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Power of Positive Policing: How to Avoid the Negatives

Power of Positive Policing: How to Avoid the Negatives

We all know the type in policing. The guy or gal who is never happy. They manage to find fault with the administration, the public, and even fellow crime fighters. It’s an “Us vs. Them” world in their eyes. In a nutshell, this frowny-faced person is a downer and could be crowned the king or queen of morale busting. They practice the art of what I dub Negative Policing (as opposed to Positive Policing).

The Negatives’ grousing is even more insidious for hard-working law enforcers who practice Positive Policing in an agency that may already be struggling in an era of budget cuts and citizen attacks. The “glass half empty” attitude can be a powerful drag on those trying to soar higher with a “glass half full” outlook on life and the job.

Negative policing is dangerous for the public and it’s bad for crime fighters. In its most destructive form, the mindset manifests itself in coppers having higher rates of suicide, divorce, alcoholism, and depression than the general public. It can turn wide-eyed idealists full of enthusiasm for their calling into angry fighters looking to use booze escape from the job. This is important for all crime fighters including those aspiring to become enforcers as well as those battle weary veterans of the streets.

Actually, if you think about it, it’s a wonder there aren’t more of these weary whiners among the ranks. The fact that most badge bearers go out and serve in the face of a huge exposure to negativism is a testament to the honorable characteristics.

In order to combat this wicked force that undermines the principles of law enforcement, it is helpful to understand what they are and why they are there.

Law enforcement is the one career where almost everyone thinks they know what the officer or deputy should do more than the trained professional. No other occupation gets such scrutiny. Judgments are often made by civilian overseers, the media, and public with little or no understanding of the facts and nuances behind the incident or issue.

Scrutiny by All, Justice for Some

You don’t see this epidemic in North Korea, China, or Iraq. That second guessing is unique to officers who police in a democratic society. In the big picture of things, this is a good thing as officers and their families are part of the community and do not want the police to be an adversarial occupying force in the neighborhoods.

Over time, officers increasing feel that they are being scrutinized by all. They also get frustrated as the wheels of justice often do not turn for all. When it does, it is an excruciating process that moves slowly.

The sources of negative factors abound in the world of criminal justice. They probably ring a familiar bell to vets of the streets. Remote administrators, grinding rotation of shifts, criminals that skirt by on technicalities, ungrateful victims, and family members that are demanding and don’t understand are but a few of the forces that impact community guardians.

Law enforcers need to be aware of these influences in order to guard against falling victim to attitude adjusting downward spirals. There are two great books that help to explain the evolution of crime fighters from idealist rookie to cynical veteran.

Back in 1967, a ground breaking book by sociologist Dr. Arthur Niederhoffer examined the cynicism that was rampant in the New York City Police Department. Written with two decades of NYPD experience under his belt, Dr. Niederhoffer’s Behind the Shield: The Police in Urban Society was an early acknowledgment of the destructive forces that eat away at the hearts of initially ideal minded officers. Dr. Niederhoffer acknowledged in simple terms the feelings of isolation and frustration that builds over time. Officers start to become part of all the negative aspects of that Blue Wall.

Emotional Survival

More recently, another fantastic book recognized the factors that tear at officers’ psyche. Dr. Kevin Gilmartin’s 2002 book Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement: A Guide for Officers and Their Families is a fantastic tool to prepare aspiring careerists for the rigors of policing. It should be mandatory reading for all cadets as it was for some of the more contemporary basic police academies I oversaw.

Dr. Gilmartin is all about having officers understand the trajectory of their life and career and gaining control over them. True life-long endurance for crime fighters is not just about street survival anymore; it’s also about emotional survival.

So, what can you do besides avoiding the naysayers in your agency to keep the power of positive police thinking that you had when you first dreamed of a police career? Besides getting the aforementioned two books and taking their messages to heart, here are a few suggestions.

1) Exercise. Countless studies both within and without the justice field have confirmed that 30 minutes of exercise per day helps with emotional health, a well as physical well-being.

2) Widen Social Circle. Try to go beyond the world of just cops and bad guys. Particularly for the guys working midnight shifts, dealing only with the bad folks colors your perception of the world. You begin to see all as dysfunctional liars and criminals. Law enforcers do not see the vast majority of our society that are law abiding people that are supportive of what coppers do. Reach out so that you can see those people and their positive lives.

3) Widen Horizon. While it is good to be dedicated to the career, especially in the beginning when the learning curve is steep, make an effort to learn about things beyond the stresses of the job. Go to college, join a community club, or get involved in your church. The important thing is that you develop a healthy alternative to the sometimes destructive forces of total immersion.

4) Family. This one is the most important for many. Policing often squeezes out family as a part of a hard charging enforcer’s life. It’s no wonder that officers have higher divorce rates than even the general population. Strive to make the family come before the job. All too many retired law enforcers look back and wish that they had paid closer attention to their spouse and children earlier in their lives. Time goes by and is hard to recapture those moments.

Avoid those negative people and destructive forces that tear at the fabric of officers’ lives. When taking off the uniform, shed the police persona and find your humanity. It’s not too early or too late to consider these important concepts. It’s the path to a fuller existence as a law enforcer and a person. Such positive thinking will combat the negatives and imbue you with the power of Positive Policing.

Dr. Richard Weinblatt, “The Cop Doc,” is a former police chief, ex busy jurisdiction patrol deputy sheriff, and criminal justice educator who has written articles and provided media commentary since 1989. He can be reached via

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