Politics! The mere utterance of the word sometimes has a negative ring to it. No doubt we have all seen and experienced our share of politics in the workplace because it is in most, if not all, organizations to some degree. How do I know this? Well, I know it by experience but, when I looked up the word in the dictionary, the mere definition of the word brought it even closer to home.
The New Oxford Dictionary defines the word politics in a number of ways. Of course, the politics in the political/government arena is included. But another definition is “activities with an organization that are aimed at improving someone’s status or position and are typically considered to be devious or divisive.”4 What this tells me is that, in many respects, it’s all about status and position and it doesn’t matter how you attain either one. It’s the mindset that says, “I am going to get to a position in the organization no matter what it takes.”
Another way the word is defined implies that the goal is personal or political gain regardless of what it might cost someone else. In other words, it’s all about me. And when it’s all about me or seeing to it that I or someone else gets to the top regardless of how that person gets there, it’s most often going to be politics.
Now to be fair, I saw my share of politics in the local church. I have seen certain people have and maintain a position in the church because of who that person is or whose family that person belongs to. I have seen how certain individuals feel like it is their God given right to say what they want to say and do what they want to do simply because of who they are or how they have contributed to the life of the church.
I am sure most people will agree that “politics” is a reality in any organization or institution. To be fair, it’s always going to be there. But when it gets to the point that politics takes precedent over principle and doing the right thing, things can become quite precarious. Groucho Marx has been quoted as saying, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” I could not agree more.
Over the years as a pastor and now a police officer, I have come to point I call it like I see it. Some may not see it the way I do, but the way I have seen politics fleshed out over the past 20 some years, whether it be in a church, a school or a police department, it is very often less than pretty. The jobs we do are hard enough as it is. When the political part of what we do begins to take its course, it makes the job even more difficult.
So why do I make such a fuss about it? First of all, when politics is behind the scenes in law enforcement (or any other organization), I believe it can come close to crossing the line to dishonesty and double standards. I have seen the ugly side of it rear its head in every department I have been associated with. It’s one of those things that make you sit back with suspicion and skepticism knowing that something is wrong in how something happened but deep down you know that saying anything about is absolutely pointless. Incidentally, when I witness or observe anything that causes me to be suspicious, it bothers me.
Another reason I make a fuss about this is because I believe it affects morale and the incentive to excel. Most officers who are worth their weight in salt are those who want to excel in the job. They work hard and do the job by the book as best as they can. They give their heart and soul to the job. They want to move up through the ranks to be a supervisor, commander, major, deputy chief and even chief. This process usually involves a number of factors such as experience, time with a particular agency, training, certifications, and higher education.
Now I know that having all of that stuff doesn’t always make a good cop. You can have all the credentials in the world and still be as sorry as the day is long. It’s not what is hanging on the wall in a frame that matters. What matters is what’s on the inside of the man or woman who gives their all to the job and does it with honesty, integrity, faithfulness and a whole list of other adjectives.
We are not supposed to be doing the job to get a pat on the back, a letter of commendation or another stripe on our sleeve. It’s not supposed to be about me and how far I can go up the ladder of success. But when I see it happen to someone who goes up that ladder and it’s obvious that it happened by less than honorable means, it really bothers me.
Call me a whiner if you want but all I am saying is that this political aspect of law enforcement or any other organization makes things complicated.
And speaking more specifically of the arena of law enforcement, since this is a work that God has put in place, I wonder what He thinks about how His work is being done. Selah.
I guess this is something that will always be a reality but, in my humble opinion, the line has to be drawn somewhere. Before I became a chaplain and then a cop, I had only heard about the politics in a police department. I saw how it affected my dad when he was a campus cop. Space does not allow me to go into detail, but there was an occasion when my dad became a victim of what I believe was politics and it took its toll on him in more ways than one.
So I have seen politics face to face in a variety of arenas and for me, it can be disheartening. With all that we have to deal with on the streets as cops, there are some things we should not have to deal with in an agency we work for, and one of those things is politics.
I’m afraid that it’s been in the fabric of law enforcement for so long that it’s an accepted reality. Be that as it may, we can’t afford to let it keep us from getting the job done. There is too high of a price to let anything keep us from doing our God appointed duty to enforce the law.
This is a chapter from book titled, Confessions of a Wannabe Cop: My Journey from Being a Minister of Grace to an Enforcer of the Law. You can purchase the book here.
Sergeant David Underwood is a 12 year veteran of the Moultrie (GA) Police Department. He currently serves as the department’s evidence custodian, crime scene technician, general instructor and department chaplain. Prior to law enforcement, he was a pastor for two decades.