I have worked for and with different characters in my career. I have also been a police officer since 1981 and seen the rise and fall of public sentiment. I will certainly agree that the media portrayal of police is less than fair and that it is a hard time to be a cop. But I also know that our personal disposition is the most important factor in anyone’s life.
I recently used a quote in a class on police mindset by Henry Ford where he said, “Whether think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” There are plenty of studies on how people’s perceptions and the outcome of everything from weight loss to cancer make a difference in their success or failure. Teaching police mindset is a passion of mine, but I want to hone this article to job survival, resiliency and success.
I have had the good fortune of working under great bosses in great conditions, under horrible bosses in horrible conditions and everything in between. I know what it is like to have great equipment, schools and pay and leaving my long-time employer after 32 years where the city was in financial emergency and unable to pay its bills. I am now the chief of a department that has offered me such joy combined with all the struggles of dealing with budgets, people, bosses and citizens that I sometimes never get a break whether from the calls or the concerns in my head. Through all of this I have tried to keep a happy disposition and make “lemonade out of lemons”. I know there have been times when I have succumbed to the negative thoughts in my head and have paid dearly for doing so. It can be a pretty miserable existence and it is self-created. Here is a fact of life – NOBODY CARES BUT YOU.
Brian Willis, deputy executive director of ILEETA, edited an eclectic collection of stories in two books under the titles “If I Knew Then” and “If I Knew Then 2”. I like to make these books required reading. The experiences of officer from all over the world about the ups and downs of good cops, who did not attain goals they had because of perceived unfairness or they got caught up in the negativity trap of complainers, is well worth the time to review. Bad and unfair things happen because of fate, politics and perception but they happen to everyone.
I work and have worked under the same conditions as officers who have hated their jobs. I choose to seek the joy, happiness and reward of an honorable and noble profession. Many I know have chosen to see the bad, unfair and disappointing side of the same circumstances. You get what you look for and so many choose to see bad supervisors, poor working conditions and undesirable citizens. It is true that all of those exist, but I would suggest that if you are so bitter and resentful of what you have you might try looking at the man in the mirror first. Maybe the solution to your disposition starts with your view of the world, the people you work with and for. Maybe some time reflecting on your perspective of the things you think and can control would give you a different outlook on everything from family and friends to the work environment. Coming home at the end of a shift to an untidy house could lead to thoughts about how unorganized and unworthy your wife is. Going to work for a lousy boss or to co-workers who are inept or seeing the citizens as unworthy of your time leads to hating your job and a miserable existence.
When you look at the man in the mirror, do you see someone who brings a complaint or a solution? Is the boss a bad supervisor or are you a bad employee? Is the co-worker inept or do you refuse to coach and lead by example? And are all the citizens unworthy or are you unworthy to serve them? These are tough questions, but I don’t think they are asked or answered honestly very often.
There are problems to be solved and you may not be able to solve them all, but I think each one of us needs to take a good long look at what we bring to the table and how we set that table before we look at the world around us. Science tells us that a good mindset leads to good results. Remember the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Tim Barfield is in his 35th year as a police officer. He started as a police officer in a rural village before transferring to an inner ring suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. He spent 32 years in that department gaining experience in many areas of police work. In 2014, he accepted a position as police chief for another department. He is a husband, father and grandfather who has a love for police work and police officers with a goal of helping them succeed in a great profession. His responsibilities and desires have included patrol, traffic, DARE, SWAT, training and supervision. He is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. He continues to learn and instruct on subjects with an emphasis on awareness, police survival mindset and ethics.