One night on my way home from a tour of duty, I saw a fatal traffic accident had closed down the freeway. I used surface streets to reach Pasadena in my small, unimpressive economy car. Turning onto a residential street, I saw four men stripping a new Cadillac. I stopped and flipped on my high beams to read the license plate of the pickup truck they were driving. I was in the process of writing down the number when I saw them running toward me. It was too late to back up; one was reaching for my driver door handle.
The odds weren t good: It was four against one, and they were wielding large wrenches and other menacing tools. As one man began to open my driver s door, I grabbed my .357 Smith & Wesson Combat Magnum from the passenger s seat and kicked the door open, knocking him back. This action surprised the suspect and allowed me to exit the vehicle safely.
The other suspects had surrounded me when they saw the Magnum; they were stunned. I asked, What are you going to do with those wrenches? They all dropped the tools, as if on cue. I announced I was a police officer, had them step to the curb and cautiously patted them down for guns. They had none.
I couldn t think of any practical way to take them into custody. I ordered them to throw their wallets on a pile in front of me. They complied. I pulled some identification from each billfold and threw them back to the street. I told them I was going to Pasadena s police headquarters and advised them to wait for the police to respond. I didn t expect them to obey.
At police headquarters, I explained the situation to the desk sergeant. He quickly revised and clarified a broadcasted emergency armed robbery call. Apparently, a cab driver saw me taking the men s wallets at gunpoint and radioed for the police. Amazingly, the four thieves were sitting on the curb waiting for the police when they arrived, moments later.
This true story demonstrates a type of respect forcing respect when in dangerous criminal confrontations. However, in our daily leadership responsibilities, generating respect is much more complex and can t be forced; respect must be earned through making good decisions.
Good Decisions Earn Respect
In our profession, we regularly make and confront decisions. Decisions are just part of the territory. And, when decisions are made, the results rarely please everyone. There are usually individuals or groups unhappy with the fallout because decisions made by authority figures are often scrutinized and criticized.
Various criteria can be used to assist officers in making decisions. Words like acceptable, expedient, popular, easy and safe come to mind. Some just rely on the book. They realize using discretion is somewhat dangerous. It involves less risk to just apply a regulation or law, even if those mandates allow for some judgment.
Here are some questions that can help officers to make sound decisions.
Does this decision fall within the established legal framework?
Is the decision within policy?
Is the decision morally and ethically sound? For example, a knife-wielding suspect is a threat, and the use of deadly force is legal and within policy. But in this situation, is the use of deadly force morally and ethically sound?
Is your main consideration personal interest or fairness to all? Are you attempting to garner accolades and/or favor? Are you thinking of the welfare of the organization and community? For example, correcting a trainee may be appropriate, but can also result in resentment and rejection.
It s my opinion that if officers end their careers with the respect of colleagues and community members, they re successful. Respect is the most realistic goal to pursue as a decision maker.
I ve found that the road to respect demands more than popularity, ease or caution. Respect must be earned. Respect comes from recognizing the decision maker is doing their best to do the right thing. And, doing the right thing is often neither easy nor desirable. The right or noble decision often involves going against the flow or current.
One of our country s early leaders, William Penn, allegedly stated: Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it. The right decision is not always the popular decision. In the long run, however, right decisions result in respect —on point.