FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Recently, Ol' Bullethead attended an unusual community meeting. This was not the sort of meeting where people come in and scream about how their brother-in-law got jacked up by the mean cops and he got arrested . . . it was not his fault . . . they weren’t his pants and the 2 oz. of meth wasn’t his either . . . and now who’s going to put food on the table for his wife and kids? I like those meetings. Who doesn’t like messing with anyone who would bring up something like that?
This meeting, on the other hand, brought together heavy-hitter representatives from various community groups to meet with the department. And it revealed three things to me about the way the public perceives us that really stuck in my head. I probably knew these things all along, but at some point I lost them behind my search for crooks. Let’s take a look at these three things from our perspective and, as best I can, from their perspective so I can figure out why the non-cop community is so crazy—or maybe why we are.
Number one: We’re failing horribly at educating the community about what we do and about how and why we do it. The comments and expectations from the people at this meeting were so far from the reality of day-to-day police work that my head spun around like that lady in The Exorcist. I wasn’t angry about what they were saying. I was just confused.
Since this was the heavy-hitter community meeting, the Head Shed from the department was there to speak and I was just window dressing. That helped because, although I can play the political game when I need to, I was caught as flat-footed as an English boxer. Some of these comments caught me like a stiff jab right on the chin.
Don’t get me wrong, these people showed overwhelming support for the men and women out there doing the job. They were just really confused about what we do. Or I’m really confused about what we should be doing—fat chance!
These folks think every cop should go door-to-door and find out what’s going on with each family and work to solve those issues, instead of going out and kicking over rocks and looking for gangsters or dopers or roving bands of vandals and thieves.
Number two: The community leaders feel like they don’t know what’s going on in the city and with the department. That one got me because the level of involvement cops have with these leaders is much higher than they have with the community at large. Still, the community leaders had no idea about the resources available to them that would keep them informed about police issues and community events with cop participation.
Number three: Community leaders have an impressive amount of support for the hard working officers out there in the streets. I’m that cop who has spent my entire career out at the tip of the spear. I love working in the dark and I love hunting for scumbags. When that’s all you do, sometimes you end up with a particular view of the world that isn’t flattering. I’d worked my way into a mindset where all people are bad and our job is just to prove it.
Going to this meeting opened my eyes to what I used to know: Most of the public supports us, and most of them are good people. I still can’t figure out how they think we have the unlimited resources necessary to go door-to-door solving whatever problems may arise—but, hey, we all have dreams!
The Final Word
So from the three things that really stuck with me—most of the public supports us but they are completely crazy about the realities of police work and have no idea how to stay informed—I came to the conclusion that we need a whole bunch more outreach. I’m not just talking about setting up a booth at the local chili cook-off, either.
We need to get out to large community meetings—telling 8–10 people at the Neighborhood Watch meeting is going to take too much time. We need to collect e-mail addresses so we can send out blasts about events and encourage the public to follow our press releases, Twitter pages and whatever else we have to keep them informed. If your agency isn’t communicating with the public in these ways, you need to get on the tip of that spear and get moving in that direction.
Finally, we should make a few friends. Most of the public is good and most of them have our backs, and we should encourage that behavior by getting to know those we serve.
Got a question or complaint? Let Bullethead hear about it. He'll give you his opinion WITH BOTH BARRELS. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax him at 619/699-6246.