In a recent article entitled Police, Diversity and The Culture of Inclusion, I highlighted the fact that well-meaning department heads, chiefs of police, and the like are missing the real benefits of diversity if they are not creating a culture of inclusion (COI) (Ruffin, 2020) and that there are times when diversity in law enforcement can create deadly results. (Nicholson-Crotty, 2017) The benefits of a COI are not just related to race. A COI allows a department to benefit from every facet of its diversity including those diverse ideas, warnings and corrections that may be suppressed by conformity and fear of being isolated from the group.
As of the writing of this article, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has claimed the lives of 55,258 Americans. (CDC, 2020) While blacks make up 13% of the US population, they account for approximately 29.2% of the total cases. The death toll has also been disproportionately higher among African Americans. In some counties the numbers are staggering. In an interview on CBS “Face The Nation,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said black people accounted for 72% of the COVID-19 deaths while only making up 30% of the population. (CBS News, 2020) According to the New York State Department of Health, blacks are 22% of the population but account for 28% of the COVID-19 deaths compared to whites at 32% of the population accounting for 27% of the deaths. (New York State Department of Health, 2020)
When I was a kid growing up in East Palo Alto, I would get so excited when I would see a police car drive by. Of course so did everyone else in my neighborhood but not all for the same reasons. I remember there was such mystery around the patrol car, the uniform and even the officers demeanor. I knew even then I would one day be an officer. Putting on that uniform every day and dealing with people who are often rude, condescending and entitled can cause one to forget why they got into law enforcement in the first place. This, in addition to internal issues with fellow officers, administration and the surrounding politics can be, and sometimes is an insurmountable barrier to the necessary life balance and happy lifestyle we all seek to achieve.
Once in a while that citizen, that kid or that officer says or does something that reminds you that you did not choose the job, the job chose you. And no matter the barrier, no matter the issue you soldier on and do the job.
During this quarantine, officers are risking their lives more than ever as they venture out into the streets facing whatever and whomever is out there. Any LEO will tell you that dealing with people can be as much an art as it is a science. You learn to spot certain behaviors, odd bulges in the clothing that may be a weapon etc. But now, everyone is a threat and with no tell tale signs for an officer to go by. A person simply walking by could be the one who passes you a deadly virus that takes you out. Still, they soldier on and do the job.
Its been several weeks since I've suited up due to a recent injury. The combination of COVID-19 and recovery has afforded me some extra time at home with my kids. As we've done for quite some time now, after finishing up dinner every night we take a walk around the neighborhood. We wave at neighbors and tell stories as we walk. Periodically, we'd see our city police officers patrolling in their cars or taking a break in the Chipotle parking lot. Last week while on our routine walk I saw one of our patrol offices driving by. There was nothing special about the officer or the car except that there was. In an instant, I was brought back to East Palo Alto as a child watching the police drive by patrolling the neighborhood. I felt that sense of pride again but this time with full understanding of the job that officer was doing. The job is tough, it is dangerous and at times thankless, but despite all that, protecting and serving the community is a calling that cannot be ignored. As an industry we still have work to do. There is a grim history and even some current blind spots but we are always improving, always learning, and always standing by the fact that Iron Sharpens Iron.
So while I am recovering and looking forward to suiting up again, I want to take the time to thank our law enforcement officers. Thank you for standing in the gap where a little bit of everything falls. Thank you for being there day in and day out for those who don't appreciate it as well as for those who do. And thank you for holding up the traditions of what I still consider the noblest of professions!
Stay safe and I'll see you on the streets soon!