I’ve been in the labor and employment business for 25 years. For all of that time I have represented police unions. I have enjoyed the work because, almost universally, my clients have been committed men and women with a purpose to serve their communities. I am not a blind cheerleader for cops, but I understand the drive, courage, and empathy that almost all of them possess.
In my years though, I have dealt with more than a few police officers who have made mistakes, and others who have been absolute criminals. It happens in every profession. The criminals all seemed to have one aspect in common: they came from departments with poor leadership and poor management principles.
This is not to say that the individual officers were not solely responsible for their behavior. But it is to say that with strong leadership, guidance, and discipline, many of those wayward officers would likely not have strayed far from the right course.
This past week, this newspaper has been filled with stories about state cops behaving badly. I have never represented the state police union, but I have helped a few state troopers along the way. My opinion of troopers is no different than my opinion of local officers. It is almost universally positive.
But as I have read of the troopers who have found themselves in trouble over the last week, I was struck by my own personal observation that these troopers were either improperly vetted when they were hired, or they have been allowed to go rogue as a result of inconsistent or absent management. It takes a village to be this wayward.
If you were to ask me, I could tell you the best police departments in the state for someone to work. Some are in cities, others are in small communities. Each is characterized by strong leadership at the top, and a management system that supports training, discipline, and community involvement. When any of these components are lacking, the organization suffers.
The recent focus on policing in our communities has sought to hold police unions accountable for failures in our communities. Where police unions fail to acknowledge the importance of training, discipline, and mentorship while blindly protecting broken or obsolete systems and ideas, then they do bear responsibility.
The recent failures within the state police force should cause leaders and policy makers to perform an in-depth study on just what is happening within that department. I am sure that much needs to change.
It appears that there is a failure of leadership within state government in a few key areas. We have written extensively about the labor department’s failures with the recent unemployment rollout. Now the state police is broadcasting its failures publicly.
No state agency, or private organization for that matter, is perfect, and it is unfair for us to expect perfection. But when the chinks in the armor are so readily exposed, it is important that leaders recognize the problems and come up with an effective plan to address those problems with economic and durable solutions in a timely fashion. Let’s hope that the recent headlines will lead to swift and functional change.