THEN and NOW
By Joel E. Gordon
“It is a lot harder now to be a police officer than what it used to be”~ Steven Seagal
Not unlike many of us, for me becoming a police officer was a calling inspired by a desire to help people. Periods of boredom and terror on the job notwithstanding, I’ve always loved the job.
Nowhere else that I am aware of do you have a front row seat to what is truly “the greatest show on earth.”
Having worked as an inner big city police officer, a police officer in a private community known as a special tax district, and as chief of police of a small rural county seat, I quickly learned that the job is essentially the same everywhere. People are people and we all share commonality in our quest for affection, belonging and recognition. The primary difference is how fast assignments and calls for service come your way.
Back in the 1980’s Baltimore city, some of the best officers had no or very little amount of arrests, but they also had very little or no serious crimes in their primary area of responsibility. This was when officers were assigned areas and were held accountable for the amount of crimes on their posts. Post officers were last to get detailed out and had other perks like their sergeant asking who they wanted to work their post when they were off. Back then the leadership didn’t micromanage. They let the sergeants run their squads. Usually, the only gold badge you saw belonged to your lieutenant/shift commander. The shift commander supported his sergeants who in turn took care of their squad. Conversely, the squad looked out for their sergeant and shift looked out for the lieutenant. You didn’t have to question your sergeant or shift commander. They knew what they were doing.
My all-time favorite shift commander was Lieutenant Victor Kessler. I had been wearing my hair rather long as a young uniformed officer. Lieutenant Kessler told me, “That’s okay, we need to have your hair a little long to be able to find you.” After all, I was still really skinny back then. Lieutenant Kessler always privately expressed his appreciation to me when I handled situations, even if someone had made a complaint against me. “I’m glad you were the one to handle it,” he would tell me.
When Lieutenant Kessler finally retired, he gave our shift a speech that I never forgot and that became a part of me. “The bosses come and go,” he said, “The bosses don’t really matter. What matters are you guys and gals who make the decisions on the street. Stick together, look out for one another, and work as a team. You are the ones who really matter and make all the difference.”
He was right in one respect. Law enforcement is one of the few professions where the lowest man on the totem pole is charged with making the most serious, potentially life and death, decisions. Policy makers shape the broad boundaries to work within, and supervisors work toward compliance but rarely have to make the truly important decisions day in and day out.
Many times it’s principally directed by a quest for political correctness by some politicians and political executives, but with poor leadership at the top, difficulties inevitably filter downward. In today’s world, the bosses do seem to matter more than before. Gone are the days where true results (reduced crime numbers not simply arrest statistics) seem to matter and the police functioned as a team.
The latest out of Baltimore are reports that Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis’ department is using a special in-house team to allegedly charge officers with minor policy infractions in order to open internal affairs investigations. Cases are then merely left open. The result is that under Maryland Police Training Commission rules, officers with open internal affairs investigations become ineligible for lateral transfers to other agencies who might otherwise hire them. Although denied by the Commissioner, this appears to be one of the ways the department is trying to stem the tide of a mass exodus. But, at what cost to the integrity and culture of the department?
Maryland Governor Hogan announced plans to offer Baltimore City Mayor Pugh state troopers who could aid with investigations and crime lab work. But he said the Maryland State Police were not trained or equipped “to do inner city, urban policing.”
Mandated proposed police reform (the consent decree) could make Baltimore even ‘less safe’, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions had gone on record as saying.
Meanwhile, as police are being stymied from doing their jobs, crime is running unabated and Baltimore is on a record pace toward potentially exceeding 350 homicides this year.
Now is anyone listening?
Joel E. Gordon is a former Field Training Officer with the Baltimore City Police Department and is a past Chief of Police for the city of Kingwood, West Virginia. He is the author of the book “Still Seeking Justice: One Officer’s Story,” and has been a feature columnist in the Morgantown, West Virginia, Dominion Post newspaper. He is the founder of the Facebook group, Police Authors Seeking Justice. Look him up at stillseekingjustice.com