As a law enforcement trainer and writer for two decades, I have tackled almost every issue that you can imagine in the law enforcement profession. From defending law enforcement from tired and false claims of racism to calling out leaders that throw their officers under the bus for sport, I’ve had to keep a thick skin for some of the criticism and attacks that have come my way and it took more than thick skin to walk away from an encounter that I had today with a police officer in an adjoining jurisdiction.
Yes, you read that correct and while it was indeed an officer from outside my agency that appeared to have just left puberty, let me be clear. What I am about to say applies to every agency out there and it even applies to me. None of us work in a perfect department and we certainly don’t have perfect police officers but this needs to be said.
We have a customer service problem.
I’ve actually known it for decades. As a supervisor, middle manager and now commander, I’ve fielded complaints for years that were either false or true and when it came to the true ones, they almost always dealt with rudeness. In fact, most departments report that the vast majority of their citizen complaints are for rudeness.
While the media and politicians want society to believe that cops are nothing more than racists in uniform, that could not be further from the truth. It may make for controversial television but as a profession, we go above and beyond to root out, fight and get rid of anyone that displays hatred on any level.
But when it comes to rudeness, we do very little about it. The reason is simple.
We don’t have to.
If you walk into a burger restaurant and are treated like crap, you can choose from hundreds of others to go to next time so it is in the interest of that restaurant to give great customer service. If you call 911 today and a police officer gives you bad service, guess who you have to call the next time? Yep, the same department….as long as you are in the same city. Unlike businesses, the citizen has no other options and law enforcement has been dismal in the area of service.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some great agencies and better officers that do a great job in this area but if we were honest, we all know that it needs to improve.
I’ve known it for years and I talk about in our Courageous Leadership Seminar but it wasn’t until today that I decided to write about it. As an on duty Commander of a specialty division, I’m not always in uniform and today was one of those days. As I round a corner of a busy highway, I see an officer blocking an exit. He is well off the roadway and cars are clearing easily. I had not heard any radio traffic about any major incidents so I made the decision to approach him and ask him what was going on.
Upon asking him, he began yelling at me to leave and that I had no business stopping. I identified myself as a police officer (the Police Package SUV should have given it away) and his tone changed immediately to a Chick-Fil-A Employee taking my order. While he didn’t say “my pleasure,” I had a few things to say.
“If it takes me identifying myself as a police officer for you to be kind, maybe you should check yourself on how you are treating citizens?”
Well, you can imagine how that conversation went. I didn’t go to jail and I’m not sure he learned anything so I’m hoping that you do.
We can talk all we want about community policing and race relations and the next pie in the sky police program but nothing and I mean nothing will take the place of simply treating people right. Treating people with respect and dignity and with kindness.
I’m not talking about the silly idea of the San Francisco Police Chief that will not permit his officers to have suspects sit on the ground or some other “hug a criminal” idea that is floating around. I’m talking about law enforcement treating our good and honest citizens well.
Treating citizens they way you want to be treated.
Treating citizens the way you would want your spouse or kids treated.
In future articles, I am going to dive into some steps that agencies can do to improve in this area because it is certainly tough to monitor it before the complaints come in.
But for now, maybe all of us can think about how we treat others and some of us, including myself, can improve in this important area.
Travis Yates is the Founder of the Courageous Leadership Institute
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Travis Yates is a writer and editor at Law Officer. An ILEETA Trainer of the Year, his Seminars in Risk Management & Officer Safety have been taught across the United States & Canada. Major Yates is a current Doctoral Student in Strategic Leadership and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the Director of Training for Law Officer (www.lawofficer.com) and the Founder of the Courageous Leadership Institute (www.courageousleader.org), providing leadership consulting and training to law enforcement around the world.