek to put down our fellow peacekeepers. This includes those of us who perform at higher levels and those of us who struggle. We all know of officers who constantly seem to be in the right place at the right time, yet what do most of the other officers say? "Oh, Officer such and such lucked into it."
Or we know of rookies who make mistakes because they are, well, rookies. Instead of seeking to mentor them or find ways to improve the training program to produce a better peacekeeper, most officers will belittle the rookie and inject themselves into that situation with the phrase, "Well, I would have done it this way ..."
This creates an environment that is counterproductive to completing the mission and upholding the oath that we all swore. After all, what rookie officer would want to be the center of constant criticism if they continually sought to get stuck in it? Instead, it is easier to lie back, answer your calls and police passively. This type of policing does not benefit anyone but the criminals, however, we create this kind of culture and environment when we allow gossip to win.
I am not advocating ceasing the good-natured ribbing that is natural for folks who face the possibility death together every day. In fact, I am the first one to usually tell embarrassing stories about myself — like the time I may or may not have done several circles in an intersection while running lights and sirens because I may or may not have been lost.
I then may or may not have gone the wrong way and had to re-enter the same intersection in front of the same citizens who saw me execute several perfect circles (shuffle steer!). Or the time I got into my first vehicle pursuit and flew through an intersection at a speed that would have ensured that I would have gone "back to the future" if I was in a DeLorean.
No, what I'm advocating wholeheartedly is that instead of participating in gossip, instead of writing off one of our brothers or sisters as a total loss, we seek to find a solution to whatever issue has them underperforming. We should congratulate, praise and encourage our fellow officers when they perform well.
This is not an "everyone gets a trophy" mentality, but an understanding that this job is plenty difficult enough as is. Hell, it may even kill you. Why seek to add another layer of difficulty when we talk poorly about one another?
Anyone can point out what is wrong with a person or a situation. However, we in law enforcement are not just anyone. We are problem-solvers. Let us apply that same training, drive and selfless dedication to our brothers and sisters.
President Theodore Roosevelt said it best in his speech "Citizenship in a Republic" regarding the man in the arena:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Stay safe and do good things, my blue family.
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