Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Accepting Criticism

“Received a complaint letter? Sounds like you’re doing your job, kid!”

In today’s society of “Everyone Wins!” simply for showing up, understanding that criticism is inevitable is often a hard lesson to learn, much less accept, and turn into a positive. 

In my policing career, it was not too long out of my field training status that I quickly learned complaints are part of the job, even when doing the job well. 

Working midnights, in one of our municipality’s parks notorious for late night activity, I encountered an individual, shall we say enjoying his own company, in the obvious ‘privacy’ of his personal vehicle, in a lighted lot, no less. 

 I wrote the appropriate citations, suggested that he keep his amorous activity in the privacy of his home, and sent him on his way.  

Apparently, rather unsatisfied with his experience, this gentleman put his pride to the side, writing a letter to every official in the municipality of his unfair treatment, specifically stated that he believed that I, as the responding officer, encourage his behavior, even taking time to enjoy the view. 

As a new officer, one of the few females on the department, I found this embarrassing and inflammatory.  For the record, it was nothing worthy of writing a letter about. 

 “But I did my job! I handled this well!” I defended. Gales of laughter ensued. Maybe “handled the situation” was not the best defense. 

My sergeant explained, “Kid, apparently this guy didn't think so. Moreover, he wants everyone to know. More important than that, in this job, people are going to tell you how they could do your job better.  But congrats, that means you are learning how to do the job.”

One of the biggest unexpected challenges in policing, and instruction in policing, is when you do a job to the best of your ability, there will always be critique and criticism. 

An important skill is learning how to take that critique, not allow it to become personal, but allow it to fuel your continual drive to improve your performance. 

Accepting Criticism:

1. Practice asking for feedback:  If we have a good sense of our performance evaluation prior to the unexpected criticism, we will already know our strengths and our weaknesses. Regularly asking for feedback is an important aspect, it allows us to see outside our own experience, adds insight from perspectives we do not always see, and is a good measure to accept that others see outcomes differently than we do.

2. Differentiate the difference between criticism and cynicism:  Feedback that fueled by individuals who are already burnt-out often overshadows any value to their suggestions.  Low morale, feeling unappreciated, underpaid, overworked can be normal sentiments in this field.  Many of these elements of policing are valuable to understanding and improving our role; however when seeking individual feedback, be cautious of the motives of critics.  

3. Increase Self Awareness: Establish your own moral compass:  Personal values are prescriptive, meaning they actually shape our decision-making and how we view the world.  They are the moral base that give our actions meaning, they are the purpose it which light the fire behind our behavior.  A confident sense of the values that shape our behavior strengthens our ability to accept outside perspective without chipping away at our own sense of self.  The stronger we feel in our own viewpoints, we can accept outside viewpoints, adjust our own perspective as needed.
4. Learn from your leadership:  To offer constructive criticism only to have it ignored is a hopeless feeling.  When offering criticism to others, what are the goals of providing your viewpoint?  How do you want your thoughts considered?  If taking the time to offer our thoughts and opinions, we often want to see follow through.  Practice seeking feedback, but then implementing suggestions on probationary period if the suggestions have value, as can always go back to the drawing board if the feedback did not offer solutions.  

5. Leave the ego at the door. Success often comes from learning from our mistakes.  However, it is not easy to make public or professional mistakes.  To err … is a personal failure.  Therefore, practice adjusting mindset that to one that every winner has overcome adversity, we learn through trial and error and that hands-on practice is a continual process.  Mistakes are simply the stepping-stone to being one-step closer to finding a solution. 

In these trying times, 2nd place is often the first loser, but we do not practice how to lose gracefully, productively, because we are rewarded for simply “doing our best.”  In my classroom, I attempt to build a ‘learning’ atmosphere in which wrong and right are irrelevant, because the learning process is an incorporation of multitude “right” perspectives.  
Accepting criticism is not easy.  

However, as it is essential, learning how to differentiate between the critics that can help us improve, and those that can be filtered out is an important task.

Most of us do not like criticism; it is not a natural skill set, accepting criticism requires thoughtful practice.


When I read this piece, I was reminded of complaints I had received during my own law enforcement career.  Although complaints are a part of the job, even if you are in the right, they can be frustrating and hurt your pride. I have received my share but fortunately, none were sustained. One in particular comes to mind. 

I had been on the department for two or three years when one Friday night I was dispatched to a large disturbance at an apartment complex. It turned out to be just a group of friends intoxicated in the parking lot and they were dispersed without incident.

While clearing that scene, another officer and I heard a woman screaming from a nearby apartment. We contacted her and determined it was an argument between an adult woman and her intoxicated mother. The mother wasn't allowing the daughter to leave for the evening and so the daughter was screaming. 

We sorted everything out and in the process, the drunk mother became physical and attempted to lunge at the daughter so I restrained her in handcuffs and the daughter left. The mother calmed down and I uncuffed her shortly after. That was that, as the mother was apologetic and the adult daughter had left. Peace was kept and all was well. That is what I thought anyway.

The next day I learned that the mother had gone to the hospital and said an officer (me) hurt her wrist. Indeed, she had a small fracture to one of her wrists.

An officer was dispatched to the hospital, a report taken, and an IA complaint was initiated. I kept running the call through my mind and was positive the woman wasn't injured after our contact with her.

Days later, I was summoned to the dreaded Internal Affairs. I gave my statement not knowing at the time the injured woman, her daughter, the other officer, and a civilian "ride along" , with me that night , had all been interviewed prior to me.

The interview went quicker than I had expected. Had I injured her wrist? What would be my punishment if I did? Would I be out of a job? These questions had been running through my mind since hearing about the complaint. 

I was young and hadn't been on the force that long and took the complaint personally. Afterall, it was criticism about what kind of police officer I was. I merely did my duty keeping the peace and preventing violence and now my career was on the line for unintentionally injuring someone? 

After my interview, the IA Sergeant told me the complaint was unsubstantiated. Apparently, during the investigation, the woman admitted she had injured her wrist by striking the front door in frustration long after police had left. Her daughter also admitted to this. I had not caused the injury. 

Needless to say, I was relieved and upset at the same time. It was generally my agency's practice to not criminally charge people who made false IA complaints, so there were no consequences for the woman who complained on me. 

The challenge for me was to not let the incident jade me. I would learn that it went with the job. When you contact dozens of people a week as a police  officer, not everyone will be happy with your level of service. Criticism and policing go hand in hand. Whether it's from the public or your supervisors, you are not always going to please everyone. 

The challenge is to keep from getting disgruntled by criticism , to grow a thick skin but not too thick that you let it change you negatively. The hardest part is to take an honest look at the criticism and ask yourself if it's valid and what areas do I need to work on. This self-examination can be difficult for me as it can be for many others. I appreciate Professor Furlow's insight on a subject that routinely impacts all of us.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Policing: Staying Focused on the Big Picture

Interesting Times
You may have heard the phrase "May you live in interesting times."

For the modern-day law enforcement officer, these times could certainly be called "interesting." If one searched the word “police” online, you would likely find dozens of articles about police shootings or police misconduct. 

There will be stories about how the police have become too militarized, or in light of the renewed terrorism threat, not militarized enough. 

There are stories that all police should have body cameras and contrasting stories about how government is invading our privacy by recording the public's interactions. 

It seems, no matter what side of the fence you are on, you likely have some kind of beef with the police. After all, law enforcement is one the most visible symbols of government and government is not very popular these days.

 Depending on how your personal politics align or your own experiences with cops, you will be glad to see that police car next you at the traffic light or have disgust for the person inside it.

Rookie Reality Check
It is a surreal feeling as a rookie when you arrive at a scene in your fully marked cruiser, in full police uniform, there to help people sort out their problems. 

Next thing you know, you are being sucker-punched by one half of the domestic disturbance (the individual that called you there to begin with) as you try to arrest their partner for beating them. 

Yes, people hate the cops. Not all people, but enough that good cops can feel isolated from the rest of the community and the country they try to protect.

 Sometimes, especially these days, the good people involved in law enforcement need to take a step back and not get caught up in the politics or the "noise" from incidents we had nothing to do with.

 True, we are all “the police" even if we are on a five-man sheriff's department in a small town in Arkansas or on the NYPD.

Yet, "the police" are individual human beings. They will make mistakes. There may be issues across the country or within their own agencies that seem to paint all officers in a negative light, but the vast majority of officers are in law enforcement to do the right thing.

Tough Times But Still Have Support 
San Bernardino Police Lieutenant Mike Madden -the first officer on scene of the San Bernardino Shooting- summed it up for most cops out there when he recently said these words: "You know, we’ve (cops) taken a lot of hits lately, some justified, much of it not justified, and it takes a toll. I guarantee you that no cop comes into this job with the mind-set that, ‘Great, now I have the power to be corrupt and violate people’s rights.’ ” 

Lt. Madden is correct. This is a difficult time to be in law enforcement.  For those woman and men who put on the uniform and pin the badge over their heart, keep your head high and keep doing the good things you do.  Remember why you chose the profession in the first place and seek comfort in the fact you chose a noble profession and have the support of the vast majority of those you chose to serve and protect.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

San Bernardino Shooting : No Notoriety for Suspects

The senseless, tragic scene in San Bernardino was just the latest spree killing, adding to a list that dates back decades, leaving the world wondering "who?" and "why?"

In 1966, a sniper at the University of Texas in Austin forever altered the concept of public space as shots rang down from the iconic tower in the middle of campus. 

In 1981, a man opened fire inside a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, California, killing 21.

The deadliest mass shooting recorded was in 2007 at Virginia Tech, where a student opened fire, killing 32 people before taking his own life.

With at least 14 people killed and 17 others injured, this Southern California shooting was the deadliest since the Sandy Hook Elementary School incident in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

CNN and the Los Angeles Times have running lists of shooting rampages in the U.S. over time.

We understand the desire to know the motive and the background of the offenders.  Perhaps by gaining insight, we can comprehend any sliver of cause behind such heinous activities and prevent future acts.  

It is human nature to feel connected by discussing motives in order to try to make sense of these things. While the public has a right to know this information (and it is easily available everywhere), we are personally choosing to never discuss the names of the offenders who carry out such horrific acts.

By focusing on the first responders, the civilians, all those affected, we aim to show respect to those who served, sacrificed, survived, and were lost to senselessness.  There will always be lessons learned; experts will glean takeaways on motives, causes.  

Our position is to recognize the good work by all first responders, understand key issues in public safety, promote the advancement of the field, and commend  those who have taken the oath to "take a bullet before you, that's for damned sure".

We understand the desire to know more, but hope our readers respect our decision to not allow the suspects to dictate the discussion or gain infamy for their cause. Our warm thoughts go out to all of those affected by this most recent tragedy.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Colorado Shooting: Trying to Make Sense of Senseless Act

As most Americans continued their holiday on Friday, spending time with family, eating Thanksgiving leftovers or trying to find bargains at Black Friday sales, a lone gunman in Colorado had other ideas.

As was widely reported, the suspect opened fire on civilians and responding law enforcement officers as he barricaded himself inside the building.

In the end, after a shootout and the rescue of several hostages inside the building, nine people were shot including five cops. Two of the civilians and a police officer were killed. The gunman eventually surrendered.

Certainly, there are political overtones intertwined throughout this incident. The location of the crime stirs strong political feelings depending on what side of the spectrum one is on.

A community, families and loved ones of injured officers and civilians are still dealing with the impact of the events and their own losses.

Firefighters, medics, dispatchers are all dealing with this tragedy and will likely continue to for perhaps a lifetime.

This story can easily be spun as a pro-choice, pro-life, second amendment , anti-gun, Republican or Democratic issue. We all have our biases.

In Criminal Justice we are taught to put aside those personal and/or political biases when enforcing the law, but as humans we ask ourselves “why?”

As students and practitioners of Criminal Justice, we want answers, we want to know the criminal mind. In our quest to find motives, we may just have to accept that sometimes we can’t make sense out of senseless acts.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"You're Studying What?" : Higher Education and Policing

"You have a degree? Good! YOU can do all the paperwork Nerd!" These exact words were directed at me when my fellow officers learned I had a college degree. It was my first introduction into how cops saw the value of higher education in traditional policing. 

  • Have attitudes about higher education and policing changed? 
  • Is there a role for higher education in policing?
  • If so, what is this role?

There are long standing disparities in the value of education in policing.  Often the debate is condensed to the immediate return on the lessons learned in the field versus the classroom. Which location provides the more practicable, usable information?

Experienced field trained officers, sans degrees, are proud of the knowledge they have acquired through real life experience, often learning hard lessons through the risk of paying for the knowledge in scars and blood.

Classroom education provides opportunity to hone, practice, develop communication skills, often challenging in our modern environment in which technological assistance is often a critical tool in everyday communication, which is not always accessible, or available in the field.

Daily, I implore my students that a diploma guarantees no greater chance of success; it is what they do with the opportunity provided within the learning framework of the classroom.  In other words, anyone can be a warm body in a seat. What are you doing to get your body out of that seat and learn?

The classroom can provide a forum for the lessons learned from years of field experience, provided for new officers to be aware, on the lookout, vigilant, better prepared to seize advantage from those lessons in their own experience.

Critical thinking practiced today will be the policing decisions of tomorrow. Classroom, classically trained officers have a strong theoretical basis in the traditions and philosophical underpinning of the history and policies of the profession.

Research on the benefits on education offer numerous findings on effective problem solving, communication, and overall aptitude skill sets.  A diploma may not synonymous with earning an education, but the debate about formal higher education’s role in policing is not going away.




 This debate has been going on for decades and the push for officers to have degrees seems to come up again when there is a perceived crisis in the profession as there is now. The implication suggests that if cops were "smarter" (book smarter I assume), there would be less use of force issues.

This has not been the case in my personal  experience. I have never referred back to my undergraduate and graduate degrees before deciding if I should use force to defend others and myself.  Instead, I used my hundreds of hours of training and experience as the basis for these split-second decisions. 

As any cop will tell you, they have met the best of the best police officers who didn’t have a shred of formal education. As in all walks of life, there are highly educated individuals who have limited "street smarts."

However, today's policing is not all about chasing people around and arresting them. There is a tremendous amount of critical thinking involved and tons of administrative duties. An officer’s detailed reports may be read by thousands of people, from lawyers, judges, media etc. Also, it takes communication skills to interview witnesses, victims and suspects.  These writing and communication skills are a vital part of the job.  Years of writing research papers and giving college presentations could help the police officer be prepared for this aspect of the job.

Can’t these skills be taught through academy and field training and through time on the job? The honest answer is “Yes.” So, is someone who spent two or more years studying something in a classroom automatically a better cop? The short answer: No, not necessarily. On the other hand, the fresh, innovative, ideas from a young officer who may have studied various non-policing subjects as part of their degree can keep the profession fertile and offer non-traditional law enforcement viewpoints.  

Also, there is a benefit to going outside your comfort zone and learning about subjects unrelated to the field you will be working in and meeting others with different viewpoints. A formal education, allows one to see a different perspective on life than just a police officer perspective. This can be valuable in the profession, because the community you will be interacting with during your duties comes from all walks of life and backgrounds. 

Like it or not, in this competitive job market, the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma.  It has become the baseline for even entry-level jobs. Additionally, more and more police agencies are requiring at least a two-year degree as an employment requirement. In today's world, I would advise any young person interested in the profession to get their degree if possible. 

To summarize, I don't believe a college degree automatically translates to a better cop. I do believe it can add balance to the officer's view of the world, help policing as far as its professional image, and may be required to even be hired much less advance within an agency. 

Despite what the future of policing will call for education-wise, I hope we remember, right now, there are tremendous cops without the "piece of paper" that do incredible, professional, work every day.


We look forward to the exchange of ideas on this popular topic.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

R.I.P. Trooper Jaimie Jursevics

Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jaimie Jursevics and child

As I sat in my police cruiser on the side of the highway with my emergency lights on and filing out paperwork,  I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the semi truck coming right at me. I braced for the impact.

The side of the large tractor trailer slammed into my police SUV, and I was violently pushed forward. My cruiser was no longer in my control as it became a runaway bumper car. I had no idea where or when I would eventually stop. I saw the tow truck driver in front of me as he stood in between me and his tow truck. 

Was I going to crush him? Auto glass and my report papers were flying all around me. My laptop (MDC) had come detached and hit me in the face. All I could do was to wait for the out-of-control ride to stop.

In slow motion, the tow driver jumped over the guard rail barely avoiding being crushed. Then, with a sudden, tremendous, bang, I struck the rear of the tow truck, pushing it into the guardrail and stopping my slide. I woke up in the hospital. 

This scene played out on a major US highway as I investigated an accident scene as a police officer. I had some back and facial injuries and the tow truck driver had a broken leg. All things considered, it could have been much worse.

I share this incident because I read recently about a trooper in Colorado being killed on the interstate by a drunk driver and another officer in Florida ( 22-year-old Officer Nicole Mood) who was in critical condition after another driver struck her patrol vehicle. 

   Officer Nicole Mood North Miami Beach Police

Reportedly, all 50 states now have "move over" laws for emergency vehicles which has been an improvement, but police vehicle-related deaths continue. 

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (FLEOMF), as of this date, fatal police traffic accidents are up 30% from last year. 

Courtesy: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (

My minor incident only left me with a few scars and a good "war story" but I know many officers have had on-duty accidents-many much more serious than mine. Many officers also know colleagues who were seriously injured or killed in vehicle accidents. 

As we mourn the death of Trooper Jaimie Jursevics and all the officers seriously injured or killed in vehicle accidents, let's remember to move over or slow down for all emergency workers (civilian or uniformed) on the side of the road.

 For emergency workers who make their living in the breakdown lanes, please be safe out there, you do important work to keep our roads clear and our communities safe. Thank you.


A Go Fund Me Support Fund for Trooper Jersevics' Survivors Has Been Set Up At

Coming Next: 
The Police and Higher Education Debate 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Full Wall Street Journal Body Cam Article

U.S. Urges Bodycams for Local Police, but Nixes Them on Federal Teams

A police officer in Oakland, Calif., putting on a body camera, designed to record both audio and video in the field.

A police officer in Oakland, Calif., putting on a body camera, designed to record both audio and video in the field. Photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Devlin Barrett
Nov. 11, 2015 4:10 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Justice Department is publicly urging local police departments to adopt body cameras, saying they are an important tool to improve transparency and trust between officers and citizens.

But privately, the department is telling some of its agents they cannot work with officers using such cameras as part of joint task forces, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The reason: The federal government hasn’t yet adopted guidelines on how and when to use body cameras, rules that would be important to determining how any footage could be used in court, released publicly, or stored by law-enforcement agencies.

The contradiction reveals the potential challenges for federal agencies that work closely with local police, such as the U.S. Marshals. And it underscores how slow the Obama administration has been to craft its own rules on cameras, even as it pushes local authorities to quickly adopt them in the wake of high-profile police shootings. 

At a meeting of Marshals supervisors several weeks ago in Colorado, Assistant Director Derrick Driscoll announced that the agency wouldn’t allow any local law-enforcement officers wearing body cameras to serve on Marshals task forces, according to several people who attended the meeting.

The Marshals Service, an agency within the Justice Department, runs scores of task forces around the country, teaming up with local police primarily to hunt fugitives and violent criminals.

Mr. Driscoll said at the meeting that because the Justice Department hadn’t given his agency rules on body cameras, the Marshals couldn’t allow local police with recording equipment to work alongside them on task forces, the people who attended the meeting said. That’s because when local officers join task forces, they must follow federal rules of operation, and for now that means no body cameras.

Some at the gathering voiced concerns about the new policy, saying they didn’t want to lose local partners they had come to know well and trust with their lives, according to people familiar with the matter.

A U.S. Marshals spokesman said state and local officers serving on their task forces “are sworn in as special deputy U.S. marshals, and operate in the same capacity as deputy U.S. marshals.” 

Some experts said policy contradictions aren’t surprising as the nation’s law-enforcement officers move toward widespread use of bodycams.

“We’re going to have some growing pains as we move in the direction of more body cameras,” said Ron Hosko, a former senior official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who now serves as president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit. He added that a no-cameras policy can lead to a perception “that you have something to hide when you don’t record.’’

Chad Marlow, advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Marshals’ directive puts the agency in an increasingly untenable position. He faulted the Justice Department for not having a body-camera policy more than a year after the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white officer. 

“We are well past the date where it’s acceptable for major law-enforcement entities to not have a policy,” Mr. Marlow said.

A Justice Department spokesman said the agency “is looking into this issue and has been consulting with the law enforcement components” within the department.

Nearly a year ago, in response to the Ferguson crisis, President Barack Obamaannounced a multiyear, $75 million effort to fund body cameras for police officers. The administration plans to help local departments acquire 50,000 body cameras in coming years.

In May, when the Justice Department announced the first piece of that effort, $20 million in funding to support body cameras, Attorney General Loretta Lynchsaid the cameras “hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”

The challenge for the Justice Department is that federal law enforcement can be substantially different from local police work. Federal agents tend to undertake long-term investigations, as opposed to patrolling streets where disputed confrontations with citizens are more likely to occur.

The Justice Department’s other law-enforcement arms, including the FBI, said they don’t expect body cameras to be used on any of their task forces because their work is primarily investigative, and when they do work with local police, they tend to be detectives who are unlikely to wear body cameras.

But the Marshals are tasked with hunting fugitives, work that often involves knocking down doors or stopping vehicles. Such work can receive critical aid from teaming up with local police.

Jon Adler, president of the nonprofit Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said there are good reasons to keep parts of the Marshals’ work out of the public eye. Witnesses and informants could be inadvertently exposed, he said, and fugitives could learn the Marshals’ tactics and how to evade them.

“The Marshals hunt down and apprehend the most despicable and violent people. When you engage in that type of mission, it wasn’t intended to be pretty and it won’t be pretty,” Mr. Adler said. “We don’t want the great work the Marshals Service does to devolve into bad reality TV or a sequence of bad YouTube videos.’’

Still, Mr. Adler agreed that losing a valuable task-force member because that officer must wear a body camera is a bad outcome.

This issue, he said, “is a tough one, but there has to be a way to work it out.”