Dr. Kevin Gilmartin posed the following question about 20 years ago:
- Does the experience of policing turn some decent people into bad cops? To listen to actual corridor conversations, among chiefs and other police practitioners and thinkers is to conclude that the answer to this questions is, Yes.
Dr. Gilmartin’s question came up this week when my training partner, Liz O’Connor, suggested I was framing incorrectly the question about “problem employees.” She insisted that we should be more invested in how to prevent decent people from developing problems. Liz was right.
We should create systems that help officers protect their integrity — in the comprehensive sense of that term — by helping them protect their physical, emotional and psychological health. Most of our systems are designed for the later stages of the downward curve to “problem” status. We still do just about nothing to protect people from what can be the emotional, mental and physical ravages of police work. The people most at risk are the motivated, idealistic high performers. We lose too many good people to bitterness, cynicism and resentment.
We need to invest more in helping protect people from the first day they pin on the badge. We have to invest our time, energy and brains in these questions:
- Which aspects of the job have the effect of turning decent people into bad cops? Not everyone goes sour. But some do. Why?
- How do we create an environment that protects decent people from becoming bad cops?
Am I nuts? Generally speaking, yes. But not, I think, on these questions.
More on this in future posts.