Using “Forward Vision” to Take Care of Our OwnBy Shane S. McSheehy | Oct 4, 2019
It was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt, decades ago, as a patrol officer. It was the day I realized, in an instant, that my patrol commander was not at all interested in my professional well-being. Instead, he was only concerned with satisfying an arbitrary citizen who made a spurious complaint against me. I was considered guilty by default and admonished without any due process. Adding insult to injury, I was subjected to additional reprimand by my shift sergeant. I was shocked and angered and almost immediately withdrew from proactive patrol activities. It was my first experience with some of the pitfalls of this profession.
I worked very hard to overcome “that day” and other similar negative experiences as I continued to grow within my organization. The best leaders use all of their experiences, both positive and negative, and the lessons they’ve learned to help influence, mentor, and develop others. In many cases, the most influential person in a leader’s law enforcement career is the person who they never want to be like.
Guarding the professional well-being of officers is an important function of all command staff and supervisors. This is not about “sticking up” for them no matter the complaint or committing to the belief that officers do no wrong, no matter the circumstance. We know that isn’t true. “Guarding the professional well-being” is about mentoring, guiding, and having forward vision in the interest of your officers. Command officials and supervisors are seasoned officers. They carry their own battle scars. They have recovered from their own failures and shortcomings and have learned hard lessons along the way. That experience puts them in a unique position to help their officers look past what is happening right now and use progressive visualization to help them see what is coming next.
Members of command and supervisory staff should be actively looking to spot things that may have a negative impact on an officer’s professional wellness and taking immediate steps to overcome, avoid, or mitigate them.
Our profession has forever changed. Daily, we see mainstream articles depicting law enforcement officers as negligent, reckless, or malicious and subjected to false narratives fueled by anti-police individuals and groups who refuse to accept facts and use any means possible to shed a negative light on law enforcement. A common tactic they use is to focus on the smallest, seemingly controversial details of an event to paint a broad negative picture for the sole purpose of villainizing officers. For example, officers filmed “high-fiving” each other immediately after a brutal fight with a combative suspect were portrayed as celebrating police violence and enjoying “beating the suspect.” In reality, they were thankful they had each other’s backs and grateful for the fact that each of them would get to kiss their spouses and children when they get home.
I met with one of my officers recently after noticing he was wearing a wrist bracelet on-duty depicting the Marvel Comics character, “The Punisher” who some may see as a murdering, vengeful vigilante [pictured above]. I struggled with having the meeting because I didn’t want to stifle this officer’s productivity or, worse yet, have him feel that I was over-reaching or micromanaging.
However, my experience helped me “look forward” for this officer and recognize that if he was ever involved in a shooting or other use of force, this bracelet could easily be captured on video during the event. Regardless of the lawfulness of the force, the officer may be subjected to further scrutiny simply because of the bracelet. I knew the media could easily try to relate his intent, actions, or conduct to that of the character portrayed on the bracelet and I couldn’t knowingly let that happen. I can’t control the unreasonable, often ridiculous level of scrutiny some members of society apply to law enforcement, but I can help protect my officer through sharing my forward vision and experience.
Officer wellness and professional well-being are top priorities. Command staff and supervisors are positioned to ensure that both are strong in their officers by identifying potential pitfalls and intercepting early on to help them avoid potential harm.
Police officers deserve the best. Let’s take care of our own.