Building Strong Communities
I often hear individuals talk about doing the right thing. They ground themselves in their own beliefs and a perceived sense of fairness. Dissenting voices are seen as obstacles instead of opportunities to grow themselves or their business. They have expectations that each encounter is about winning or losing. What if the right thing has nothing to do with who we are and has more to do with how we are perceived. Good leaders always have a strong sense of identity based on a strong belief system. The problem is when we begin to encounter others who are different or don’t really know us.
We live in a culture of conflict. We are constantly trying to convince people to see things our way. Policing across America is authoritarian by nature and in today’s world that notion does not set well with many in society. Many can’t get beyond the history of poor interactions and the stories that are passed down from generation to generation. So as leaders can we really change things? How do we make real progress in building strong community relationships in these troubling times?
Be Authentic, people want to know you as a person. They want to feel your passion and emotion. They want to see your vulnerability. As police leaders it is often necessary to be strong and direct, to be in control and create a sense of calm in moments of crisis. Equally so, people want to know our hearts and sometimes even our fears.
Over the last few years I have had to take risks and get uncomfortable. Not the place I always do my best considering I am supposed to be in charge. In those moments of uncertainty I have trusted that when people can see me as being open and genuine, they will afford me the opportunity to be heard. It is okay to acknowledge an imperfect profession operating in imperfect institutions. It is not like people don’t already know it but police leaders often feel compelled to defend and justify. I believe we must move beyond this approach and move toward rebuilding relationships that are strained by acknowledging what brought our profession to this place and our role (intentional or not) in operating in systems that negatively impact many in society.
There are plenty of examples in policing where policies and procedures, legislative agendas, and rule of law have negatively impacted those in our community who are struggling the most. Homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction and poverty are just a few areas where we have used the legal system to try and fix social problems. I can certainly attest to that over my 30 years of policing and I see little progress or sustained success in any of these areas where law enforcement has been the strategy to combat societal issues. There has been much damage done to police-community relations because law enforcement has been the only tool left in the toolbox to fix these enormous and complex issues.
Maybe it is time for police leaders to re-think how we engage and partner with our communities to manage, not solve these challenges. As police leaders we have considerable influence as community leaders. When we are authentic and bring a caring and compassionate mindset to the conversation, we will begin to build trust through common experiences and beliefs. Trust comes through relationships and relationships are built when we are seen as leaders who truly care about our community and all those in society.