Ernest Hemingway said that, “Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really care for anything else thereafter.” Is this where we are in the social evolution of our profession? How many family outings and trips do we by-pass, or rely upon “I’m on call” to skip the zoo adventure just because we are not interested?
Recently, while going through boxes of things stored at my dad’s house, I came across hundreds of my pictures. I stopped to reminisce alone, as I was flooded by the vivid recall of memories. My first day on the job picture afforded plenty of laughs as I saw a much younger me in a blue faux cowboy hat holding a .38 revolver pistol and speed loaders. Thank God the Sheriff did not require we wear those hats, but I guess he distributed them for good measure and tradition.
The pictures of 12 years working undercover afforded as many “looks” as drug dealers arrested. The giant circular wire-rim eyeglasses and operationally fashionable mullet were my favorite era. Before laughing look at your 1980-90′s collection of flipped up collars and Don Johnson-inspired blazers. The biker period provided menacing images of a shaven headed, giant bearded psychopathic facade, or so thought my neighbors and church members. Nothing like having the pew to yourself.
The photos from Hurricane Katrina still sear sadness as we faced the storm sheltered in place at the heart of its arrival. The times following included SWAT deployments into the New Orleans metro areas’ worse hit locations. While the background and heavy tactical gear looked more like movie fantasy, it was every bit real.
The latter-career pictures began to resemble the “me” of today. The trimmed down cyclist no longer looks like the 260lbs powerlifter, and the beards and long hair are replaced with civilianized flattops. I’d love to find that cowboy hat.
Then I stopped laughing and relishing the fond memories when I realized that over 22 years were stored in this box. I’d estimate that less than 10% of the hundreds of photographs from Polaroid to digital included my family. There are a few of them at law enforcement inspections and gatherings centered around the job, but where are the zoo, pool and birthday pictures?
We casually comment about spending more time with our law enforcement family than our own. It somehow becomes a badge of honor to miss the kid’s party or the wife’s date night. When did we stop regretting or feeling the guilt associated with absenteeism?
There is a process called occupational socialization that includes the organizationally informal dynamics of becoming blue that includes desensitization and detachment. It’s the reason we don’t cry over dead bodies or beat child molesters as opposed to reading them their rights. One of the tragedies, yet defense mechanisms this profession “gifts” us with is the ability to separate ourselves from the horrors we see for the sake of getting the paperwork completed.
Those photographs caused me to painfully recall the first time I administered CPR. I worked my tail off and gave it everything I had as the family stood there waiting for police magic to happen. My body burned with aching muscles, my lungs cried out over each dispelling of life-saving breath I offered, and my arms cringed with each forceful chest compression.
Back at home I called the hospital that night to check on my victory. He died. I was crushed. I cried at home and my family seemed surprised to see their knight in tears. I had only been on Patrol a few months, and had never intimately experienced death. The social and familial expectancy is that no matter your experiential level, you are supposed to be the cop portrayed in the movies. Really?
A few months later, I responded to an emergency call to find another person in cardiac distress. Without hesitation I began CPR, and they too passed away. Did I shed a tear for the loss? Now I joked about being 0 for 2, and laughed as the fellow officers cracked wise about being the messenger of death. Even recounting the incident to my family was more of a police report than an emotional breach. No one was surprised by the callousness, not even me.
This is the “gift” of socialization. There are stages to becoming fully indoctrinated into the fraternity, and although we are trained to “see” through the surface appearances of situations, we are curiously blinded to circumstances personally affecting us. I think personal suffering is a badge of honor we award ourselves. How injured are you, how much child support are you ordered to pay, how many hours have you been on duty, and how many months has it been since your saw your child. Do these badges of honor sound familiar? When did we take the oath of bearing the suffering albatross?
As a chief executive it is our responsibility to teach officers, especially young ones about the “gift” of socialization. It is our obligation to take action when we see the fraternal expectancies are overbearing the individual. It is our moral duty to mentor these officers and encourage them to spend more time with family than shift mates.
Earned time off is not a sign of weakness, and time spent with moral and social anchors such as family, friends and church builds individual strength. I used to boast that the first 10 years of my career were spent without ever taking a day off for vacation or sick. While God blessed me with good health, He balked on my common sense.
Socialization does have benefits such as teaching the organization’s cultural expectancies and occupational mores. It ensures we understand how each other works, thinks and reacts. It builds morale, confidence and esprit de corps among the troops. It establishes the informal social pecking orders.
It also teaches you that if it hurts, suck it up. If it destroys your marriage, find someone new. If it causes you to drink, roll your gold if you get stopped driving home, and if you feel like you can no longer exist in this life, you are weak asking for help.
This “gift” of occupational socialization is a mystery. Peter Manning refers to the job as having a mystique veiled by a sacred canopy. The symbolism, pageantry and tradition make our calling noble. It is vital to maintaining the highest levels of loyalty that we see this low-wage earning, long-hour working and risk-taking job as a “calling.” These badges of honor endear us to the service of policing.
Why is a police officer’s line of duty death and funeral so impacting of an agency, a community, and a nation? Are there websites, ceremonies and engraved walls dedicated for fallen teachers, bus drivers or public works employees?
These acts of respect are symbolic insurances to officers, that if I also lay my life down in the service to others, that I will too be memorialized by pageantry and procession.
Ceremonial symbolism comforts us to know that if our life is lost in the line of duty, we will be honored not for the way we died, but for how we lived. This phrase is inscribed at the Police Memorial site in D.C., and it is our reassurance policy that in our passing, our families will be cared for and we will be missed.
Instant, sudden or violent departure preparation is another one the “gifts” you’ll receive upon achieving full socialization. Is running towards danger while others flee an innate behavioral characteristic? If that was the case, we could skip entrance exams and hiring practices and only test your fight or flight response. Those running this way are hired; the other group need not reapply.
Yes, our chosen calling, profession, occupation, job, grind, or whatever it’s called is a mystery, but the systematic processes associated with occupational socialization are well defined and documented in the studies of organizations.
As chiefs of police and senior executive managers, we have either survived the turmoil to rise through the ranks, or are some of the luckiest s.o.b. on Earth. Regardless of the occupational trajectory landing you in position, we now have the obligation for creating environments free from detrimental fraternal hazing and cultural expectancies inconsistent with healthy work ecologies.
Please stop before calling this information or me anything you wouldn’t call your closest family member. I do not ascribe to the tree-hugging warm and fuzzy school of police management. I actually have rightfully earned a reputation for strictness with zero tolerance for accepting anything less than everything you have. I also have lived, witnessed and studied for years the effects, both positive and negative of socialization’s gift.
There are better ways of enculturation than repeating the sophomoric rituals from school days and dormitory life. Scientific, theoretical and practically applied management methodologies for engraining loyalty, respect, and longevity for the calling are more appropriate and sustainable than back slapping over pitchers of beer.
Be the moral, professional and exemplar compass for your officers. It doesn’t require being perfect, it just requires being present. Your encouraging words and inquiries about their well being carries so much more weight than we will ever understand. I’ve learned that compassion is strength when shown in leadership. I also know that once we have successfully traversed a section of pathway, it is not only important that we guide others from the front, but that we look back and caution for obstacles along the way. Don’t allow the “gift” to become the rock that removes young officers from the trail.
Stop often along the path to take pictures, but also work harder to include your family in them. Say, “Cheese.”
Learn more about this article here:
Britz, M. (1997). The police subculture and occupational socialization: exploring individual
and demographic characteristics. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 21(2)
Manning, P. (1980). Violence and the Police Role. American Academy of Political and Social
Science, 45(2), 19.
Taylor, Frederick (1911). Scientific Management: The Early Sociology of Management and
Organizations. ISBN 0-415-27983-6
Van Maanen, J. (1975). Police socialization: a longitudinal examination of job attitudes in an
urban police department. Administrative Science Quarterly, 1975, 21.
Scott Silverii, Ph.D. was appointed Chief of Police for the Thibodaux Police Department, Louisiana in January 2011, after serving 21 years for the nationally accredited Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office. Chief Silverii began his law enforcement career in 1990 by serving in a variety of investigative and command assignments including twelve years undercover and sixteen years in SWAT. A subject matter expert in data-driven approaches to crime and traffic safety, he was appointed to the IACP’s prestigious Research Advisory Committee.
Chief Silverii earned a Master of Public Administration and a Doctorate in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans, focusing his research on anthropological aspects of culture and organizations. Chief Silverii can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org,@ThibodauxChief, LinkedIn, or Law Enforcement Today. His agency website and Facebook can be accessed at http://ci.thibodaux.la.us/departments/police/index.asp