This is our IACP issue, meaning it s the issue we distribute at the 2007 International Association of Chiefs of Police conference this month. And it probably means we should be putting our best foot forward to make the best impression possible, right? After all, if you know the heavies are watching, you should be on your best behavior, right?
Those of you who regularly read my Editor s Note know I don t often just go with the flow. So, is this a great issue? You bet. Is it better because the chiefs are looking? Absolutely not. We don t work that way. Never have and never will. Our efforts are full-on whether or not those with the stars are watching.
How about you? Do you stand a little taller, speak a little more politely and make an extra effort when you know someone of power or influence is watching your actions? If you do, I encourage you to examine your motives and your work ethic. Should you really put forward your best effort only when someone who can help you or hurt you is around?
What about the way you treat people? Be honest. Think of the last few traffic stops you made and replay the way you interacted with the people. If your spouse or significant other could watch a video tape of the entire encounter, would they be proud of the way you conducted yourself? Contrast that with the last time you made a traffic stop and learned the driver was a friend of a friend, or the brother of a fellow officer. If you re thinking, I have to project authority and maintain a high level of vigilance to maintain officer safety, I understand, but that s not what I m talking about. I m talking about your attitude and treating people respectfully.
I once worked with a patrol sergeant who regularly told officers, Treat everyone like they re going to be your next door neighbor tomorrow. Boy, that s a sobering statement. Don t misunderstand. This doesn t mean you don t have to prone people out on the pavement or confront people at gunpoint or even yell at someone in the meanest tone you can muster. Let me put it this way: Try to treat people the same way you would expect a fellow officer to treat your brother, sister, best friend, etc., if they were contacted under the same circumstances. In other words, if they re a bank robber with a gun, they re going to go down hard and likely take a bullet. Conversely, if they commit some type of minor traffic violation, they ll get a professionally delivered citation or warning without arrogance or putdown.
But here s the really tough one to remember: Sometimes, cops must exercise a little discretion and empathy because human beings will always make mistakes. I was reminded of this when I read Randy Sutton s article in the August issue ( What Legacy Will You Leave Behind? p. 44). Sutton shared something he was told by a veteran officer that came to define his approach to his profession and even his life. A simple but powerful statement that you must reflect on to soak in its full meaning: The difference between a good cop and a great cop is compassion.
If you re a full-bore, hook em, book em, door-bustin cop, I respect both your efforts and the fact you have stayed with me to this point. There s nothing wrong with writing a lot of tickets or making a lot of arrests. Just remember that your routine day probably includes at least a couple of nightmares for average people. That ticket, arrest, crime report, etc., may well be the most traumatic event they have been through in a long time, maybe their entire life.
I want to offer you a tool to conduct a self-check on the way you treat people. Buy or borrow a small digital audio recorder and turn it on for several of your contacts, especially the most challenging (like a teenage driver with attitude). Do it long enough that you drop your guard and act normally. Then, with no one around, go back and listen carefully while asking yourself if you did your best. This simple self-evaluation effort will give you great (and cheap) insight to the way you conduct yourself in the field.
Several years ago, I had an officer who had been receiving attitude complaints perform this little exercise. You know what? The complaints dropped to almost nothing. The officer later told me he just didn t realize the way he sounded when he talked to people.
Remember: The difference between a good cop and a great cop is compassion.
Stay safe, and if you happen to attend the 2007 IACP conference, come by and see us. We ll be in booth #4507.
Dale Stockton, Editor