Do You Have Moxie And The Uniform To Match?
“I believe as first responders we lose our innocence so the citizens can keep theirs.” It’s a profound statement, don’t you think? One of my former colleagues, Wes Gudahl, wrote these words in an email he addressed to the police department upon his retirement from law enforcement and subsequently shared with me. We are “like” thinkers with regards to work ethic, duty, and honor.
Gudahl continued, “The greatest trust the American people can give is for us to uphold the laws they have enacted. We protect the innocent and those who cannot protect themselves. Sometimes this is frustrating, irritating, and feels hopeless. However, we never let down. I once was told by a veteran police officer a long time ago, ‘You have the power to change someone’s life forever.’ I have never forgotten those words. Use that power wisely. Treat your partners, the department, and the public with respect and professionalism. We don’t always have to agree and sometimes respecting someone is hard but we don’t have the excuse not to be professional. Respect and professionalism are important elements. When we treat others with professionalism, regardless of how they respond to us, only then can we truly respect ourselves. Respect and professionalism are part of a team concept not a self-serving concept. I guess when I look in the mirror the person looking back needs to know no matter how the other person treated me, I did, and will, treat them with professional respect.”
Being a law enforcement officer is a noble and selfless occupation. Police officers are entrusted with substantial authority and are expected to carry out and uphold the local, state, and federal laws, take risks, and suffer inconveniences to protect and secure the safety of others. Most of the citizens they serve are strangers. The community has a right to expect the authority vested in the officers will be in the public’s best interest and in accordance with the law. I think we could all agree on these factors. So what is Gudahl referring to in his letter to the troops? Perhaps he was liberating his fellow officers-leaving them with an imprint of the public trust of police power and the importance of achieving excellence.
First, perhaps we should lay the grounds for a general definition of the word “professionalism” and its fundamentals as the word applies to law enforcement. If someone were to inquire with various officers, it would result in very different meanings, but perhaps would generate the same core foundation. Would it surprise you there has not been a widely recognized definition or model established for law enforcement?
Law enforcement is no longer thought of as just a service trade, but a profession with many skilled performance standards which are evaluated, licensed, certified, and accredited. A peace officer must have continuing education and training which qualify them for re-certification in order to keep their sworn status. The requirements and skills sets must also be practiced to a proficient level, followed by qualification testing. Furthermore, an officer is expected to maintain high ideals, respect, integrity, compassion, and conduct themselves with others in a fair manner while adhering to all legal policies and procedures. They are enjoined to display superlative leadership both internally to the department and externally in the community.
I will offer this nucleus blueprint: professionalism, as it pertains to the law enforcement field, includes belonging to the profession and behaving in that occupation according to the industry benchmarks, having measurable standards of performance, and continuing education and practices. It begins with high criterion for recruitment, selection processes, and formal training. Furthermore, professionalism requires state certification, re-certification, continuing education hours, performance evaluations, accreditation, and licensing. Additionally, officers are required to maintain qualification proficiency in various physical skills including but not limited to: physical fitness, custody and control, firearms skills. Law enforcement has a specific code of ethics and organizations hold each officer accountable to that code.
A LEO (law enforcement officer) candidate’s past behavior, conduct, and choices are highly scrutinized during the hiring process. This scrutiny continues throughout the officer’s entire police career. In fact, perhaps more so as a person enters a life of law enforcement service, his or her personal affairs are expected to be unsullied. I still remember being lectured to live a life of a high morale standard on and off duty including foregoing outings with friends such as frequenting bars, some social gatherings, and parties. An officer may not even be able to eat at their favorite restaurant while in uniform because of public perceptions, food tampering, and duty interruptions. Time with family, vacations, holidays, and hobbies can be interrupted or cancelled at the last minute. Call outs are frequent intrusions of sleep patterns and off duty plans.
On the surface, personal sacrifices sound mainstream and are presumed to go with the uniform. If you think about it, it really is similar to military service and refusing a call out or change in position status is a nonacceptance of the duties. In other words, you know what you stipulated to prior to service and refusing your duties is dereliction. Negative actions are subject to discipline and/or termination.
Additionally, your career path may not be the same as the department’s agenda and supervisors often place employees in positions or specialties to best benefit the organization. An officer’s pilgrimage in law enforcement may be based upon more so on department needs rather than personal interests. In turn, the department demands bleed into an your personal life and goals. However, an officer has some influence in the direction of their career.
Still, officers are willing to make personal sacrifices for the service of their community. To demonstrate professionalism and the ethical standards required from a peace officer, an Oath of Honor is recited in a public affirmation as a vehicle of their commitment. I propose Gudahl was digging deeper with his final address leaving the imprint that officers not only recite an oath of honor but they must believe in it and portray it to the public. Moreover, an officer should be a professional exemplar and should exude commendatory character. Would you fancy anything less from a law enforcement official?
Taken from Adam M. Grant’s book, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”, he writes, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” This statement could not be closer to the candor, respect, and ethics a peace officer should carry out on duty with public contacts. An officer’s professionalism and respect for others is paramount, especially when communicating and effecting law and order with all citizens, victims, and suspects whether or not they are of dangerous or unsavory character.
Organizations cannot afford to hire or retain high risk personnel nor those who are not suited for community servitude. Each department should be in constant pursuit of police professionalism, especially with the microscope they are placed under by the public. Professional standards are dynamic and the bar is continually raised for officers. The societal presumptions in law enforcement standards and professionalism is much greater today than it was 50 years ago. Gudahl’s final words to his police colleagues might not surprise you, “You are all part of an honorable profession.” A police officer is an honorable profession, and furthermore, a unique and demanding position with high expectations. I would encourage all peace officers and recruits to pursue professionalism not only at a high caliber, but with moxie. Do you have what it takes?