Who’s Ruining Our Reputation?

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here! Welcome back to our discussion on reputation risks in public safety. Let me ask you a question: Do you believe what you read in the news? I think a lot of people don’t. And frankly, I understand that. Sometimes I don’t know who or what to believe anymore, and that is very troubling. The news media used to be a relatively uniform group that most people believed delivered unfiltered facts. But that belief is long gone. The diversification of voices in media, as well as technologies that allow us to select which voices we want to hear, has led to a loss of credibility. Tying this into my last article, the news media’s reputation is shot and—painting with a broad brush—anything one source says can be doubted or refuted by other sources.

For many people in public safety, especially law enforcement, the most obvious sign of media’s loss of credibility lies in its anti-police bias. Many law enforcement officers blame news media for convincing Americans that cops are racist, kill tens of thousands of people a year for no reason, regularly falsify evidence and lie in court, continually violate people’s constitutional rights—and do it all while being overpaid. And it’s not just law enforcement. A casual reader would be forgiven for thinking every fire department has a gender and/or racial equity issue, public safety unions exist only to protect bad apples, 911 dispatchers suffer from a general lack of empathy and correctional officers are often guilty of greater offenses than the inmates they oversee.

It is our profession, and we must protect it—so we can protect our communities and preserve life.

The irony of the perceived anti-law enforcement bias among news media, of course, is that it led to calls to “defund the police,” which in turn led to cops quitting high-risk units within their agencies or quitting the profession all together, applications for new officers drying up and proactive policing plummeting. And what happened then? Many large cities saw spikes in carjackings, murders and gun violence. Leaders of cities bent on doing away with police found themselves begging for more cops—and for cops to get more proactive—just a few months later.

Now let’s slow down a bit. I happen to know some people in the media—quite a few actually—and they are good people who try to do their job in a professional, non-biased manner. But some reporters are biased, and it doesn’t take much for their views to dominate and influence the thinking of the general public. Similarly, some people in public safety have done very bad things; they have no business in the profession and we must get rid of them.

My point here: The reputation of any profession can be impacted (negatively or positively) by the reputation of one or a few members in the group. And that is exactly where we are today in public safety. This is not a news flash to you, reader—you would not be reading this article if you did not care about law enforcement as a profession. I feel the same way. It has been my goal now for almost 50 years to improve the quality of the performance of our people and—to use the words of Dr. Tony Kern—“make excellence the norm, not the deviation.”

In public safety, our overall goal is preservation of life. To do that effectively, we must have the trust of our communities so they view our work as legitimate. And that, in turn, requires each and every member of our profession to act with the highest level of integrity—not some of the time, not most of the time, but all of the time.

Early on in my career I was told, “You are your brother’s keeper” (before you are offended, remember it was almost all men back then). To update this today, “You are your brother’s and sister’s keeper.” If you see behaviors by another member of your department that can negatively impact our profession, you must act. This “mandatory intervention” requirement is now being codified in many states, but smart members in our profession have been doing this for as long as I have been in the business.

These are challenging times for everyone in public safety—my hat is off to you for your great work. Do things right, treat people right and keep an eye on your co-workers to ensure they are doing things right. It is our profession, and we must protect it—so we can protect our communities and preserve life.

Gordon Graham

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

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