Us versus Them is a dangerous mentality and it can creep in at many levels in law enforcement. As a trainer it is your job to battle this mentality and keep it from becoming pervasive in your training and your agency.
Below are three of the many faces of Us versus Them and some thoughts on what you can do to battle them:
- Us (the Police) versus Them (the Community) – It is easy to think that the small groups of very vocal people with an anti police message (who get a lot of air time on the 6 o’clock news) speak for the majority of the communities you police. They do not. Once you buy into that you mindset however, you begin to look at everyone in your community as ‘them’, the enemy. That mindset will influence the way you treat the community members and serve to create a divide between you and the people you serve. The majority of the people in communities across North America support you, trust you, believe in you and need you. The problem is that they remain the silent majority. As trainers you need to ensure that your agency engages with the silent majority in your community to find out about their hopes, dreams, fears and concerns. You need to educate community members about the challenges and realities facing the law enforcement professional by talking about the research, the science and the human side of law enforcement. You need to inform the community of what you are doing and why you are doing. You need to see the people in your community as people who have hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations. A good place to start is by watching Chip Huth’s TEDx talk and WINx talk on mindset in policing. Then read Chip Huth and Jack Colwell’s book Unleashing the Power of Unconditional Respect and the book The Outward Mindset by The Abridger Institute. Encourage your officers to connect with the informal, but very influential, leaders in the communities they police. Help them to understand the power of the little acts like stopping to play ball with a group of kids, or stopping to talk to the elderly couple on their porch, or giving a break to someone who is doing the best they can to support their family but made a bad decision on that day.
- Us (the Police) versus Them (the Media) – There are some in the media that are all about stirring up shit to boost ratings. There are some that like to sensationalize and there are some that do not like law enforcement. There are others who want to get the facts right and report those facts. There are some that want to get to know the human side of law enforcement and report those stories to the community. There are some who want to provide fair and impartial reporting of the truth. Be very cautious about getting drawn into thinking all media people are the same and they don’t care about the facts, they just want to sell papers and boost ratings. The media needs information to report. If only one side (the special interest groups and cop haters) is providing information, that is what they will report. If you are proactive and get out front of situations by providing “the facts as we know them” instead of hiding behind the veil of “No Comment”, you can control the narrative. If there is video of an incident talk to the media about “things to consider when they watch the video”. This is an opportunity to educate both the media and the community about the limitations of video in all forms. Develop relationships with those who want to report the facts and provide both sides of the story. Provide them with the success stories, human interest stories, research and science so you can get those messages out to the public.
- Us (the Rank and File) Versus Them (Management) – It is easy for patrol officers to get caught up in the grumblings about, “They (management) don’t understand what it is like out on the streets.”, “They have no idea what we deal with every day because they are too removed from the streets.” and “They (management) don’t care about us. They care more about looking good than they do supporting the troops”. It is easy as senior management to get caught up with the mentality of “They (the officers) don’t understand all that we have to deal with. They do not have to look at the big picture like we do.” and “What the hell are they (the officers) thinking. Don’t they realize the impact of their actions on the agency?” It is not easy working the street, and it is not easy being the boss. Everyone in the organization has different pressures and perspectives. Allowing this Us versus Them divide to grow within an organization will only serve to destroy morale, professionalism, productivity and quality of service. Everyone needs to work together toward a common goal, a common vision. Your job as a trainer is to ensure everyone understands what that vision is by weaving the core messages through all of your training. You need to teach leadership at all levels of the organization and create a culture of leadership. You need to create a culture of responsibility and accountability through your training. You need to be the conduit throughout the entire organization.
Be cautious about the natural human tendency to blame the other group and start with all the reasons why, “They don’t understand.” Who is responsible to initiate the change, you are. If I was talking to each of the other groups I would tell them the same thing. If each of us accepts full responsibility for the change then we stop with the excuses and get out of the blame game. We see all others as people and we begin to eliminate the gaps created by Us versus Them thinking. This takes work and you will get pushback on many levels. The outcome however, is too important for you not to do the work and initiate the change. Dare to Be Great and Be the Change.
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