Home » Word On the Street » POLICE It is Leadership – Especially Mayors

POLICE It is Leadership – Especially Mayors

Much consideration was given to my writing this article.  I believe in American Cops.  I believe in heroes.  I believe in Policework being performed by the very best among us in keeping with the finest traditions of equality that make America great and unique and a beacon for the world.   

This column is intended to address todays Police difficulties with honesty, compassion, understanding, and respect.  This is not a two-sided debate.  It is an American debate.  It is a leadership debate.  Where standards are set. From leadership comes training.  From training comes culture.  From culture comes quality, from quality comes the best that we can be.

I want to be very clear.  Violence is often part of Police work.  It often cannot be accomplished with any kind of restriction that may impair what must be done to keep us safe.  When I say excess must be “glaring and clear” that is what I mean.  This column is about the less than 1% of Police that do not live up to honorable standards.  I will tell you where they come from, why they are there and what must be done to stop them.  Perspective applies so prominently in most matters in this article.  Please know that the finest, the real heroes, are braving the storm among much public unrest.  I believe they are learning that the1% that glaringly violate reason and humane policing has to be functionally retrained or has to go.  And with them the rules, the displaced loyalties and the parts of the culture that allow glaring clear wrong. In Syracuse with 497 officers an estimated 5 are demoralizing the public and the police each day.  This is what must stop throughout the land.

Donlon, Beeson, McPhail, Sadler, Harrington, Post, McRae, Benbenek, Trow, Knopfler, Downey.  This is about an elite profession.  Respect for what you read here is what will give it meaning.  So, I am leading with these men.  Each was a friend.  Each is a combat hardened (I did not fight) Green Beret, and these are the men that framed my sense of justice that has held for 50 years.  I know what bravery is, I know what loyalty is, I know what American is, I know what equality is, and I am able to apply them all with honor.  Google the first two if you want a feeling for the hearts of the men that are behind what you are about to read.

Civilian leadership is the foundation of “rule by the people”.  In every town and city, the quality of Police is a reflection of the quality of their Mayor.  Mayors are the immediate civilian authority over Police. Police require a special kind of Leadership.  You are dealing with those that confront our most dangerous citizens every day.  Danger on every level is sprinkled in with the innocent.  That is why the very best among us is required.  They must have fined tuned perception andexpertise. It requires caring elite individuals to safely excise criminality and danger from the innocent.  Training must provide guidelines for expected mindset.   With perspective.Police have been victims of neglected systemic culture creep. Culture creep is the transmission of course and values and it comes from the top.  This is what Mayor’s must learn.  This is a compendium.  What is truly vital for Mayors is provided.

It must be known with absolute truth that must not get lost in a world of sensationalism and hype.  Police departments are virtually full of heroes and bravery.  In the midst of this chaos against Police they remain our finest.  Each must be willing to expose themselves to danger, gunfire and potential death.  They all do this at one time or another.  Many do this with tragic regularity.  Exposure to guns and gunfire has become a constant.  Danger is real.  Last night three young men were shot in Syracuse.  The night before two people were shot and there were six reports of gunfire.  It happens virtually every day with extremely rare exception.  A cop must answer to each bullet.  This is why their weapon is never far from their mind.  And this is where expertise and compassion of the highest order is required.  I am 75.  I have known an easy 200 Sheriffs and Syracuse Police Officers in my day.  And I can tell you Syracuse has some of the finest Cops in the entire Country.  That being said they have also been exposed to this culture of tolerance for undue violence.

There are four damaging problems that should not exist in an American Police Department. First, there is no adequate process to prevent the toxic from becoming Police.  Second, is the absurd culture of protecting those few.  All evil needs to exist is permission.  Third, the quality of adherence.  Once standards are set adhering integrities “in place” are vital or little will change. Fourth, a failure to recognize that these toxic few are taking you all down.  They are you’re your Achilles heel.  These few are why America is in the streets.  If you concentrate on these issues the rest will fall in line.

Something I found stunning and highly detrimental is some wording in the Police Officers Creed.  This should have been written and reviewed with massive care as every Cop in America is exposed to this “Creed”.  In such matters it is not always what is meant that matters.  It is how it is taken.  It is perspective.  If one single item fueled todays difficulties it is this.  The passage I refer to reads: “Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided to me in my official capacity ‐ will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.” (Note the implication and then the contradiction in the International Association of Police Chiefs oath that follows) This statement causes attitude confusion and fosters a restrained environment.  It serves more as an “Omerta” instruction with “unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty” serving as cover.   The ramifications from this are enormous. It goes far beyond protecting a citizen’s rights in a case.  It provides safety for wrong or even heinous behavior.  It is incentive to protect glaring and clear intentional or reckless violence, to falsify reports and to relinquish responsibility when peers perform with dishonor. Otherwise this is quite a creed of honor.  The intent and reasons for each sentence in this creed should be reviewed in the Academy.

There are different versions of the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor. They often vary by state. The one that matters the most to the lives of Police today is this one:  The International Association of Police chiefs – Law Enforcement Oath of Honor:  Chiefs around the world understanding the bottom line which embraces protecting the honor of ALL.  “On my honor, I will never Betray my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for “our” actions.” (The preceding sentence expects you to see the line between protecting a bad actor or the honor of Police) I will always maintain the highest ethical standards and uphold the values of my community, and the agency I serve”.

In all of this we must never underestimate the danger and complexity of policing. Again, I want to be clear about leeway.  Police do need much leeway in the streets. “In the moment policing” is often intensely complicated and takes place in a few seconds.  However apart from those “intense in the moment”responses, there is a space between leeway and “glaring and clear” excessive violence.  This is where the elite and the best are tested.  And the cruel and prejudiced are exposed.

Perspective is vital.  It is training and the ability to protect each other that keeps death rates similar to many other professions. Cops are good at what they do.  They have to be.  And nothing in this article suggests sacrificing personal safety.  Training should embrace perspective so that process embraces real rather than imagined danger. There are 800,000 Law Enforcement Officers in America. Last year 89 died in the line of duty.  41 of these were in auto accidents.  Police have 63 million interactions with civilians each year. Injuries are very common, 669,100 from 2003 to 2014.  Yet this is the era of guns and a cop has every right to begun ready.  Perspective on each call is required.  What you are looking for is expertise leaving room for compassion.  The margin of error “in the moment” wherever there is a gun must go to the Cop.  Except when “clear and glaring” alternative is available.  This information should be gathered and offered in a “Perspective” class. Amplified emotion and remote danger are a bad recipe.  Police must never sacrifice safety yet there is nearly always (not always) much room for balancing real danger. This is where heroes are made.  Yet heroes, must also go home.

Few Mayors have any idea what attitudes are fostered in training.  I strongly urge in this era that the following be added to curriculum.  History, particularly of the Black plight should be taught.  (Refer to my column for August 2020 at “word on the street table hopping”.   Re Confederate Monuments – Understanding becomes clear when truth is known) There are reasons for what Police experience that they have not been shown.  If ongoing historical truths that forced the ghettos were known, constructive attitudes would vastly improve.  There are still, today, on nearly every level of society, major societal deprivations forced on Blacks for being Black. I urge you to start with my referenced column.  I researched intensely so you could see and feel the wrongs.

Thinking and attitudes fostered in training need serious review.  Adherence to Creeds and Oaths and honor needs to bestrengthened.  Tough and Brave is when you see and treat those doing wrong things as broken men and women.  The precise definition of bravery is “Heroic deed balanced with compassion”.   Suspects are rarely enemies.  They are human beings, neighbors and Americans and at this time in their life they are on one of numerous paths that break the law.  They are misguided and the function of police and society is to begin the process that helps them get better.  Any cop that does not agree with this is a weakness holding up the course necessary torestore police honor in the thinking of our people.

All but the incorrigible, (those unable to be corrected, improved, or reformed) will agree.  The irony is that even with the problems that have evolved American Police Departments do draw the best among us.  Among an immense number of our very best and talented the Force also draws a small number of the worst among us. The School bullies while growing up, racists, and genetically cold hearts are often attracted to Police work.  They have learned from experience to be normal when expected.  So many can and do become Cops.  They are the worst kind of person.  And you have some of them in every department. They tarnish the brave and hero and the decent and they are why America is in the streets.  And there is no reasonable way to get rid of them.  More than any other matter, this is the one you need to clean up.  This is the one that will restore and maintain respect and pride from the public.

Mayors, yes Mayors and Police Unions must come to terms with the truth. You are victims of negligent culture creep. No one has been adequately minding the store. Buffalo was a clear glaring cruel and disgraceful wrong and largely motivated this Article. Police knocked down this old man and with blood pouring out of his head, dozens of Police Officers walked by, restrained by a fear of culture that outweighed loyalty to their Creed and their own humanity.  This was evil.  57 officers resigned in protest when accountability was being exercised.  Honor would have been protecting the old man.  170 officers called in sick in Atlanta after another incompetent killing.  That these 57 and 170 officers thought that these reckless actions should be defended is the scariest part of all. With these protests we have entered a new and unique historical era.  Those are vastly honorable Americans of every race.  It is America in the streets.  Police are a critical part of what is going to make or break this country. The lessons here are clear. Police must enter every encounter, especially during the excitement of protests, with understanding and compassion, and as little violence as possible. And the few that are offended by this sentence are unfit to protect us.

Recently the New York Police Department Union endorsed President Trump.  I have heard he enjoys some favor among Police.  All I can tell you is this:  Eras have culture and feeling all of their own that often do not follow facts into History.  Without this contribution to perspective understanding is often not accurate. I think we have lost touch with too much. There was a post WWII era of patriotism where America shined like no other.  The pursuit of human decency was in our Blood.  We began to correct our past. The Civil Rights movement played a large roll in this.  We had become the beacon for all of humanity as our pursuit was real and just.  All of us, no matter our opinion, were respected by each other.  Fairness to all mattered.  I stood in formations and when the Star-Spangled Banner began to play you could almost hear the click as fingertips flew to foreheads in a salute filled with the chill of Patriotism.  Real Patriotism, as we were lived it and breathed it and we loved this land.  It still runs through my blood today and as my generation dies, I want the pursuit of this greatness to live on.  I can only tell you Donald Trump does not have one once of Patriotism in his blood or his soul.

We ask the very best of our young to become our Knights, the exemplars of courage.  Our Police.  To be our protectors against human evil, and temporary human error, and to maintain order that allows social peace where freedom to pursue happiness is secure.  Our elite, our brave, our compassionate, our quick and our good are asked to become Police.  We must give them an environment where heroes flourish and values grow and honor is real and decent and American and good.   And if careful review shows the diminishment of any of this, it must be fixed or America is lessoned, as our Police are absolutely integral for a land with American values to live those values and be the beacon for mankind that has moved all of humanity forward.  If you’re a Cop, stay the course, walk tall in the storm as you are the Knights, the heroes without which America cannot mend or move forward.

Bill McClellan