What I Mean When I Say: #RememberWhereYouCameFrom

My last article generated controversy; I’m hoping with this one to garner clarity

By Scott Hughes  |   May 8, 2017
Photo Courtesy St. Louis Police Foundation
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Last month I wrote a piece entitled: “Do Chief’s Take Officer Safety Seriously”? (To fully understand what I’m writing about today, do me a favor and read that article first.)

Needless to say, the article generated a ton of feedback, nearly 50,000 views on various social media platforms alone. While the overwhelming majority of those who responded provided compliments and praised me for addressing a troubling issue facing law enforcement—the lack of institutional leadership—not all of the comments were glowing.

I recently met with a police leader who asked me: “How do you think that article affected how you will be perceived in this community?”

Great question, I thought. And let me say first that I have the upmost respect for the person who asked this question, as well as the agency he runs. So I thought about it for a second.

“I undoubtedly pissed some people off,” I said.

And I knew immediately by his body language that I was correct!

However, I don’t regret what I wrote.

Being a chief means that my words can have big ramifications for the department and the community I serve. I endeavor therefore to choose my words wisely. However, there’s a world of difference between choosing words wisely and keeping quiet to satisfy the status quo. When it comes to this profession, status quo leadership isn’t, in my opinion, up to the challenges of today. So I guess I’m not surprised that I pissed some people off. In fact, I’m sure I pissed some good leaders off with my crude challenge.

Let me clarify my position.

Most of the positive responses to the article were from patrol officers, deputies, and troopers, who are scared about the lack of leadership in their respective agencies. Many of them expressed concern about becoming involved in a high-profile case and having the boss step aside as politics stepped in to interfere with their ability to get a fair hearing. It’s a complaint I hear often as I travel the country: “The bosses are out of touch.”

For those of us in leadership positions, that’s hard to hear. Not only that, but sometimes it’s downright wrong. And that was my point: Even if you’re doing a good job, you’re not doing yourself any favors by holing up in administrative meetings, never wearing a uniform, and keeping away from patrol. It’s not that hard to keep in touch with your officers’ experience, and it can do so much to improve morale and understanding within the agency.

As a chief of police is it feasible to wear a uniform 100% of the time? Of course not. Are there times where you may sit in the office all day and not wear a vest? Of course. In fact, many of the meetings and mundane activities that are part of the job require business attire or even dress uniforms. I get it! So, let me go back to the main point: Remember where you came from.

I recently attended a chief’s conference where nearly 300 professionals from across the state came together to share ideas, attend educational workshops, and network with other leaders. I was fortunate to have some great conversations with some remarkable professionals. During one of these hallway chats, I asked a highly respected leader: “Did you read my latest article?”

He laughed and said, “Oh yeah!” Before I could ask him anything else, he said: “Keep it up brother. You are saying what many of us are thinking.”

Wow.

He added, “Use your position—both as a chief and national instructor—to help shape the future of law enforcement leadership, Scott.”

As he walked away, I couldn’t help but wonder, what will that future look like? I know one thing for sure, we must lead differently today than I was led in my early police career. It’s not because the old school way was wrong for its time. But look around you. Times have changed. Leadership in many law enforcement agencies, in my experience, hasn’t. In fact, in some agencies leaders seem to embrace the worst aspects of the old school: an aloof, top-down approach totally out of touch with the realities of the street today.

Who will take the mantle and lead these agencies into the future? This is really what it’s all about.

On the last day of the conference I was standing in the ballroom preparing to introduce the closing speaker when a colleague of mine, who I’ve known for 15 years, walked up to me. This young man is currently the chief of a suburban department that borders a large metropolitan jurisdiction. His agency is experiencing some challenges that I believe he has handled incredibly well. I immediately shook his hand and told him how proud I was of what he’s accomplished as chief. He thanked me and we spent a few minutes discussing our respective agencies and catching up.

Before we departed he commented on my #RememberWhereYouCameFrom article. He told me that he schedules about one shift a week working with his guys. This time is calendared and blocked off for this express purpose. “Scott, you have no idea what it does for my people,” he said.

He also added something that I found interesting. He told me that working the streets with his personnel lowered his stress level. In essence, he was saying that working the road one shift a week allows him a “break” from the drama in the station. As he walked away, he added: “Keep it up, brother!”

So that’s what I’ll do.

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Scott Hughes
Scott is a contributing writer and Instructor for Calibre Press. Chief Hughes has been recognized as a subject matter expert by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission in traffic stops. He is the creator and lead instructor of the course TNT: Tactics in Traffic. He also instructs the Street Survival Seminar and Warrior’s Edge programs with Calibre Press.