Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Moral Imperative of Intentionality - a leadership lesson from the noxious weed world

In my part of the great American Southwest there’s a terrible weed called tribulus terrestris. Roughly translated it means “pointy weapon of the earth”. We call them goat heads because of their shape and pointy horns. These burrs are worse than their cactus neighbors because they hitch a ride on clothing and drop strategically inside the house in places most likely to be traversed by bare feet. I find it no coincidence that the devil himself is often symbolized by a goat’s head.

After spending a good bit of time wresting them from my yard and gravel drive I began to think about the ease with which they seem to exist. Unlike the cool green grass I try to nurture and grow, or the tiny tremulous tomato plants we fed and watered, the pernicious weeds just got haphazardly dropped in the worst soil on the property and settled in for a long season. I case there is a chance of missing the metaphor, weeds are the damaging attitudes and behaviors in an organization in contrast to a carefully crafted workplace culture.  Here are a few lessons that occurred to me as I stabbed at those wicked roots in the hot sun:

Weeds are lazy and lucky
The things that leaders want, such as loyalty, performance, congruence with the mission, are things that must be nurtured, cared for, and maintained. We can seek to hire people with these qualities but maintaining desired behavior and attitudes is a constant process of growth. Low morale and sloppy work are insidious and barely noticeable but take root in any crevice they find.

Weeds are selfish
Annoying burrs don’t like to work for a living. They take their nutrients from the good plants. The beautiful and helpful growth will be weakened by the weeds. Not only do the weeds need to be stopped, killed, or removed, but the healthy plants must be protected. Pulling weeds near roses can damage the rose bush unless it happens early and carefully

Weeds cause unseen damage
I often am blissfully unaware of the goat head in the driveway until I unwittingly carry a burr into the house where, days later, I discover it in the sole of my bare foot during a 2 a.m. trek to the kitchen. Suddenly my whole attention is directed not only to removing the thorn from my paw, but also planning a venture into the dark web to purchase a nuclear device to rid the planet of tribulus terrestris. But a temporary rage against the annoyance solves nothing. Neither does a brief nuclear attack on the immediate problem. Cultivation and care is the key.

What are the weeds in your agency?
To apply the lessons of weed control the first quest is to find out what the weeds are and where they are hiding. After that comes not only an effort at eradication, but a renewed effort at nurturing the plants that need to be healthy and useful for a healthy environment.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Just another beating?

“Shocking video shows black man being 'beaten, punched and kicked by six North Carolina police officers'” shouts the headline on the UK’s Daily Mail website and echoed by many media outlets. It makes me wonder if they were reporting on an appendectomy whether the headline would read “Woman drugged and stabbed by masked gang”.

While the media are fighting for credibility like never before, the explosive bias of headlines like these can’t be balanced by the occasional reporting of actual facts buried in their narrative. Like moths to a flame, the assumption that police action is not only wrong but outrageously and gratuitously violent, seems to be irresistible. So, just in case any reporters read something other than their own bylines, let me break this down for them.

Shocking implies something wild, unexpected, and deeply wrong. Stories have a beginning, and this is where the story turned shocking – when the man was contacted by police and began actively assaulting them. It was very likely a surprise to the officers, but not shocking. After all, most cops have repeatedly experienced attempts by other to hurt or kill them. That part wasn’t shocking at all.

One perspective, almost always edited for effect by newscasts, showing a small percentage of the action being reported. Unlike television fictional fight scenes, street encounters are not choreographed, are not staged to show the tension-building falls and punches, and are not played to take greatest advantage of camera angles. The scenes, to my career-long disappointment, are also absent the background theme music and sound effects. Video can be evidence of something, but it is rarely automatically proof of anything.

“shows black man”
Why this racist approach to reporting continues in the face of culturally sensitive political censors is a mystery. The suspect’s behavior is hardly an asterisk in these reports and should be the focus of the finding of fact. If race, ethnicity, or gender were equally significant in all citizen-police encounters then headlines reporting the murders of police officers would routinely label the officers or their attackers as white, black, Asian, latino, female, male, gay or transgender. Victim officers are just cops. The demographics of offenders resisting arrest are rarely noted unless reporters smell the opportunity to cry racism.

“beaten, punched, and kicked”
No reader could doubt the connotation of this inflammatory language. There is little room for the reality of the careful calculation and restraint in use of force exhibited by these officers. Baton strikes are designed to be less than lethal efforts to stop an attack by interfering with nerve and muscle function. Baton strikes are aimed at specific parts of the body, but can be ineffective or land on an unintended target area during an actively attacking person. A single strike may not be effective in the most ideal circumstances when the baton is needed, so multiple strikes or strikes at more than one area simultaneously by more than one officer in no way constitutes a “beating” in the common understanding of the word.
Similarly, the use of an officer’s hands and feet to disable an attacker and bring an end to the resistance is perfectly aligned with lawful use of force to effect an arrest. Any observer familiar with the range of compliance options available to police officers to avoid lethal force can see that from verbal commands to empty hand control to Taser to baton, the officers heroically avoided killing a man who seemed intent on violently ending their attempts to take him into custody.

“Six North Carolina officers”
The number of officers is a fact to be reported, but to imply that there was an unfair number of officers against a lone offender is to rewrite the manual on use of force. Whether these officers intentionally engaged in a swarm maneuver, the concept of having multiple officers to enable a more peaceful restraint of a violent offender was developed for the very purpose of reducing injuries to suspects.

While it may be natural to emotionally identify with the officers with the belief that they are angry and offended, the reality is that the officers were using skills for which they were trained, equipped, and authorized to use. The story begins with the suspect’s resistance and violent attacks on the officers. The officers are aware that if the offender escapes, it isn’t just a blow to their ego, it pushes this violent man into the public’s risk. They are also aware that with each officer carrying multiple items which, if seized by the suspect in his frantic grasps, could be used to kill or disable an officer or other innocent citizen, the sooner this episode is ended, the safer it is for everyone, including the suspect.

A fact based headline
So, fellow journalists, can we stick to objective reporting in headlines? How about “Officers work together to arrest violent offender”, then a subheading of “man attempts to punch and bite responding officers, resists Taser”.

Now, roll that video. 

All of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A brief history of Street Smart Force training

Hi, I’m Joel and I’d like to share the story of StreetSmartForce training.  

I can easily share my resume, but all that will tell you is that I’ve been very fortunate to know some of the best, most dedicated trainers and educators of our day in the criminal justice field. What I really want you to know is that I really care about America’s police officers. As I look back on my many years of service I am astounded by how I survived! 

You see, I started at a time and place where you got suited up and put on patrol with the possibility of attending an academy sometime in the future. In fact, I was part of the very first class in my home state that started after the mandatory training law went into effect, even though I was grandfathered and exempt. My academy was a whole 120 hours and I completed it in my eighth month of my career.  

Within two years I became a trainer, adding Field Training Officer and Supervisor to my experience. I obtained first responder chaplain certification before 9/11 and volunteered with the NYPD shortly after flight resumed. I also began writing for Calibre Press’ Street Survival Newsline, and still write an award-winning column for PoliceOne.com. 

With further education I began to teach college courses part time and eventually became a full-time police academy instructor before moving into my first chief of police role. My biggest incentive came after taking the reigns of a police department just months after an unresolved officer-involved shooting, just about the same time I was finishing my doctoral dissertation on community policing through the University of Missouri.  

Being directly in charge of an OIS was a first for me, so I hit the research heavily. What I though I knew about high stress violent encounters. That was over ten years ago and led to my registration with the State of Colorado as a psychotherapist, and to my writing three of my books – Forward I Go – a collection of inspirational readings to encourage police officer, The Badge and the Brain – the central tenants of my training centered on human performance under stress, and Fifteen Ways to Calm Your Mind without driving yourself crazy – a guide for anyone, but especially first responders, for dealing in a practical way with anxiety and mental fitness. 

Although I can train your officers or employees on virtually any topic, since the focus of law enforcement right now is the two-fold concerns of use of force and mental health, that is where my current emphasis is. Contact me soon if you have any questions or issue I can help you with – personal or professional, or to get a sample of my training material and quotes on costs – which I’m sure you’ll find quite reasonable and competitive. It will be a joy to engage with you, so call, email, or message me soon!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Moral Imperative of Coercion and Compliance

 The consent of the governed establishes authority in our constitutional republic. Our representatives enact laws with the intent that most citizens will comply, but with penalties attached if they don’t. The only way for those penalties to be meaningful and ensure the safety and equality of law-abiding citizens is to have a mechanism for activating those penalties provided under the law.
That mechanism is force. It is the legitimate police power of government.

 Our history as a nation has included unjust and immoral laws. These laws have often been amended or eliminated by democratic action. Some have been changed through resistance and rebellion. Some remain to be aligned with the best of our natures. But the law requires obedience except in the most extraordinary circumstances. 

When police officers refer to the thin blue line, they mean that element of government that is empowered to bring those who break the laws of the land into accountability to their fellow citizens. This accountability is through a carefully crafted system that, though not flawless, faces the accused with a judgement by his or her peers in a court of law. Without these armed government agents, the system collapses, and those who would happily and peaceably obey the laws would be forced to fend for themselves at the mercy of the violent.

As a nation whose history includes revolution and civil disobedience for a higher moral calling of greater freedom and justice, we hold a culturally sacred place for thoughtful resistance. Historians of the future, and astute contemporary observers, will find the current culture of resistance to law enforcement is based on a tragically misplaced, destructive, delusional belief.

In the study of human behavior, especially collective and “viral” behavior, it is observed that while criminal behavior often derives from the offender’s ability to disregard social norms by some internal justification. When that criminal behavior gets defined by others with social influence and leadership as acceptable or at least justifiable, and in some cases admirable, the stage is set for broader social permission, or license, for others to emulate the once unacceptable behavior.

The narrative of rampant, enculturated unlawful behavior by law enforcement has been expressly and tacitly endorsed by an increasing number of persons of influence. These influencers, from President Obama to other elected officials, sports and Hollywood personalities, and social activists, have embedded in a layer of national consciousness the pernicious idea that the police in the United States have no moral authority to enforce the law. 

The results of this narrative is increased crime and violence against law enforcement officers by offenders, and injustice to officers lawfully engaged in their sworn duties who face punishment in the courts and in their agencies. At a time when study after study endorses the reality of the overwhelmingly appropriate and courageous actions of officers in the millions of daily transactions with the citizenry, the misguided endorsement of mistrust of the institution of policing in this country has veered from legitimate accountability into a national travesty.

The solution is for the voices of sanity to become louder than the increasingly irrational voices of encouraging lawlessness. The majority of Americans overwhelmingly respect and rely on their police. Those voices must be encouraged and  heard. Facts must become the substance of the narrative about racism, use of force, and police accountability. Lawmakers, clergy, journalists, and even members of our own profession must become better informed both on the facts, and on the reality of coercion as a legitimate democratic function of government, and compliance as the duty of its citizens. 

There are few people in a position to lead this education effort. If police officers, trainers, and leaders don’t take that responsibility, no one else will.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

From the archives: Survival mindset: Fake it 'til you make it?

First appeared in PoliceOne.com September of 2012
What I’m about to say may burst your bubble and make you so ticked off you can’t even finish the article through your angry eyes. I’m going to meddle with our collective and perhaps necessary cultural mythology. I’ll be branded a heretic to the religion of officer survival because I’m going to rail against cheap thinking that replaces reality in the minds of many of our police officers today. And I’ll even throw in a Bible verse to make the atheists and agnostics think I’m narrow minded and exclusive. All ready on the firing line?
The survival mindset is overrated.
Hold your fire. Maybe what I really mean is that survival mindset is misunderstood, misapplied, and misdirected.
Let’s do a little thinking about what sometimes passes for a survival mindset.
Are you overweight, out of shape, and full of junk food? Then you don’t have a survival mindset, you have a good luck charm. Your positive attitude isn’t going to push more oxygen through that extra few miles of blood vessels you’ve got weaving through your fat cells. If you had a genuine survival mindset you’d go for a walk every once in a while and stop popping buttons off your shirt.
Is your personal life a mess? Then you don’t have a survival mindset, you have paranoia and control issues. Your so-called will to survive is limited to not getting killed on any given day. A genuine survival mindset comes with a lot of reality checks and life balance.
“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he,” says Proverbs 23:7.
How can you be a survivor in one area of your life and not all? Real confidence applies to every facet of your life, not just your swagger in uniform.
Are you as ready to sacrifice your life for a heroic cause as you are to survive combat? If not, then you have a strong sense of self-preservation, not a survival mindset. If you are quick to criticize officers who have died in the line of duty by spouting off that they just didn’t have a survival mindset that’s usually a sign that you’re whistling in the dark in denial about the realities of dynamic lethal encounters that you just can’t process. A deep survival mindset accepts death as a reality that does not deter what you have to do.
Do you approach your duties casually because you can handle anything that comes up? Overconfidence is not a survival mindset. It’s just cocky and stupid. Are you afraid of what other officers will think if you ask for a back-up? Do you rush in to prove you’re not afraid of anything? That’s posturing for your buddies, not solid police work.
Do you ignore advice of senior officers or cops from other agencies because you think you have the best, newest training? The survival mindset wastes no information. It seeks out small nuggets and puts together bits and pieces from every person, every trainer, every offender, and even people you don’t like. The officer who thinks they have arrived at their peak of knowledge and proficiency is not survival minded, but small minded. The true warrior is a humble learner.
Do you make light of death, tragedy, sorrow, and see emotion as a weakness? Then you’ve got a light-weight coping skill, not a tough survival mindset. Survival deals with reality and processes in a slow, mature way. Survival does mean suppressing your emotions appropriately — not ignoring them in yourself or others.
I recognize that I haven’t given a good definition of what a survival mindset is — just a few examples of what it isn’t. My goal is to start a discussion about whether we are really training today’s officers in that attitude, or merely brainwashing them to think that mindset trumps discipline and training.
It does not.
Bravado, posturing, boasting, pretending, and ignoring our fears are useful tools. Sometimes we do have to fake it until we make it. But as a lifestyle, they are poor substitutes for a survival mindset that will rise to any occasion, yields to learning, and balances the will to live with the will to live well, and with the courage to die. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

From the archives: 7 habits of unsuccessful departments

This originally appeared on PoliceOne.com October 2010
Last week, Chuck Remsberg did an article — 7 habits of successful departments — that offered some excellent suggestions and best practices.  Unfortunately, we sometimes see police leaders who end up doing the exact opposite of what one may call a best practice.  So it seems fitting that we follow up with an article on unsuccessful departments. Without further delay — but with a respectful nod to Stephen Covey — here are seven characteristics of weak police agencies.
1. Serving the Wrong Customer
The first customer of a police leader is the officer in the patrol car. If officers treated citizens the way some supervisors treat officers there would be complaints rolling in on a daily basis. Compassion, communication, respect within a department creates the same attitudes on the street. If you want cops who care about the citizens you need leaders who care for their cops.
2. Pretending to do Community Policing
Chiefs are forced to claim they are doing community policing and will attach that label to the slenderest thread of something that resembles it. Genuine community policing involves bringing diverse interests into a discussion of community problems. Line level officers are critical to the success of collaborative efforts and must be empowered with discretion and resources.

3. Assuming Integrity
Public relations, crime prevention, and community meetings don’t amount to community policing but often are substituted for the hard work of communicating and collaborating.
Some departments over-assume police delinquency and have no trust in the professionalism of their officers. At the equally distressing opposite end of that spectrum is a department with no accountability and no healthy policy in place to maintain integrity.
Audits and reviews of all aspects of policing that are subject to discretion and abuse should be a part of operational structure. This includes evidence, petty cash, working with youth, drug enforcement, traffic enforcement, and attendance patterns. Monitoring officer conduct maintains discipline and serves as an early warning system for officers who need guidance. It also indentifies, rewards, and encourages integrity.
4. Exotic Training
The default training strategy of ineffective police departments is “scheduling by brochure” — the lack of a focused set of training objectives in favor of catching training as it happens along. While it’s good to offer specialty training to keep officers interested and motivated, sending an officer to underwater evidence recovery school makes little sense when basic competencies remain un-mastered. Underperforming police agencies fail to establish a cohesive and relevant training plan.
5. Bootstrap Counseling
Agencies that do not attend to the psychological health of their officers will suffer loss of productivity, shortened officer careers, and higher levels of sick leave and injury. Ignoring the traumatic events — or defining traumatic events as “just part of the job” — creates a sense of hopelessness in officers that can lead to a slow erosion of their effectiveness. Regular supportive and preventive services should be as important as any other department operational consideration.
6. Line-led Culture
Leadership requires the establishment and maintenance of culture and tradition. Departments that fail to create a sense of identity, mission, and purpose from its leaders will create their own out of the basic human need for identity and belonging. Values of hardened and cynical officers can dominate an agency if not countered by positive and rich symbols, ceremonies, language, and traditions established by high-performing leaders.
7. Unshared Leadership
Leaders who fail to understand that they are not always the smartest person in the room fail to cultivate the intellect and influence of their officers and staff. Ideas must be genuinely welcomed, available for consideration, and rewarded. Leaders may not want to share power, but it is essential that they share influence. Not every idea is a good one, but not every good idea comes from the command staff. Underperforming law enforcement agencies are almost always governed by fear of engagement with managers.
Effective policing is accomplished through an artful blend of strong leadership and discipline, balanced by trust and support of those who do the hard work on the streets. Mutual respect and communication will strengthen the agency and multiply its effectiveness in serving the community.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Listening to your brain: 5 ways to deal with job stress

From the archives: This first appeared in PoliceOne.com December 2009
The problem with talking to cops about stress is that there’s a little too much touchy-feely going on in some of those discussions. So let’s talk biology. Our brain soup is not a hot tub with little bubbles of hearts and balloons percolating around just waiting to be nurtured. It’s a complicated but primitive mess of chemistry and tissue. Much of what we interpret and label as “feelings” are actually biological processes over which we may have limited control.
No tough cop wants to think they have lost control of their feelings. I sure don’t want to think that. My job and identity are defined by self-control. I need it, I like it, I’m proud of it, and I’m not giving it up. But if I break a leg and it hurts and makes me limp, that has nothing to do with self-control. It’s just a limitation of biology caused by the stress of somebody’s bumper hitting me at 35 m.p.h. (been there, done that!). The same is true with my brain being thumped by stress. I can deal with it now, or limp with it later.
Basically your brain is operating in two different worlds: the rational and the primitive. When it comes to stress there’s a part of your brain that is sneaking around like a naughty teenager. Nestled comfortably somewhere behind your forehead is your parent-brain sitting in the den placidly smoking a pipe and reading Plato. The brain in the back of your skull is the teenager down in the basement bedroom doing God knows what. Like any parent of a teenager, the calm, rational brain relaxing in the den and analyzing life with a cool, experienced hand doesn’t necessarily want to know what’s going on in the basement. Like any teenager, the primitive basement brain doesn’t think the rational brain needs to know all of its business, but still needs attention and sometimes acts up just to see of the parent gives a darn.
So congratulations on that teen brain of yours. There it sits, nestled in the brain stem, probably thinking about sex. Even if you’re an old duffer like me that impulsive, adrenaline-fueled, hormone-charged bundle of nerves still wants to run things and doesn’t know when to shut up and behave.
Chances are good that your goofy youngster is doing what it thinks is best to help us survive, but making us miserable in the process. Basement brain is selfishly worried about surviving right this moment; it has no sense of the future. It doesn’t care about digestion or fighting off disease or starting a family. It only cares about keeping nerves at attention to recognize threats and getting blood to large muscle groups to be ready to fight. Teen brain doesn’t realize that putting the body in a state of hyper-alertness damages the parent’s ability to relax, engage in emotional closeness, sleep well, digest food, have fulfilling sex, or concentrate on small details. The parent brain is too busy compensating for these icky feelings to pay attention to the stuff in the basement even though that’s really where the problem is.
Are you getting the analogy? Is it time for you to get in touch with your inner 14-year-old. This is the person who is stressing you out and you don’t even know it. Consider one or more of these suggestions:
1) Ask the people who know you best “Do you think police work has changed me?” Don’t be defensive. Listen and let them answer honestly. Ask at least three people and compare their answers. Your self-awareness will impress them. 
2) Be a watcher and listener. Cut the bravado and big talk. If there’s a tough case a fellow officer just handled you don’t have to get your puppy dog face on and say, “How did that make you feel?” Just listen. What you hear may tell you as much about yourself as it does about the other person. 
3) Ask a younger version of yourself if you’re sadder, more tired, or less connected than you used to be. Think about who you were a few years ago. We all toughen up — that’s a good thing. But when we grew our thick skin did we trap a cold heart in there too? 
4) Casually ask your doctor about stress — both traumatic and cumulative — and see where you are on the checklist of warning signs. 
5) If you can’t manage to ask a professional then use the Internet or the public library to find some good information about PTSD, stress, and healthy lifestyles.
I want to hear from you, so e-mail me. I might even talk some sense into that teenaged brain of yours.