Is there a connection between the indictment of police officers in Baltimore and recent spikes in urban violence? That was the gist of the question asked of me yesterday by Fox Connecticut’s news reporter, Louisa Moller. The mere fact that the question is being asked by a television reporter tells me that the connection is being made outside of law enforcement. As I told Ms. Moller, I do not know of any direct correlation between the two. CNN, however, in a May 26th article, has sources making a connection between an alleged Baltimore police slowdown – a supposed consequence of the arrests of police officers in the Freddie Gray incident – and one of the most dangerous months in that city in nearly 15 years.
For police leaders, arguing this cause and effect, real or imagined, will not solve the issue. But leading police departments from a perspective of certainty and support can make a difference.
Let’s start with certainty. Certainty goes beyond words; it is the establishment of a clear understanding in the mind of all police employees regarding what is truly expected of them, and then using motivational principles to increase the likelihood of recurrence. Too many police departments struggle with mixed messages being delivered to line officers. Rewarding officers with preferred assignments based on their arrest productivity is an example. This is the opposite of a slowdown, and at face value may seem desirable. It is, however, counter to the true community policing objective of preventing crimes so that arrests occur less frequently. This mixed message can have an officer moving toward that which gets rewarded instead of that which is most desirable.
As for support, I have never known of a more complicated time in law enforcement. Police leaders expect their officers to take risks to keep the public safe, to be stoic in the face of vocal protesters, to be empathetic to a lost child, to be strong when investigating carnage, and to be the public’s reassurance that good will prevail over evil. If you have ever worked for an unsupportive leader you know how difficult it can be to be successful without their support. Today’s police leaders must walk the tightrope of reassuring the public that their concerns are appreciated and understood while being deliberate in showing their police officers that they are also appreciated, understood, and supported.
Despite the relentless media coverage of anti-police demonstrations and countless calls for the police to build trust, the majority of U.S citizens are not discontent with their police. As evidence, an April 2015 poll commissioned by Accenture found that 85% of Americans ‘said they are generally satisfied with their local police services”.
Simply put, police officers are not an option, because without them we will have a societal collapse. So then the proper course is to strive for professionalism. To achieve that objective police officers should receive unambiguous direction, sufficient training to meet the rapid changes and an ongoing demonstration of support for their contributions as they face adversity.
A slow down by police is unacceptable, but so is a lack of support.