Warning, strong opinions expressed.
Putting solid leadership and policy in place across American police departments seems like a good idea, rather than blanket defunding or taking away law enforcement’s right to serve and protect the public.
I also believe in equality, and that one can support the movement of BLM and still support good first responders, military and police. The two are not mutually exclusive.
As the economist Roland Fryer states in his analysis of the use of force by police, the system is clearly biased against Blacks and Hispanics when it comes to the use of force and this needs to be fixed. “On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than ﬁfty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police,” Fryer says.
I would go a step further: Based on my experience with the police, both in having been behind bars and having trained them, I can say that the law enforcement system as a whole needs fundamental change in how it looks at the use of force. It also needs standardization of tactics. LAPD does things differently than NYPD and so on, and so on. Police would be wise to put aside departmental rivalry and look to the military for the benefits of standardization and best practices.
Many, including the NYPD, don’t have access to enough non-lethal enforcement options, nor do they receive much training beyond rudimentary handling tactics.
The lack of access to non-lethal tactics just has me scratching my head, especially in a city like Manhattan where only NYPD supervisors can carry Tasers (a non-lethal option).
Does police leadership really want officers opening fire in a crowded Times Square or Grand Central Station? Bullets hit the bad guys and keep going until they hit something or someone else. As a sniper, we call this “clearing your bullet path.”
With regards to what’s happening now in America: Personally, as someone who served in the military and been to most places not listed by Fodor’s travel guides, I am thankful that we live in a country like America where citizens can still drive change.
So how does this stuff keeping happening?
In any organization, you had bad apples, but what’s happening now isn’t a few bad apples, it’s widespread cultural degradation. My fear is that inept politicians, unfit to lead a scout troop on a half-mile walk, will ram down impractical policy on police departments and will do more damage than good.
What leads to social unrest and civil disobedience?
The data says that when departments are investigated for use of force issues crime rates significantly increase. It’s why we are also seeing city streets burning across America. Fryer calls this a Catch 22 of investigating, or spotlighting the bad actors. His analysis is insightful and I’d encourage you to check out his findings online. He’s an incredibly clever person, and he’s black.
I’ve seen a lot of good leadership driving great culture in the Navy and seen a whole lot of bad. I wrote about both in The Red Circle.
The one story I think I left a little unexplored in the book is the time I was arrested in Imperial Beach, California for beating up a police officer. It didn’t end so well for him or me.
This is how the story goes
I was a newly minted Navy SEAL, just assigned to Team 3 in San Diego. My good friend Genesse and I had served as a search and rescue swimmers together at HS-6 in San Diego. We were friends and surfed regularly together in San Diego. He had left the Navy to be a lifeguard and I went on to the SEAL Teams.
He invited me and my girlfriend down for a barbeque and to watch the fireworks that traditionally happened every year for the IB sandcastle building contest. After we grilled and had our fill, everyone headed to the beach to watch the show.
I wasn’t drinking that day because I was the designated driver. The Navy had done a great job of pounding into my thick skull what a bad idea drinking and driving was. So I had decided early in my career that I’d rather pay a $100 taxi bill than the massive fines and other negative consequences that come with a DUI ticket.
So my friends, my girlfriend and I put some beers in the cooler and headed to the beach to watch the show. Once we got near the lifeguard tower everyone cracked open cold beers and waited for the sunset.
The beach was packed with people. Some participated while others just waited for the show to start. I also noticed an unusually large amount of police present.
Then one of my friend’s lifeguard buddies came over and reminded everyone that the city had just passed a new law that week that outlawed alcohol on the beach. “Better pour those out,” he said. That was a surprise to us all. Nonetheless, my friend’s wife and my girlfriend volunteered to throw the cans away. That’s when things got bad.
We heard screaming and saw flashes of light coming from Sheriff deputies who were grabbing my girlfriend by the arm and hauling her off. I ran over to ask the deputy what the problem was, and the first thing out of his mouth to defuse the situation was, “This doesn’t fucking concern you pal.”
Think about that for a moment.
I started to explain that we were together and I wanted to know why they were so aggressive with her. As I started to ask, “where are you taking her,” I got jumped from behind by another deputy who tried to put me in a chokehold!
How is this defusing the situation?
I wish I could tell you I pulled some crazy SEAL ninja move, but I hadn’t had any real fight training yet, and it was actually my instinct as a search and rescue swimmer that kicked in.
I applied underarm pressure to his elbow pressure point, spun out of the hold (a move used to recover from drowning victims grasping at you from behind), and gave him, “The Rock” elbow to the face. He went down with a blood fountain for a nose spurting everywhere. That’s when things got bad for me.
I turned around and saw about 10+ deputies coming for me. I complied but that didn’t matter. They dogpiled me and started the good ole fashioned cop beat down we’ve seen so many times on social media.
I remember them trying to club me with their batons. Instead, in the turmoil, they kept hitting each other amid cries from their fellow deputies to stop wildly swinging the clubs. They did beat the shit out of me eventually but most of them got it just as good, some justice served I thought to myself.
So to recap: I, sober as a Mormon, a citizen in good standing, Navy SEAL, a homeowner in San Diego, and city taxpayer was, at first contact, insulted by a deputy for asking a simple question. Then jumped from behind and put into a half-ass chokehold.
It gets worse.
After they cuffed me, I was repeatedly taunted, insulted, and was told that my career in the Navy was over. Lucky for me I kept my mouth shut.
I was shocked at the level of unprofessionalism exhibited by them all. Not once did anyone encourage another officer to calm down: they just egged each other on. This is bad cultural signaling. Imagine a rookie on the job who’s just had bad behavior modeled for him.
Then I noticed that the officers’ supervisor started to get worried because my friends had seen the whole incident and were starting to ask questions. Next thing you know, they quickly put me in the car and we headed downtown for prints, a mug shot, and a pair of blue SDPD jumpers. My girlfriend was just cited and fined.
I’ll tell you this, putting on that blue prison jumper is humbling and strips you of all your identity. You’re just another shit bag inmate at that point.
The only bright side to my couple days in lock-up is that no inmates fuck with someone who beat up a cop! However, the guards were not so kind, and I got plenty of reminders that I’d get a prolonged experience if they had any more trouble out of me. Not to mention my first brown bag meals had bites taken out of the sandwiches. If there are any hippies reading this, there are NO vegan options in jail FYI.
The incident ended up costing me an E-5 in the Navy and tens of thousands in legal fees. It took me four years to clear my record, and some anger management counseling to finally let it go.
My time at Harvard Business School opened my eyes to best practices in building a strong organizational culture and showed me what good and bad signaling is and means.
It also answered many questions that have kept me up at night over the years. Not just about my own business but about the decline in the culture of the SEAL Teams and personal and very public attacks towards myself and other prominent SEAL veterans, including Marcus Luttrell, and former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, to name a few.
What is bad signaling? Police behaving badly with supervisors not speaking up or taking action.
Good signaling? Supervisors taking swift and appropriate action for bad behavior.
I watched that Floyd video in detail. Multiple officers had an opportunity to step in and do the right thing and didn’t. They just watched it happen, and that’s bad culture, folks.
People will try and argue Floyd’s past background with the law but that’s an irrelevant argument. Anyone being detained or questioned by the police should be treated equally and with basic human decency.
I went deep about bad signaling in a previous article regarding the SEAL community. There are other recent examples of this in the news. CrossFit comes to mind.
The CrossFit founder sent a terrible signal to his organization. In his case, the community and his customers policed the organization themselves. He’s now long-gone but the damage is done to what was once a powerful brand.
Here’s some advice for CrossFit: Hire a great black CEO who can repair the damage and put the great community of CrossFit back on track. It truly comes down to good leadership that puts the framework in place for great organizational culture.
As a thought experiment, in the comment section, fill in the blanks below for good and bad examples of business leadership and culture and explain why.
Lastly look at the signals you send to your own family, friends, and colleagues.
Change is coming, and it’s about time we ensured people of color and different backgrounds are treated equally and with decency.
Let’s make sure we vote, hold our elected officials accountable, and be thankful we still live in a country like America where this change can happen.