Support is a rare and valuable thing in any profession. It should come from the top and encompass everyone in policing that has the opportunity to influence or lead change, it includes the police chief, the union leadership as well the elected officials. Law enforcement leaders and police union leadership should work in concert as willing and active participants in the chief’s strategy. At their core, we believe that chiefs and union leaders understand how and where officers get (or many times, lose) public support, therefore it is critical that they join forces to support positive change efforts. The work of a chief and police unions in recognizing this time in history, as the time to act together can’t be overstated. Their priority of the moment should be on rebuilding trust and forming citizen bonds that continuously build support for our officers. The broader the tent, the greater cross section of the community you reach, the better.

We acknowledge the difficult balance for police unions. On one hand they must support their union membership in times of crisis, that is their charge, as public servants, they are also charged with upholding their oath of office. The union’s role has come under intense scrutiny after police actions in places such as Rochester, New York; Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis.

Indeed, the majority of Americans question the union’s ability to see what we’ve seen. In reality they may be seeing exactly what we have seen. The public may be at odds with the union’s public positions. Then there was an aha moment, like it or not, the union is performing its legal obligation.

Early in my career as a company labor relations representative—his dream job growing up—I was befriended by a crusty and difficult union business agent. Let’s call him Al. He said, “Mark, you can’t just take management’s side and say the employee violated the rules and should be fired. It’s your job to understand, and to stay above the fight. Be reasonable and ask why. Why did it happen? Listen, just show you care. Understand! Then don’t fall for my bluster and positioning, don’t get pulled in. Just listen. You’re not the one facing federal charges of failure to represent, but I am.”

“A failure to represent charge can deplete the union’s budget. Yes. It’s the law. A union must represent each and every employee. We’re like a defense attorney. We take our client as they come, right or wrong, guilty or innocent. We have to defend our members. The union will always come out strong in support of the employee. But if you listen you will hear how we really feel about the case. You’ll understand which cases we push because a person is innocent and which cases we’re only fulfilling our duty under the law for. Got it? Listen. Listen, and together we will do what’s best for all parties involved.” Al demonstrated his value of family—the union family.

Often those people who have the most difficulty at work or the most problems at work become the most vocal opponents of departmental leadership. They are the ones who work to undermine confidence in the values the organization’s leader and members hold. Again, it gets back to values, lived values, true leadership and character.

Are they living the values? If not, what are the consequences?

It’s all about achieving power. When there are no consequences, guess who holds the power? They do. Don’t abdicate your responsibility to create and enforce aligned values!

Leave a comment