What I Mean When I Say: #RememberWhereYouCameFrom

May 8, 2017

Last month I wrote a piece entitled: “Do Chief’s Take Officer Safety Seriously”? (To fully understand what I’m writing about today, do me a favor and read that article first.)

Needless to say, the article generated a ton of feedback, nearly 50,000 views on various social media platforms alone. While the overwhelming majority of those who responded provided compliments and praised me for addressing a troubling issue facing law enforcement—the lack of institutional leadership—not all of the comments were glowing.

I recently met with a police leader who asked me: “How do you think that article affected how you will be perceived in this community?”

Great question, I thought. And let me say first that I have the upmost respect for the person who asked this question, as well as the agency he runs. So I thought about it for a second.

“I undoubtedly pissed some people off,” I said.

And I knew immediately by his body language that I was correct!

However, I don’t regret what I wrote.

Being a chief means that my words can have big ramifications for the department and the community I serve. I endeavor therefore to choose my words wisely. However, there’s a world of difference between choosing words wisely and keeping quiet to satisfy the status quo. When it comes to this profession, status quo leadership isn’t, in my opinion, up to the challenges of today. So I guess I’m not surprised that I pissed some people off. In fact, I’m sure I pissed some good leaders off with my crude challenge.

Let me clarify my position.

Most of the positive responses to the article were from patrol officers, deputies, and troopers, who are scared about the lack of leadership in their respective agencies. Many of them expressed concern about becoming involved in a high-profile case and having the boss step aside as politics stepped in to interfere with their ability to get a fair hearing. It’s a complaint I hear often as I travel the country: “The bosses are out of touch.”

For those of us in leadership positions, that’s hard to hear. Not only that, but sometimes it’s downright wrong. And that was my point: Even if you’re doing a good job, you’re not doing yourself any favors by holing up in administrative meetings, never wearing a uniform, and keeping away from patrol. It’s not that hard to keep in touch with your officers’ experience, and it can do so much to improve morale and understanding within the agency.

As a chief of police is it feasible to wear a uniform 100% of the time? Of course not. Are there times where you may sit in the office all day and not wear a vest? Of course. In fact, many of the meetings and mundane activities that are part of the job require business attire or even dress uniforms. I get it! So, let me go back to the main point: Remember where you came from.

I recently attended a chief’s conference where nearly 300 professionals from across the state came together to share ideas, attend educational workshops, and network with other leaders. I was fortunate to have some great conversations with some remarkable professionals. During one of these hallway chats, I asked a highly respected leader: “Did you read my latest article?”

He laughed and said, “Oh yeah!” Before I could ask him anything else, he said: “Keep it up brother. You are saying what many of us are thinking.”


He added, “Use your position—both as a chief and national instructor—to help shape the future of law enforcement leadership, Scott.”

As he walked away, I couldn’t help but wonder, what will that future look like? I know one thing for sure, we must lead differently today than I was led in my early police career. It’s not because the old school way was wrong for its time. But look around you. Times have changed. Leadership in many law enforcement agencies, in my experience, hasn’t. In fact, in some agencies leaders seem to embrace the worst aspects of the old school: an aloof, top-down approach totally out of touch with the realities of the street today.

Who will take the mantle and lead these agencies into the future? This is really what it’s all about.

On the last day of the conference I was standing in the ballroom preparing to introduce the closing speaker when a colleague of mine, who I’ve known for 15 years, walked up to me. This young man is currently the chief of a suburban department that borders a large metropolitan jurisdiction. His agency is experiencing some challenges that I believe he has handled incredibly well. I immediately shook his hand and told him how proud I was of what he’s accomplished as chief. He thanked me and we spent a few minutes discussing our respective agencies and catching up.

Before we departed he commented on my #RememberWhereYouCameFrom article. He told me that he schedules about one shift a week working with his guys. This time is calendared and blocked off for this express purpose. “Scott, you have no idea what it does for my people,” he said.

He also added something that I found interesting. He told me that working the streets with his personnel lowered his stress level. In essence, he was saying that working the road one shift a week allows him a “break” from the drama in the station. As he walked away, he added: “Keep it up, brother!”

So that’s what I’ll do.

1 Comment

  1. Todd

    I agree that getting out in ‘harms way,’ with your people will serve to keep you humble – that is in the truth of what we do as Police Officers. A great definition of humility is; “the acknowledgment of the truth.” Getting out in the field also brings familiar emotions such as legitimate fear, and in seeing injustices legitimate anger which must be controlled. In antiquity the word Meekness meant “controlled strength.” Getting out in the field reminds you of the legitimate dangers (fears) our people face and the tactics that are necessary to keep them alive. That said there is an old saying Catholic Priests used to use: “Nemo Dat Quod Non Habet – No man gives what he does not have!” So, the civilian Mayor who has not been a Police Officer has not ‘been there, nor done that.’ The special interest group(s), and the media definitely have not ‘been there – and done that!’ If you come from a big enough house (police agency) some of your own people may have been able to largely avoid working the high crime dangerous areas of town until securing a much safer position with the department where any chance of tactical professional competency just doesn’t exist.They may remain there until they pass a promotional exam, or two. Now ill equipped to lead they ascend to a position of authority. They cannot give what they do not have! So if you find yourself sitting in a position of leadership realize that it is your job to break your back, as it were, to gain professional competency in all facets of your job. Also it is your job to open your mouth boldly, and make your “Commanders,” intent or expectations clear to your people. That is going to require you placing yourself in a position of vulnerability to certain criticisms. So what?! “Do” and say the right things. Also, open your mouth to defend your people when they are acting rightly. It is your job to exercise some courage and have a willingness to risk losing some wealth, power, pleasure, and honor by telling whomever you are talking to the truth. Give it to them straight without watering it down! But do so patiently – especially when they get offended and lash out verbally at you. Remain steady and continue to tell them the truth so long as they’ll listen. Call upon your defensive tactics and firearms trainers to answer questions and be able to explain why exactly it is necessary, good, and true that we have to use force up to and including deadly force on unjust aggressors. It is our job to speak boldly to our people, our bosses (respectfully / tactfully), and the public without watering down truth. I have found it relatively easier to make clear my expectations to subordinates. It has proven much harder and requiring more reflection, work, and courage to tactfully lead up the chain of command.

    It is a mystery to me with all the chaos swirling about in society and the direct and indirect attacks on police that more Chiefs of Police, Sheriffs, or Professional Law Enforcement training groups or trainers are not out there with media defending the tactics and nobility of what we do. How can that be? Sheriff David Clarke in my view is probably the single greatest Law Enforcement leader in these dark days.

    “Action beats reaction” – that is a great principle to start with for tactics.

    There is authentic nobility in what police do in that we don’t care what race, sex, religion, or any other demographic you are – when you call 911 because an unjust aggressor is threatening bodily harm or death we don’t care what part of town you live in – we’re coming willing to risk our lives to confront and overcome that unjust aggressor – that wolf. How many politicians, race baiters, or members of the media are willing to do that? For those who accuse police of being racist – I tell you racists will not risk their very lives for someone they hate – they will not step into the gap. We do it everyday – there is authentic nobility in what we do.

    Part of the problem is ‘politicians’ in blues or browns who know how to “play the [political] game.” There is a temptation to see authority as mere power and prestige rather than responsibility and service. The only authentic authority is service! That “service,” is for your people. That service includes preparing them, training them, developing them, drilling the fundamentals – caring whether they live or they die. That service includes discipline – again caring whether they live or they die [perhaps their career]. There is a temptation to, “make nice with,” the civilian Mayor who has the power to put you in, and keep you in, those very positions of wealth, power, pleasure, and honors.

    The test isn’t just getting out there and working a shift now and then, that’s good, nothing wrong with that, it is a good thing indeed, but it’s so much more – it’s a willingness to suffer, to risk, to stand up and defend your people. You need to feel, the heat of the noon day sun, and the stinging cold of a winter rain! Are you willing to suffer a little for your people? Are you willing to take the risks that a Sergeant, a Lieutenant, Commander, or Deputy Chief, or Chief should be taking for their people? Now don’t misunderstand me I’m not talking about any form of cover up – that is bad and surely to be avoided. Authentic loyalty does not participate in cover ups, with a wink and a nod. That is simply corruption!

    A few thoughts on authentic loyalty; Authentic loyalty down the chain of command is defined in my view as having your people’s back when they are acting rightly, willing to go to the wall for your people to defend them when they act in a just way. Authentic loyalty is not covering things up when they do not act rightly. That’s just corruption. Authentic loyalty is in favor of accountability which is about discipline. No discipline – no authentically proud house. No discipline, no accountability and you will continue to experience scandals. Authentic loyalty does not
    abandon a member of the family like a rat fleeing a sinking ship because it is politically expedient to do so – but instead accompanies that family member by disciplining, correcting, encouraging, exhorting that member to do the next right thing. Take your medicine like a man if you’ve made a mistake! Regardless of whether they listen and accept responsibility for their actions – you ensure they are in fact held accountable. Authentic loyalty might have to say: You cannot work here anymore. Caring whether this person lives or dies literally, you still encourage them to get their head straight and continue on. Help them by encouraging them to pick up the pieces and push on – whether it is in your house, or out in society.

    I don’t know how anyone who has truly served in the most dangerous areas of a community can ever really “forget,” the experiences and lessons learned, in regards to officer safety. How can an officer forget the arrogant disobedience we have experienced thousands of times? I can see how some would be tempted to compromise their integrity for positions (power), money, pleasure, and honors. But I cannot see how they could truly forget what we have experienced on the streets of any town USA. I believe there is something more at work here, than mere memory. I believe it has to do with either gross incompetence or lack of a backbone to stand up against those forces that threaten whatever wealth, power, pleasure, and honors these so called leaders have ascended to. The currents of politics today are especially treacherous. We took the oath of office of a police officer, and we were willing to risk our very lives, to go up against those unjust aggressors who would prey on the weak and the innocent. That is what we need to remember as we climb the ranks – that same courage that served us well in the beginning of our police careers needs to be brought to bear in a new way – moral courage! We need to understand the issues up one side and down the other, which necessarily requires just like the rookie learning the job we also must continue to “put out,” on-our-own-time in an effort to understand these things. If we understand these things, we can then simply and clearly explain to those who have not “been there and done that” – why hard things like use of force up to and including deadly force are necessary, good, and true.

    Men follow courage, not cowardice. If you are looking out for number #1 – the officers will find you out! To really understand authentic leadership we need to look at all the characteristics present in type of leaders men actually follow in combat. Anyone can sit in the seat of a leader during peacetime – when their people are being paid well. When chaos and close proximity to death begin holding sway men will not follow incompetent leaders who lead from the rear. At the end of the day I believe authentic leadership can be condensed, distilled, and synthesized into just this:

    “Doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons!

    Caring whether your people live or die, in many and various small and large ways.

    Be willing and ready to suffer, and if need be die, for your people that they might – live.”

    By far the greatest Leader to ever walk the face of earth – is Jesus. If you want to understand authentic leadership study Jesus – and I say that as a Roman Catholic.


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