Why Empathy Isn’t a Weakness

We work in a tough, rough and hard-driven profession, where weakness jeopardizes safety, and jeopardized safety can mean death. It’s true, there are no two ways around it. However, despite common belief, empathy in law enforcement is NOT a weakness. 

Empathy is made fun of, empathy is looked down upon, empathy is a rare overt trait in our profession. Please pay attention to the word overt. In saying this, I mean that many, many, scores of officers have empathy driving through their blood every minute of every day; not every officer allows it to become overt empathy. Overt empathy is when someone allows their empathy to manifest into action. Yes, you can have all the empathy in the world, but until you act upon that empathy, act upon that feeling of sorrow for someone else, then you have performed no better than an officer who is jaded and curse. 

I do not condone a change in policing to the point that we are looked upon as soft and forgiving. We need to maintain our appearance of toughness, willing to go to no known ends to pursue justice. This is what also runs through our blood. However, we find ourselves in situations every single day where empathy, manifested into a tangible action, can do just as much good as a successful drug take-down. Changing one person’s outlook on the police, or making one person walk away from the proverbial and literal ledge of life, just because we allowed our wall to break down for a simple minute, is accomplishing our professional goal. We are in this job to change lives. Some aren’t, I know I am, and I know if you’ve read this far into this article, you are too. 

Learn the delicate balance of breaking down your wall and building it right back up. We are able to be empathetic while remaining tactically sound. There are situations where empathy is not appropriate. there are situations where empathy has no place. I will never disagree with this point. If you never allow yourself to break down your barriers and become somewhat personal with a complete stranger, you will tire yourself from this profession faster than you got into it. 

I believe one of my strongest traits is empathy. I also believe and know that one of the traits I have tried to hide from others is my empathy. Why? Because at one point it was embarrassing for me to have other people see me emotionally effected by something they may be laughing at, or passing off as “nothing”. That, in and of itself, is a wall I had to break down and permanently discard. That wall will never be built back up. For I have experienced the personal gratification of allowing my own empathy to guide my interaction with an individual, when appropriate. 

There is a time and a place for empathy. It takes time to learn. It takes even more time to get through the stigma of being a “softy” because you feel as though you need to care. While I haven’t been in this profession for long, I do know that breaking down the wall that held back my empathy (once again, when appropriate) was, and will remain, one of my biggest professional accomplishments and lessons. If anything, it has taught me truly to feel it in my gut when something is wrong, making me more able and adept to rely on my tactics and prepare to use whatever force is necessary to make it home to my family. 

Never Let Failure Become an Option

I often find myself writing on the mindset we must have, as officers, to succeed in this job. A lot of what I say and what I write is the most solid advice I can come up with in my head, advice that I often find the most trouble in following myself. As I have said before and will always continue to say, we are individuals of type-A personalities who are used to success and victory. This is an extremely positive aspect of the people I work around. However, our strongest attribute can ultimately lead to our biggest downfall. You see, with the mindset of success, failure comes like a heavy wrecking ball. It is in our best interest to never let failure become an option. 

Much easier said than done. I am not such an optimist that I think you or I will never “fail”. It will happen, it has already happened. We fail in certain aspects of our job every single day. We may fail to check our magazines and ammo every day before going on duty; this, in the nature of our work, is a failure. We fail to buckle our seat belts, because of the perceived danger it can present when needing a quick exit of a vehicle; this is definitely a failure. We sometimes fail to meet the standards that our supervisors or administration put upon us. These can be considered failures in their very nature. However, it is our responsibility to turn failure into success, to orient the mind to see failures as lessons, to take failures as our own responsibility to correct. 

We work in an environment where self loathing and pity has no room to exist. We must have tough skin, take metaphorical and literal blows to the chin. I am not promoting a lack of empathy or emotion, as that can only lead to a catastrophic psychological situation in an officer. I am, however, promoting a mature and professional atmosphere, where taking responsibility for our very own failures outweighs dwelling on them and allowing them to weigh us down. There is not one single officer in this country that is perfect or that has gone through his or her profession without some degree of failure. We must realize this. If you fail, it is not the end of the world and, most likely, no one else thinks of your perceived or actual failure as the big deal you have made it out to be. We are naturally going to be harder on ourselves than anyone else. This is okay, it is our way of auto-correcting our own mistakes. It is one thing to evaluate your mistakes and failures. It is a completely different thing to dwell on these failures and mistakes to the point that it affects your job performance. While self-evaluation is effective, dwelling and circular-thinking will get us nowhere at all. The more time you allow your mind to remain stagnant on your failures, is the less amount of time you have to correct or amend your mistakes. Ultimately, the quicker you take responsibility for your failures, the quicker you can move on and continue to succeed. Allow failures to be small bumps in the road, not complete road blocks that you, yourself, have ultimately created, without just cause. 

Your coworkers’ reaction to your failures or mistakes lies in direct correlation to your reaction to the same. Allowing yourself to be visibly negative or stagnant upon your own actions will directly affect the way your coworkers and supervisors perceive them. You must fight past the urge to dwell and be a model of success as a result of failure. Positivity spreads, there is no point in denying that. On the flip side, negativity also spreads. The more negative your coworkers perceive your attitude toward a situation, the more negatively they will perceive it and project it back to you or others. We make our own mole hills into mountains. There comes a time when this is inappropriate and we must take those mountains and grind them back into mole hills, ultimately making them disappear. I do not mean to say that we should deny or lay completely quiet among our mistakes and failures. Acknowledge them as they are and continue on in an upward and progressive path to success. 

The responsibility to never accept failure as an option, as a long-term or short-term option, is completely in your hands. 

Is Law Enforcement the Right Job for You?

There is no doubt in my mind that law enforcement isn’t the job for everyone. Accounting isn’t the job for everyone, the medical field isn’t the job for everyone. Each person, by their individual characteristics and personalities, fits into their very own profession, in their own unique way. However, it is up to you to decide which one of these professions fulfills your passions and desires. We often find ourselves striving for goals or professions that our mothers and fathers have previously, or currently, hold. It is not wrong to be interested or intrigued or driven to these professions and life styles. What we must realize, is that we, as individuals, may very well hold goals and aspirations that go “against the mold”. 

I find myself, sometimes, second guessing and/or re-evaluating my career path, my career choice. This is due to a variety of factors, much of which lies in self-doubt. It is too easy to become our own biggest critic, assuming that non-success is linked to not being “made for the job”. In periods of stagnant professional growth or success, we can find ourselves in a position where we think of what life would be like in another profession. We may even ask ourselves if we like our job anymore or if we could even complete another profession successfully. I can say this for myself, and I am sure it goes for many of you, that I simply could not see myself in another profession. I can not see myself enjoying another profession or completing it with the relative success I have already achieved in my law enforcement career thus far. This is a very scary thought. It is a scary thought because we work, as police officers, in a profession where we are limited, to a certain degree, by departmental budgetary factors, the current political atmosphere and an environment where one step in the wrong direction, one miscalculated judgement call could take our job from us, or force us into a position where redeeming oneself can prove very difficult. These factors often weigh heavy on me, bringing on the stressful thoughts of whether or not I could complete or find another job that would make me as happy as law enforcement does, in the unfortunate event that I find myself on the outside looking in, for any reason whatsoever. 

It is the stress of being without this lifestyle that allows me to go about my work in a professional manner. This is not because I am paranoid of making a wrong move, or being low enough on the seniority list that a layoff could put my career in danger. It is because I consider the profession of law enforcement as a coveted lifestyle, a profession I don’t ever want to be without. It is, perhaps, these stressors that prove to me that this is the profession and the job for me. If you find yourself without these, what I consider to be common thoughts, then perhaps this job is not for you. As officers, we need to be surrounded by a positive, professional and free thinking environment, where encouragement outweighs negativity by a large margin. Negativity leads to complacency and discouragement, which leads to recklessness and a lack of safety. 

I know law enforcement is the profession for me because, despite the fact that I look forward to my 2 days off of work every week, I am always eager and ready to return. The days can be long, sometimes dull, but it is the people who I am surrounded by, who I choose to surround myself by, that make the job what it is. I previously worked for a private sector business, where the days were long, stuffed in a cubicle and surrounded by individuals who seemed to do nothing but complain about the job. I enjoyed the content of that job, however, the individuals I was surrounded by made my work life intolerable. At the same time I knew I wanted to be in law enforcement, surrounded by individuals who were like-minded to myself. After being in this profession for a few years now, it is amazing the different it makes in your life when you are surrounded by people in your profession who share a similar passion of the job. 

I know this is the right job for me because it does not seem to be a job in my mind. I do not pay attention to paychecks, so long as that I can provide for myself and my loved ones. I do not concentrate on the trivial union debates, the raise I may get after this negotiation or the next, or the conditions under which I work. I am provided a safe environment flooded with professional officers. I am provided the necessities (emphasis on necessities) to get my job done. I work under an administration and supervisors that reward and recognize hard work and will discipline those who fail to meet the standard. 

It is up to you to decide whether or not law enforcement is the profession for you. You can choose to concentrate on the negative aspects of the job or your department. You can choose to be disgruntled or have a lack of trust in your administration and supervisors. I urge you, however, to re-orient your mind onto the positive aspects of your job. I guarantee, if you were to write out the pros and the cons of your current position, you would see just how great your job is. If after all of this, you still seem to lack solid purpose in your job, then I will submit to you that maybe, just perhaps, law enforcement isn’t the job for you. 

We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our co-workers to be the best possible officer we can be, even if that means not being an officer at all. 

Allow Vigilance to be Your Savior

Reflecting on the recent incident in Paris, it reminds me that we must, as police officers, allow vigilance to be our savior. I know I have spoken on situational awareness and not becoming complacent in our job. However, I believe that vigilance goes above and beyond situational awareness and non-complacency. While vigilance encompasses both of these things, it goes above and beyond these two things as well. Remaining vigilant requires that we educate ourselves. We must strategically educate ourselves on topics and tactics that are pointed and directed at our area of operation. The Paris attacks have taught us one thing (among many others). What we have learned at the sad expense of many innocent lives is that individuals, terrorists, extremists, will always find a new way to infiltrate their target. In Paris, we saw a number of extremists, at least one of which, who was able to gain access to the country under the presumption of a refugee. We must learn that extremists and people hell-bent on committing evil acts will stop at nothing to get to their goal. 

It is very hard to stay one step ahead of the opposition. There are so many different factors we must take into account. This is relevant to attacks on nations such as the Paris attack but is also relevant to our everyday operation as police officers. As I have stated in previous articles we must learn from every experience we have with people of criminal nature. If we allow those lessons to build on one another, we will be a more rounded and experienced officer. 

We must always remain vigilant. This is not only a necessity to stay one step ahead of an an offender but it is also necessary for our every day survival. Allowing yourself to be situationally aware at all times, never allowing yourself to become complacent, learning from every experience and going out of your way to educate yourself on current criminal, terrorist or extremist MO’s, will build itself into what I think of as vigilance. 

We all, as officers, have the basics down for vigilance. We know to never put our back to an access point, we know to keep our heads on a swivel, we know to “pie the corner” instead of rushing around it. But, could you in confidence say that you are up to date on how street gangs are concealing their weapons? Could you say that you are up to date on the different lethality factors present during a domestic violence situation? Are you aware of the different ways drug traffickers are using compartments within their vehicles to avoid detection? I am not innocent in this, I can say there is a lot I do not know. In fact, there are many officers out there, that I could confidently say, I don’t touch with a burning flame. However, that does not dissuade me in becoming more vigilant than I already am. There should never be a point in your career where you believe you are as vigilant as you’re “supposed to be”. There is no such thing. There isn’t an appropriate level of vigilance. There is an inappropriate level of vigilance, which often is disguised by recklessness. We see ourselves becoming complacent in the most basic tasks of our jobs, perhaps even cutting corners sometimes because we have “trust” in the individual we are dealing with or the individual doesn’t fit the mold of threatening or violent. This is the number one mistake I believe exists. Maintain the work practice that you treat every person as violent, despite their age, race, gender, or apparent social status. If you retain this method of operation, your safety will, inevitably, be bolstered. We fail ourselves in so many different ways. Do not allow a lack of vigilance be the failure that leads to a tragedy. If you see something out of the ordinary, trust yourself and realize there is a reason YOU, as a POLICE OFFICER, feel that it is out of the ordinary. 

Stay away from assumptions. Assumptions will get us killed. Assumptions will lead to complacency or that false sense of trust in a situation. I will never tell someone to act in an impolite manner towards anyone. While politeness and professionalism in this job is what a lot of us take pride in, you must always have in the back of your head the readiness to arm yourself and take action accordingly. 

Remaining vigilant should be a constant goal for every officer around this country and around this world. We must realize that, to some, we are the enemy, in a big, big way. We can’t control their hate, however we can become more vigilant towards it and control ourselves with our training and readiness in situations where we may meet the fine, thin and delicate line of life or death. 

We Are Who We Are Because of You – A Letter to the Public

I write to you, the public at large, for one reason today. We are who we are, because of you. Yesterday, after a crew got done taking a tree down in my yard, the foreman came up to my door and thanked me for what I do. I was leaving for work and thought I would walk out the door, wave, and be on my way. He took me off guard a bit, and I thanked him back. In retrospect, I do not think I should have been surprised. In fact, I find it more and more frequent that people thank me when I am in uniform. Sometimes, it is a quick and quiet thank you, and other times someone stops me to talk, thanks me for what I am doing, and shakes my hand. What the public needs to realize is the profound effect these small acts have on the morale of our police officers. I was able to leave for work yesterday in an elevated mood, happy that something so simple could make me smile. It is the thanks and the waves, the hand shakes and the conversations, that make us proud of what we do. We owe you a bigger “thank you” than you owe us. It is because of you that we are who we are.

However, there will forever be individuals in the public that look down upon the police and wish harm and ill-will towards us. To those of you who fit into this mold, I submit that it is also because of YOU that we are who we are. It is because of you that we refuse to back down. It is because of you that we will continue our fight even when our brothers fall at your hands. It is because of you I wear my vest. It is because of you that I train to the point that I am confident that the day I may be faced in a battle against you, at any given moment, I will be the one going home. You will be taken away and will answer for your wrong-doings. If I happen to fall, I am confident that my brothers and sisters will continue in their noble fight for justice, because of you. It is because of you that the appreciating, law-abiding, honorable public thanks us, for we keep them safe from people who commit society’s most unthinkable wrongs.

It is because of all of you, that we are who we are; Police officers and willing servants to the public.

Allow Your Downfalls to Build Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

It has been a couple of weeks since I wrote last. The job has become busy, consuming a lot of my mind as of late. Something that has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks is our downfalls. We all have type-A personalities, as police officers, and, therefore, tend to take our downfalls and mistakes more personally than others. We are people used to success. We perform in a highly competitive environment and are destined to have downfalls and disappointments during our careers. Today, I want to focus strictly on our mistakes and imperfections.

We all strive for a career that is full of positives, commendations and successes. It would be foolish not to do so. However, we must realize that, even as police officers, we are human and by nature we are imperfect. We must also realize that our superiors better understand this than us, the typical mid-ranking officer. As a newer officer to this profession, this is something I have struggled with in the past. I do not like “not succeeding”, I do not like making mistakes. I tend to make my own mistakes into bigger issues than they really are. I’ll over-think my decisions and the mistakes I’ve made. They tend to stay with me for days, perhaps even weeks. I believe in our profession; I believe that everyone in law enforcement is professional and mature. It is much easier said than done to pass off our mistakes as just that, mistakes. I find it hard sometimes to believe that the mistakes I have made aren’t being looked at by my superiors under a microscope. What I consciously fail to do is realize that I have done more good than I have bad. This, ultimately, has a greater impact than the mistakes I have made. It is one of those situations where I find trouble in following my own advice. It is too easy for us to be hard on ourselves and supportive to others. No one likes being in a tough spot, professionally. What we need to embrace is that, throughout our careers, we will make mistakes, we all have downfalls. There is not any single one of us that is perfect. There are individuals that will be more successful than us, there are individuals who will have different goals with us, there are individuals we won’t see eye-to-eye with. You and I are the only people in charge of our ultimate success, I have said this before. You and I are the only ones who can control our outlook on our own professional lives. You and I are, ultimately, the only ones who can learn from our own mistakes.

We must learn from our mistakes. Failing to retrieve a solid lesson from a mistake made will only lead to further incidents of the same nature. We must take a step back and learn a concrete lesson from all that we do, good or bad. I am a solid believer that every day is a learning lesson and every day is an opportunity to be better than the day before. It must be a consciously made effort to make today better than yesterday, and make tomorrow better than today. The only way to right a mistake is refusing to allow it to happen again. The only way to improve your professional life is to refuse defeat and carry on tomorrow better than your carried on today. Seek advice from supervisors and senior officers, take responsibility for your actions. If you are wrong, admit you are wrong. Hide the ego, remain humble and center yourself on your goals. Refusing to accept a mistake is refusing to accept the fact that we can all do better. Refusing to accept a mistake is refusing to admit your imperfections. Refusing to accept your mistakes is refusing to be professional and refusing to be successful.

Carry on your future days with your held no other way than up. You will continue to make mistakes, the officer to your left and right will continue to make mistakes. What we learn from them and how we continue on in our careers will be the ultimate redemption to our downfalls.