Many people add a disclaimer that their beliefs do not reflect those of their agency. Mine do. I represent the Aurora (IL) Police Department and I strive to keep my values aligned. Here are some of my thoughts.
Just one month after the mass shooting in our city, shots rang out again on the other side of the world and despite the distance, I could feel them here. The massacre in New Zealand was fueled by hatred, and though the circumstances were different, I can’t help but draw a parallel motive for the mass shooting at Pratt.
Hatred. I was taught from an early age to avoid that word. I might dislike peas or a person, but to attached hatred to something is on another level. Maybe we have lost the conditioning to discern between dislike and hatred. Hatred is the highest form of contempt one can feel because it goes beyond indifference. Indifference is safe because not caring about something or someone is benign. It doesn’t evoke strong emotion or reaction because it doesn’t move someone to action or response.
But hate motivates. Hate is fierce and consuming, and it drives human beings to do things that are unfathomable and unconscionable. When it takes over, everything goes dark, and everyone goes down with the person who possesses it.
I called the Aurora shooter an “evil soul” and was criticized for using those words. I stand vehemently by them because I looked into the eyes of every family member who lost their loved one and through sheer transference, I felt their pain. I sat at the bedside of the police officers who were struck by the bullets as they were running towards the gunfire. Interestingly enough, the officers were unphased. They would have gladly taken more shots that day if it meant saving lives, but the faces of their loved ones told another story.
I refuse to roll back or soften my words.
Anyone who can feel hatred to the point of consummation where it drives an act of violence against someone else possesses evil within them. And that is not a diagnosis used to defend violent action. You don’t get to assign mental illness as an excuse because nothing infuriates me more than creating a nexus of mental illness where there is the freedom of choice. It is insulting to those battling mental health issues to be compared with those who are fueled by hatred. These killers planned their executions. One brought a gun to work knowing he was going to use it. The other wrote a manifesto in preparation of the bloodshed. Freedom of choice is the greatest of human freedoms, and when it is driven by hatred, it is calculated and evil. Period.
I struggle to understand how someone can become so consumed with hating another person. Even more puzzling is hating a group of people because of their religion or race . Maybe that is the crack in my argument where some will affix mental illness to illustrate that the level of disdain can only be explained as being ill. I understand the need to have a diagnosis so it’s easier to grasp, but I’m not there.
Right now, I’m disgusted by these human beings who take out their anger and hatred on innocent people. Hate alone is a powerful thing and adding a firearm to that toxic formula is a force multiplier that ensures the keeper of the hate can do as much damage as possible.
In Aurora, we have a strong and vibrant Muslim community. Our Muslim brothers and sisters from New Zealand are seemingly a world away but they are us, and we are them. In the wake of this hatred, please know that your Aurora Police Department and the citizens of this city have our hands on your back.
Perhaps MLK’s words are befitting for Aurora – the city of lights:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
I attended a retreat with the Mayor and the City of Aurora Executive Team yesterday. This has become an annual event under Mayor Irvin’s leadership, and the purpose is for all department heads to come together and recap our collective achievements and chronicle our challenges from the previous year. It allows us to get in sync and develop a roadmap to progress in the year ahead.
I love this event because it is a reminder to me that the police department is not the center of the solar system (a fact of which I frequently need a reminder). All city departments are aligned to the Mayor’s goals, and it’s so productive to understand how we all work in synergy to elevate our entire city.
But what really captured my attention was when facilitator Marianne Renner talked about engaged employees. It was interesting to learn the categories of employee engagement and where we all fit in. As she described the levels of engagement, I found myself assigning identities to each. Here is the breakdown:
34% of you are actively engaged. You are the people who are loyal and committed. You are always working towards goals, and you contribute to the progress of your organization. You show up to events, you come up with new and ideas and new initiatives, and you get involved.
53% of you are productive and generally satisfied. You come to work and do your job, but you’re not really invested in anything beyond that. You are the silent majority that doesn’t complain but really doesn’t care beyond your 8-hour shift.
13% of you are actively disengaged. You are the malcontents. You know who you are. Every decision is stupid, and you find something to complain about no matter what the situation. You are unhappy and let that unhappiness show in words, attitudes, and actions. You undermine the performance of others by continually voicing your displeasure.
I guess what surprised me about the study is that those in the 53% category can transition to the actively engaged group with some effort. Marianne said, “You can’t change people; you can only attempt to influence them.” I started thinking about how I could try and inspire and motivate this group in my organization to become actively engaged. The police department leadership seeks to create opportunities for career advancement and specialization. We do our best to acknowledge good work. We have strived to create an environment where communication trumps notification. So why do we have so many people in the middle category?
I thought about that hard, and I decided this might be out of my control. Maybe it's your job to motivate you -- just as it’s my job to motivate me.
Motivation is tricky. To be inspired, you have to be motivated to seek and receive inspiration. If I read a book or an article, I’m influenced by it (positively or negatively depending upon the content). But I have to seek out those sources or read them if they are provided to me. It's still my job to take the step. People inspire me. Some inspire me to be better by doing the opposite of what they do. Others inspire me through their excellent work and actions. During our retreat, our Mayor inspired me by sharing his vision for our city and how we fit into his vision. He is so passionate about progress, and his excitement renewed my energy and enthusiasm.
Passion persuades people. So maybe we surround ourselves with people who inspire us.
If you are one of the 34% who is actively engaged in the place that you are, congratulations. Your organization’s success is because of you. Your enthusiasm is the thing that sets you apart from the disengaged, and you are likely a happier person both at work and at home. You are inspired, and you inspire others. You are winning at life, and you are the people that I want to hang around because that stuff is contagious. Amy Poehler said it best:
“I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”
If you are one of the sad 13%, I would love to tell you not to come to work. I would like to say to you that all you have to do is pick up your paycheck every 2 weeks. But even then, you’d probably get mad that we aren’t mailing it to you. I wish I could find a way to inspire you to be at the very least, mediocre. But you’ll resist. And when you do leave, it will be addition by subtraction. But until then, we can’t ignore you because you whine pretty loud. But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s this:
If you are the silent majority of the 53%, you are just okay. You are going through the motions doing the minimum, and you are utterly mediocre. When you leave your organization, people will say, “that fella was ‘meh.’”
I want more for you than mediocre. I want you to wake something up within you, so you feel a spark of excitement for something. I want you to feel the pride of devising a solution to a problem or creating something out of nothing. I want to bring you over to the “engaged” group not just for our organization, but for you. Because you have no business accepting just okay. And when you get tired of being mediocre and become more than that, everyone around you gets better as a result.
Maybe this is your moment to acknowledge where you are and commit to breaking the chains of apathy.
Here is what I know. You can’t sit around waiting to be motivated or inspired by someone or something. You have to seek out inspiration. You have to move towards it. Who do you want to be?
This is our patch. There are many like it, but this one is ours.
That saying was borrowed from the Rifleman’s Creed and was spoken in jest over the years referring to our uniform patch. “There are many like it” was a poke at its generic design that was adopted by police and security agencies across the nation. It became a running joke about how many different agencies had the same design. But it was ours.
Photo by Sgt. Ed Corral
The consensus over the years was that APD needed an upgrade. In 2006, the command staff at the time started contemplating changing the patch. When I was promoted to lieutenant in 2008, a committee was formed to seek input and design a new patch. We gathered feedback from officers and quickly learned that people wanted different things in their patch. Some wanted buildings to reflect our downtown. Others wanted patriotic flags and bald eagles. Some wanted skulls and crossbones (that didn’t make the cut!). It seemed that every human had a different idea of what it should be.
So, we mocked up as many elements as we could and presented it to the 7-person command staff. I recall laying out the designs and taking a step back as they studied the patches. Their discussion turned into dissent as they voted on their favorite. That morphed into suggestions of different designs they wanted to see incorporated with no one agreeing on the same ideas. I walked out of that room thinking the chief was going to have a tough time sifting through all the opinions and settling on the winning patch.
I never heard another word about it.
That taught me a few very important lessons. First and foremost, a patch is in essence, art. The beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder and all of us are drawn to diverse interpretations of beauty. It also taught me a leadership lesson that is applicable to every decision made in an organization: someone will invariably be unhappy. That’s why so many leaders stay with the status quo. It’s easier to keep things as they are so as not to incur conflict.
Photo by Sgt. Ed Corral
But APD doesn’t do easy. It was important to our command staff that we honor our past, so we sought out to research the APD patch that was used prior to 1969 where the first pictures of our current patch surfaced. The patch from 50 years ago was a simple design with a gray background and a maroon border and a maroon 5-point star. It simply said, “Aurora Police Dept” and that patch became the inspiration for the new design. We decided to steer clear of buildings or landmarks in Aurora because once again, those are opinion-based elements. We opted instead to place the official City of Aurora seal in the center of the patch because it hasn’t changed since 1857. We wanted to honor our past but give it a modern and clean look with our values: Honor, Service, and Integrity. The result is our new patch adopted in 2019.
This is a change I do not take lightly. And as much as I wanted to upgrade the design, the first time I put on the uniform with the new patches, I was flooded with emotion. My dad wore that patch for his career, and it was part of my childhood. It was symbolic of APD. I have worn our patch since 1994 when I became a police officer. Officers who have left this earth have worn it. Our beloved retired officers have worn it. Our current officers wear it and it is a part of all of us. It will always be our patch and it will remain in our legacy. Tradition is a fragile thing in a culture built entirely on memories and there can be no creation without tradition; my hope is that the new patch is a reflection of our past.
Our police department is not the same as it was in 1969. It is exactly 50 years later, and we respect and honor our past, but we evolve and grow into our present. Our police officers and civilian staff are bold, innovative and progressive. Our new patch is symbolic of these characteristics and we wear it proudly because it is our patch. There are many like it, but this one will become ours.
For the past two years, I have been pursuing a second Master’s Degree from the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS). I pursued this degree so I could be a better chief for my department and become more educated on homeland security issues in order to keep our city safer.
When I began this program, I didn’t set out to abandon my blog (and nearly everything else in my life). It just happened. I live by the mantra, “Do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do.” Following that mindset, I have tried to prioritize my police department while using energy reserves for the grueling coursework and traveling back and forth to California and Maryland for the residency portion of the program. That has left me with little time to do what I want to do. Newton's first law of motion observed that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. By that theory, I should have been in a constant state of inertia. Newton’s law didn’t account for immovable objects in the way of things in motion because I lost count of how many times I slammed into a brick wall. I should also mention that I have neglected friends and family during this time and that’s why I think it’s ironic when I’m asked how I manage work-life balance.
I remember reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg’s book, “Lean In” where she described reaching a point in her career where she felt comfortable leaving work at 5pm to have dinner with her family. She made it a rule not to allow anything to interrupt dinner and she hoped by practicing putting her family first, it would give other people at Facebook permission to do the same. I love that. But I don’t do that.
I am blatantly honest when answering the work-life balance question by confessing that I don’t manage it at all. I fail at it miserably. When I’m eating dinner with my family, I answer the phone when it’s someone from work – even if it’s not an emergency. I swear I have tried to ignore it but then I start speculating what needs my attention and I become preoccupied. My family just looks at me looking at the ringing phone and tells me to answer it.
The truth is, when I feel like I'm entirely focused on work, I know I'm not fully present for my family. When I am being a great mom and a great partner, I feel as though I’m falling short in my police department or my city. Throw in the pursuit of another master's degree into that mix, and it's easy to see why I repeatedly slammed into the wall. Some people say you can have it all and I absolutely believe it – just not at the same time.
I graduate in December with a Master’s Degree in Homeland Defense and Security and I loved every minute of it (except for the times I didn't love it and wondered what the hell I was thinking). I'm proud of my accomplishment, but I’m relieved that it’s coming to an end because I will be clearing the cobwebs off my blog and getting back to reading books that aren’t assigned and writing about things that aren’t required.
I did what I had to do. Now I get to do what I want to do in between the things I still have to do. And if the phone rings during dinner, I’m probably still going to answer it because getting a degree doesn’t make one smarter.