Fake news, mainstream and social media, hurt policing, says dep. chief

October 7, 2018

If it is true that, with great power comes great responsibility, is it also true that, for every great challenge comes the need for great leadership?

 

Let's talk about it, as it relates to public safety in Virginia Beach.

 

There's no doubt that community policing has changed. Not in unrecognizable or radical ways, but still enough to see stark differences in what policing looked like a mere quarter of a century ago.

 

Never, in the history of policing, has there been more of a need for courageous leadership within the American policing profession, than there is right now, as 2018 winds down.

 

Emerging challenges, facing leaders within the field of American policing, are requiring unique responses. Recruiting, safety, community engagement and others are but a few of the new challenges that can no longer depend on old solutions, but will require new, creative and innovative solutions.

 

Recruiting a talented and diverse workforce, and retaining existing officers, is becoming more and more difficult in light of a constant barrage of anti-police messaging echoed by traditional media and social media.

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Recruiting a talented and diverse workforce, and retaining existing officers, is becoming more and more difficult in light of a constant barrage of anti-police messaging echoed by traditional media and social media.

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The internet has given voice to anyone who wishes to espouse their views. Real or fake, information that lacks context does not enrich our community, but has proven to divide us.

 

Within the American law enforcement profession, the young men and women who patrol our neighborhoods are the ones who take the brunt of the growing anti-police sentiment.

 

Police officers fear for their physical safety and their career stability more today than in any other time in history. Today’s police officers will face a higher likelihood of assault or civil litigation than ever before.

 

From the Oval Office to the offices of police chiefs and sheriffs throughout the country, we are seeing efforts made to develop newer business models for modern policing.

 

Tactics employed by our officers, that include use of force, de-escalation, and the optics of militarized equipment, are

being scrutinized more today than ever before.

 

Agencies throughout the country are adopting recommendations, embedded in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, that include increased implementation of body-worn cameras, policy revisions and community policing strategies.

 

Many would suggest that these are welcome changes and I do not suggest otherwise.

 

That stated, we are not experiencing a commensurate decrease in the negative attitudes towards policing as a result of these changes.

 

From a medical analogy, “the medicine does not appear to

be working.”

 

 

Police leaders are finding it more difficult to motivate and inspire the officers within their span of control. My optimistic view is that despite these challenges, the leaders within the profession are finding creative ways of keeping officers focused on the importance of their role in a democratic society.

 

Police leaders, especially at the rank of sergeant, lieutenant and captain, deserve a lion’s share of the credit for their creativity in maintaining the mission of the profession to serve and protect.

 

If leadership had a twin, its name would be wisdom.

 

Despite what some might suggest, there are no such things as "born leaders." Equally true is the fact that none of us come into the world with much in terms of wisdom. Both require years of personal experience to develop.

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The decision to promote staff to leadership positions is one of the most important decisions a police chief or sheriff will ever have to make.

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The challenge for police agencies is to provide effective training to develop these core traits. The decision to promote staff to leadership positions is one of the most important decisions a police chief or sheriff will have to make; however, it is only the first step.

 

The training begins with instilling pre-promotional core competencies and continues with practical training post-promotion. Providing police leaders with effective and actionable tools to enhance their leadership abilities requires a commitment on the part of the agency. Additional advancement up the organizational chart requires yet more commitment and more advanced training.

 

All leaders are tasked with the requirement to identify and resolve problems as quickly as possible.

 

Having leadership “tools” in the proverbial “tool box,” so to speak, is only one part to the maturation of developing good leaders. Good leaders are capable of finding solutions to simple problems by doing the obvious right thing, whatever that might be. A great leader is capable of finding the sometimes ambiguous, right course of action, during the occasional fog of confusion and crisis.

 

The Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) has a long history of leadership development for each of its ranks. These instructional courses build upon the leader’s formal education as they help develop staff’s ability to become effective leaders.

 

Every leader in the organization has, at a minimum, an

Associate’s college degree. Many VBPD leaders have Bachelor’s or advanced degrees.

 

From the rank of sergeant (first line supervisor) to the rank of deputy chief (executive level), each training course provided is intended to hone personal, professional and community leadership skills.

 

We have partnered with internationally recognized subject matter expert organizations, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), International Associations of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), Major Cities Chief’s Association (MCCA), and others, to provide staff with the most effective leadership development training available.

 

Virginia Beach Police Chief James A. Cervera expends a great deal of department’s resources to ensure that leadership development is spread throughout the agency.

 

Over the past few years, the VBPD has spent roughly $100,000 each year on just leadership development.

 

So, what does great leadership look like?

 

There is no single correct answer. We have seen what poor

leadership looks like and what, tragically, can result from it.

 

There have been several Blue Ribbon reports, that have sprung from mismanaged and poorly-led police departments throughout the country, over the past several decades.

 

The Los Angeles Rampart scandal, and the subsequent independent review panel report, highlighted the corruption that can occur within an agency, absent effective and ethical leadership.

 

During an executive police leadership course, held recently at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., I was exposed to many examples of what can happen when police leaders lose sight of their oaths of office.

 

Using the Holocaust as a backdrop, there emerges examples of extraordinary and courageous acts of leadership that should be studied and celebrated.

 

In 1938, on the eve of the event known as “Kristallnacht” (night of broken glass), police leaders throughout Germany were given instructions, by the Nazi leadership, that the police were not to

intervene in the destruction of, or harm to, the Jewish people, their homes, businesses or synagogues.

 

On the night of November 9 of that year, Nazi storm troopers set fire to Berlin's largest synagogue, which was considered to be an architectural landmark. Upon learning of the storm troopers' actions, Police Captain Wilhelm Krutzfeld, commanding officer of District 16 in the heart of Berlin, along with several of his officers, marched to the synagogue, and at gunpoint, ordered the Nazis to move aside and demanded that the fire department extinguish the fire. His actions that night saved the synagogue from certain destruction.

 

Facing what many would consider career suicide and a tangible threat to his own personal safety, his heroic actions cannot be understated. Of the many examples of what great leadership looks like, none are more poignant than his.

 

Did Captain Krutzfeld know he was risking his career and his safety? Yes, he did.

 

Was his oath of office and dedication to his core responsibilities more important to him? Same answer.

 

I am extremely proud of the men and women of the VBPD, who patrol and protect my family and those of the almost half-a-million people who live in our fine city. I am equally proud of the men and women who lead the agency.

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I am extremely proud of the men and women of the VBPD, who patrol and protect my family and those of the almost half-a-million people who live in our fine city. I am equally proud of the men and women who lead the agency.

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From the first line sergeant, up to my boss, Chief James A. Cervera, outstanding examples of leadership can be found everywhere.

 

The VBPD is successful for a variety of reasons, none of which are more important than the courageous leadership of those who stand the tallest, with immense pride, integrity and commitment, to ensure that the Virginia Beach Police Department is the country's premier law enforcement agency.

 

Patrick Gallagher is a deputy police chief in the Virginia Beach Police Department.

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