Reaching Across the Blue Line - by Brian Yates
Feb. 3, 2020
I have spoken a few times about the transformation of my perspective during my law enforcement career and some have asked me to unpack that a bit and describe what caused it, how it impacted me, and how they might be able to consider a similar shift in thinking. What follows is a very brief synopsis of what was wrong with my viewpoint and how changing it ultimately made me a better officer…..and made my time on duty much more effective.
Wikipedia describes the thin blue line as a representation of that space in society held by law enforcement. It represents the chaos that LEOs are trying to hold back from normative society. The thin blue line ‘logo’ is very meaningful to those that wear a uniform as it highlights a family to which we belong. Often times when we are confronting that ‘chaos’ we are seen as the enemy. It’s very difficult to do your job well and get chastised for it.
Early in my career I viewed my role solely as an enforcer. Find the law breakers and punish them in hopes that they discontinue breaking the law and minimize the chaos. I quickly realized that there was a very common cycle amongst many violators; their impending arrest by me was not going to alter their course. In my collegiate studies of Criminal Justice I read a great deal about sociological theories that explained crime patterns. The many agencies I worked for provided significant amounts of intelligence to help us in our fight against crime. But I found myself continually frustrated that merely making an arrest wasn’t doing anything more than delaying the inevitable…..recidivism by mostly the same people.
I once had a mentor ask me a powerful question; “if you are wrong, do you want to know it?”. His point was obvious. I had a particular viewpoint in my job as an officer that was constructed by my life experience and education. But what if that wasn’t the most effective viewpoint? As a young officer, I resisted the need to self-evaluate. I had good numbers in terms of public contact, arrests, and successful dispositions. And yet I didn’t feel like I was helping anyone. Here is an illustration that really helps drive this point home. Sometimes we don’t take enough time to figure out why we are banging our head and if there is anything we can do about it.
As I covered in the Learning to Appreciate People introduction, I believe we are truly called to treat others the way we want to be treated. So, if I ever got pulled over for DUI, how would I hope the officer treats me? If I was a victim of an assault, how would I want the officer to treat me? If I have a tail light out (and that’s my only crime) how would I want an officer to treat me? This entire concept is compounded by the repetitiveness of calls for service. We go back in service after leaving the jail from an assault arrest on July 4th and get sent to the 43rd fireworks complaint of the night. We show up to the same house we were at earlier in the evening and the subject is elbow deep in his concoction of sassy sauce and we are the bad guys. Fireworks are illegal. Neighbors have a right to exist without invasive disturbances. All those are true. So what can I do to actually help the situation?
My experience is this, if I can find a way to recalibrate my mind after every call, I am more likely to be successful with each encounter. If I’m in a bad mood and allow that, along with my authority, to dictate the tone and outcome of a call, I’m not helping anyone. The hard work is done when I wake up. I must get my head right. When I go on duty, I must erase my emotional responses from prior shifts and start fresh. It’s no different than I hope my supervisor does. If I get dinged for coming to work late, I don’t want that person to hold it against me forever. When I show up to a call, I need to use my skills and abilities to evaluate the circumstance for what it is, that day, at that time. When I have done this, I have found much more effective solutions.
When I speak about Learning to Appreciate People, I often get challenges from people that it sounds too fluffy and unrealistic or that I’m suggesting to them that they let people walk all over them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We see the toll that is being taken on LEOs. So we need to do whatever we can to strengthen and support the Thin Blue Line culture. Creating a new perspective has made my time as an officer much less stressful. It has allowed me to remain more calm when I’m dealing with someone that is out of control. It has shown me opportunities to really help others. After all, my observation was that I was frustrated and stressed even though statistically I was successful. Learning to Appreciate People is a bit of a selfish pursuit. It absolutely has an outward impact, but the internal healing and strength it has afforded me and many others is really just about equipping me with a new perspective and skillset.
LEO’s have a very difficult and dangerous job. They are asked to be doctors, lawyers, electricians, mechanics, psychologists, enforcers, dog catchers, 411, 911, and many other things often in the same duty shift. “What got us here won’t get us there” – Marshall Goldsmith. We have a rich history of holding back the chaos in our society. And yet, society has changed a great deal. As we move forward, I want to testify that there are things each person can do to make their own life easier and in turn reach across the Thin Blue Line in a way that helps them become more effective at their jobs.
Learning to Appreciate People:
“I’m not perfect, nobody is. I have value, everybody does.”