It seems that incidents involving police brutality are increasing. Recently a policy officer in McKinney, TX resigned after being caught on video pulling a gun on teenagers at a swimming party. Police Chief Conley was quoted as saying, “Our policies, our training, our practice doesn’t support his actions. He came into the call out of control, and as the video shows was out of control during the incident.”
I feel fortunate to live in a town with a terrific police force a police chief who has the self-awareness and self-management skills to lead a team of compassionate AND accountable officers. I also believe that most officers want to be effective and avoid losing the public’s trust. Addressing complicated problems like this requires attention to many factors including economic inequality and racial and ethnic prejudice. Along with that, I’d like to suggest that police officer selection and training implement principles of compassionate accountability.
In law enforcement compassion without accountability gets you nowhere. It’s critical that our law enforcement have empathy, caring, and concern for citizens. Without equal parts accountability to equality, justice, and fairness this compassion leads to loss of respect and failure to uphold the law.
Likewise, accountability without compassion gets you alienated. Resorting to power, authority, and force without equal measures of understanding and empathy is fertile soil for violence and distrust of power.
Blending these two and continually holding them in balance is the key to effective leadership, and I would argue, law enforcement. Here is what I believe law enforcement could do to help reduce violence and increase trust.
Selection: Certain personality types are drawn to law enforcement. They possess key characteristics for success: loyalty, commitment, perseverance, observation skills. These same personality types, when “out of control” or under extreme pressure, resort to suspiciousness, prejudice, use of fear and intimidation to get compliance. Add a behavior-based personality and communication screening tool to the mix, one that guides self-awareness, self-management, and is predictive of behavior. Here’s a link to a great option. Additional benefit of tools like this is that they guide “other-awareness” helping officers recognize others’ perceptual frames of reference, motivational needs, and likely distress patterns. Highly beneficial in anticipating behavior.
Training: Improve training in three core skills. Openness, Resourcefulness and Persistence. My guess is most officer training emphasizes resourcefulness and persistence over openness. Our experience is that openness is the most significant skill for reducing defensiveness and setting the stage for constructive conflict. Openness would have served officer Casebolt in McKinney, TX well. Openness would have allowed him to recognize his emotional distress prior to the incident and ask for help or self-manage before going out on the call. Openness would have allowed him to connect with the youth at their level, recognize and distinguish perceived threats (i.e. disrespectful comments as threats to ego) from real threats, and engage them compassionately AND accountably. Openness in general would allow officers to engage in the most important single driver of trust – spend time with people and connect with them at their level. Learn about what is important to the people you serve and protect. Understand what they are afraid of, what drives them, what keeps them up at night.
Compassion originates from the Latin root meaning “to struggle with.” This is a profound call to action for anyone seeking to increase engagement, connection, and accountability in an increasingly violent and distrustful world.
Next Element advises leaders in practicing compassionate accountability. To learn more about our advising and trainer certification programs, visit our website.
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