An open letter to myself on the precipice of moving from “us” to “them”
This blog took a back seat in my life for a long time as life caught up with me. A lot of good has come into my life during that period of time, while my agency rode a shit-show of a rollercoaster.
As I compare my department to others, we have an extremely solid group of men and women donning the uniform and responding to calls on a daily basis. Sure, some are better than others, but by and large I’d gladly take most into the worst the world has to offer. Traditionally, we differ from most agencies in that our patrol officers don’t create a ton of drama of any variety aside from the occasional citizen complaint of rudeness that ends up getting unsubstantiated after a review of body camera video.
Our drama, the truest form of shit-shows, usually flows from the top of our chain of command. Most of the time it’s some old grudge between administrators that comes to a head. Usually those are kept in house, sometimes they spill out into the public eye. They are always a source of irritation and embarrassment for those of us who actually interact with the public. I liken it to a long-standing family feud that never effectively gets resolved, like grown brothers who get along ok-ish until the entire family is around and old scabs start getting picked until a full blown, childish argument takes place.
There’s a new hope anytime the administration changes over. “It has to get better” is usually the mantra as a new chief comes into office. After the honeymoon period it always seem to circle back to the old ways, the comfort zone of passive-aggressive pissing matches between those who remain in the administration. At times this subversive behavior is an active opposition to new policies and practices issued by the new chief, stifling any real change.
Grandiose plans that are shared during the “hey, I’m the new chief” department-wide meeting never get off the ground. Status quo creeps in. Then we usually experience a rapid downward slide into “us” versus “them” in every corner of the building.
For the most part the administration of my department hasn’t changed a great deal, they’ve only shuffled positions as an outgoing chief retires. Most haven’t placed handcuffs on anyone outside of a training environment since I began my career here. Those new additions have followed the same pattern of promising grand changes and support only to revert to position-protection and throwing blame like monkeys in the zoo throw shit. It doesn’t take long for the newcomers to seemingly forget where they came from. They are the proverbial “them”.
These thoughts have always lurked just below my consciousness. Once in a while they get shared with others over a midnight coffee break at the trunk of a police car, but they’re usually someone else’s problem, not mine. Policing the Donut at night gives me separation from the “them”. My ship sails just fine, the squad works well together, and we’re almost always drama-free. The distance allows me to see the folly in the processes and actions of the “them”, and I can see every tree in that forest from my perch.
I’ve been responding to calls for service with a uniform, vest, and marked patrol car for nearly 16 years. I’ve been in some form of supervision for about 8 of those 16 years. The more I get pulled into those closed door meetings and old axe-grinding sessions the more I despise them. They’re counterproductive, a drain on resources and morale, and simply a waste of time. I can now identify the weaknesses and faults of every person I have been forced to report to, and I have resolved to never become one of “them”.
I’ve grown very comfortable in my role as a representative of “us”, that group that asks and receives little more from the agency than a bi-weekly insult directly deposited into the bank. “Us” is my comfort zone.
My comfort zone was demolished about two months ago while an active process to replace our retiring chief was underway. At first it was nothing more than an offer of an appointment should this particular candidate become our next chief. As the process ground on it became more evident that it was more of a matter of when, rather than if, this one would become our chief. My role in the world of “us” was in jeopardy, and I’ve lost more sleep than any other point in my life trying to reconcile how in the hell I could retain “us” while being in the “them” club.
My assumptions regarding the process proved true and now my membership in the “us” side of the house officially has an expiration date. I will have to struggle against my own preconceptions of “them” although I’ll soon outrank most of the previous members of the “them” club. I’ll also be trying to maintain my status in the “us” group, while being essentially forced into the “them” category by most of “us” just by the nature of the promotion in and of itself. I understand it. I’ve done the same myself.
The old tried-and-true administrative rollercoaster has ruined the reputation of many before me in spite of great hopes from “us”. The only way to break that cycle is to remain true to “us” while living on the “them” side until those lines are so blurred that they are non-existent.
I’ve been around long enough to understand that everyone isn’t going to be thrilled with every decision. It’s simply impossible to make everyone happy all of the time. I can only hope that improving the lives of “us” is the path followed by the new chief, as I’ll surely be guilty by association just like those who have come before me.
As a member of “us”, I like to think that I’ll be different. I’m fully comfortable in my own skin, no promotion or movement in the department has changed me to this point. My self-worth is not dependent upon the rank on my collar. It’s much more dependent on whether I can look myself in the eye in the mirror and like the man I am.
I’m a husband, a father, a coach, and I earn a paycheck as a cop. This promotion will generally mean that I’ll be more available to my loved ones, with a more regular schedule and most holidays scheduled off. That is by far the biggest draw for me as I enter this new world.
The other draw is to continue to hold true to “us” in spite of the easier, more comfortable “them” lifestyle until there is only “us” at my agency. The rollercoaster has to eventually stop somewhere, I may as well be the brake that grinds it to a halt.
I’ve done all manner of things as a uniformed member of “us” without hesitation because it’s what “we” do. This is just a new, exciting, and slightly terrifying challenge in what has been a career that I have loved and hated all at the same time.
It’s time to go patrol the Donut before I’m confined to an office…