It’s Time to Answer Dr. Gilmartin’s Question

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.


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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