The Political Machine
Police Departments, are and have been, for decades run as paramilitary units, a part of our history of militias and military police units. Unfortunately, they have become the political pawns of the governments overseeing them. In every department that I have researched over the years, there is a political hierarchy that over powers the good intentions of intelligent and capable Officers. Most, high level promotions are not about ability and capability but are more of who will do the best job of protecting and supporting the current administrations intentions and needs. Whether it be the local governments needs or the departments needs, they place the people that are the most likely to follow behind the current leadership and lead the Officers they are supposed to be managing. That is why you see a new Police Chief, when there is a new Mayor, County Commission or Governor elected into office. There is a new agenda on the table and they want to have the Law Enforcement Officials behind them, giving a very powerful public image.
Police Chiefs are nothing more than political pawns themselves. They are at the mercy of the current government administration. If the Chief isn’t supportive of the agenda that the elected administration, that Chief won’t be around for long. So, to keep their jobs, the Chiefs cow tow to the Mayor and fall in line. This may be good or bad, depending on what the current administration wants to accomplish. It is almost always bad for the Officers in the rank and file. Overtime, promotions, unit assignments, district/precinct assignments all are at risk of being turned upside down to meet what the political motivations are. I’m sure for many of you reading this, this is not news. You fall in line or find another assignment or job. I personally have seen this many times and even experienced it myself. It has different extremes depending on the size and location of the department.
As a patrolman, you think that you are somewhat shielded from this but not if you want to try and advance/promote within the Department or seek an assignment in special unit. You have to play the “boys club” political game to be able to gain what you want. As any of you that know me, that was not an easy thing for me to do and so I never was able to gain the assignments that I would have liked to had in my career. If you are outspoken and not a political favorite or if you speak against what the politicos are attempting to accomplish, you will be shut down, buried in a deep hole, out of the way. Those who play the game, are able to climb the ranks, have choice assignments and become a “golden boy” of the administration, as long as you don’t bring disgrace to them. I attempted on many occasions to gain access to training in areas that were my interest and excelled in. One of those areas was working as a K-9 Officer. I am very good with animals in general. I have vast life experiences with dogs. They like me and I like them. I worked with the K-9 units on the street as often as I could on calls that they were needed on. The dogs, who did not know me, in the beginning, were very friendly with me and worked well with me, even after time obeying my commands. These are dogs that are trained search and detaining of suspects. They use aggressive bite tactics for the violent offenders and are aggressive dogs themselves. It was a surprise to not only me but the handlers, as well. I have heard of stories where Police K-9’s have attacked other Police Officers, including their handlers but this has never happened to me. This is very unusual, from my understanding and gave me the belief that I would be a good handler, along with my good Officer tactics. I attempted on numerous occasions, to apply for training with the K-9 unit. I was never allowed the opportunity to complete the training. There were younger, newer and less experienced officers that were selected over me. I was told on several occasions that it was because I was to outspoken and did not play the political game, simply I was not liked by certain command personnel. To clarify, I was never a disciplinary problem, had nothing more than a missed court mark on my record and exemplary evaluations. I am not one that is willing to forego my principles and morals for the politicos. I am a man that believes that he should be accepted on his merits and abilities, something that has been lost in the age of what can I get for myself. Even though I was not able to attain my goals, my dreams, I continued to provide the service I had chosen as my career. I was not the only one that I saw this happen to, there were many examples that I could provide. I was not just a whiner or bitcher. This is the game and if you don’t play, you are left on the bench.
Promotions are a dream that most Officers try to attain. The process of promotion within Police Departments is somewhat unique for each individual department. The basics are this and fall into basically two categories, the “objective” testing process and the who you know process. I worked for two different agencies in my career and tested for Sergeant in both. The smaller department used more of a personal process, interviewing, written knowledge of laws and policies and some type of oral board. This became more of popularity contest and who interviewed better. The larger department, used the “objective” testing process. A specific amount of time before the test, a packet of information was given out to the candidates, a book list, testing dates, deadlines, etc. You then had to study and read from the book and the operations manual of policy and procedures but you were never given a specific idea of what was going to be tested. When it came time to take the test, it came down to how well you memorized the information in the study material not logical, police knowledge. If you scored high enough, you went on to the next phase. Usually, the next phase would be some type of procedural testing, involving subordinates, policy violations and how you would handle the discipline, if any. Now, I have seen this done in writing and in an oral setting. If you passed that process, you would then be in front of an oral board, facing questions of similar content and how you respond to them. The end, would be a subjective process of the board members and command staff within the department, ranking the “qualified” candidates on a list and then promotions being granted as positions opened. Higher ranking positions, Captain, Deputy Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs, were all made on the basis of an oral board and chosen by the Chief. Leaving everyone to question the legitimacy of the promotion or appointment. It never seems that you can get away from the political game. Needless to say, I never was promoted.
If you are the savior, the hero, you are presented to the media and public. If you are the normal everyday Officer, that goes out and does their job, you are never recognized and many times are forgotten about. Sometimes that isn’t all bad but for many that leaves an empty hole in your psyche. I would say for most of us that have chosen this career, we do it for the love of protecting, saving and serving our community. We do it because we love putting away the bad guys and trying to make our community a better place. I loved police work, the excitement, the knowledge of what was happening in the area I worked, getting to know the people that you knew were up to no good, the people that like Cops, the local business owner that relies on you to keep them safe. Unfortunately, between the lawyers, the politicians and the law makers, Cops aren’t able to be Cops anymore. We have become the pawns to serve what the politicians want and not what the community needs. Foot patrols, as much as I disliked them, are for many jurisdictions, a way of history and the current. Being able to teach a kid lesson about bullying or playing with guns, has gone by the wayside. The idea of the beat cop walking down the street and keeping the hoodlums in line, is a thing of the past. Parents call the police to discipline their children, tell them that if they don’t behave, that Police Officer over there will take them to jail. Police Officers are pawns, used to sacrifice to save the King or Queen. If you’re not there quick enough, you’re the bad guy. If you’re there to stop the kid from breaking the window on a store front, you’re the bad guy, because they weren’t doing anything wrong, it was just harmless teenage fun. It’s a no win situation. The Police Academies teach more about the minority groups and how not offend them then they do about how to safe and take a bad guy down. The Hispanic, Black, LGBT, Asian groups have more influence then the citizens as a whole on what they need from their police force. Why anyone would want to be a Police Officer these days, is beyond me.
Before my retirement, I began to see what type of people were being hired. Many were not capable, physically or mentally to perform the job, they were more concerned about how they looked, what would happen if they got a complaint, were called to internal affairs or promoting their cause then they were about doing police work. They couldn’t even write a legible report. They were not dependable to back you up in a fight, in a shooting situation and even some were cowards. There is a type of personality that you want, you need in a Police Officer. I need to be able to trust that they will have my back, that will go toe to toe against the monster in front of them, no matter the circumstances. Police have a job to do, no matter how ugly it gets. You have to be able to push through to the end. Violence many times, needs to be met with violence, kindness needs to be met with kindness. It is a very demanding job, the person needs to be versatile, adapting on a moments notice. Not everyone is capable of being a Police Officer. Police Officers have emotions, most of them just keep it in a bottle with the cap on, until they are in a place where they can open it up and release it. When someone is dying, bleeding, shooting at you, you can’t allow that emotion to bubble to the surface, you just have to react and do your job. The time to cry is later, alone, with no one there to see. You can’t be seen as weak, unsure because people are depending on you. You are the calm, among the storm of chaos. I prayed every day for God to give me the strength to make the right decisions and be the port in the storm for those who needed my help. We are a unique breed, we are a brotherhood no one understands, we represent the strength that others cannot bring to bare, the savior to the weak, the hero to the children, the safe harbor to our families. We keep our communities safe from the evil of the world. Police Officers are the fear that runs in evil. Police work is a thankful job, just not given the thanks that it deserves.