Independence, Freedom and the Oath!

Happy Fourth of July!

On 4 July 1776 the founding fathers declared our Independence from England stating amongst other things that, “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is traditional that we recognize the service and the sacrifice of our military who have done so much to insure that the promises written of by Jefferson remain a reality for all Americans today.  What often goes unconsidered is the role that America’s police officers play in maintaining the unalienable rights of all Americans.

The Role of the Police

We each swear an Oath to support the Constitution of the United States which further establishes those rights described in the Declaration.  We are endowed with incredible authority and discretion when you consider that the police are the only entity in society empowered to deny  an individual’s freedom without prior court approval.  Americans place a tremendous amount of faith and trust in their police.

Our Oath plays a fundamental role in the maintenance of our credibility with those we serve.  It is those instances where the community believes that we have fallen short in our commitment to our Oath that cause the greatest controversies.  Our ability to lead in our communities hinges on our credibility and commitment to our Oath.

Leadership and the Oath

In part, we define leadership as credibly influencing others.  Our credibility derives from who we are and what we do.  Our commitment to our Oath says much about who we are, yet the Oath is seldom talked about beyond the day that we are initially sworn or are promoted.  This is a critical oversight for both individuals and Department leadership because of the part that the Oath plays in maintaining the community’s faith in us.

At the individual level, the Oath should always be considered when we are deciding what actions we should take.  Each of us individually have raised our hands and made a personal promise to the community.  That someone else in the Department decides that we should take an action that is counter to our oath, even if they outrank us, does not relieve us of our responsibility to our promise.  We will always be held accountable for our individual actions.

At the direct supervision level, we have a responsibility to lead by example.  We need to discuss the Oath with our subordinates and show them how the Oath plays a role in our decision making processes.  When mistakes involving violations of our Oath are made, it is important that we talk about them in terms of the Oath and how did our behaviors match up with the promise that we made.

At the organizational level, we need to role model the Oath and make sure that it is a living, breathing part of organizational culture.  What we must carefully guard against is making policies and procedures or setting expectations that are in-congruent with the Oath.  Far too many organizations ask their members to be ‘aggressive’ or ‘assertive’ and when their officers fulfill these performance expectations in a way that brings negative attention to the Department the leader who set the expectation is nowhere to be found.  Instead the individual member suffers a consequence for doing what the organization asked them to do.  These types of performance expectations should always be established within the context of living up to our promise.

Good leaders don’t put their people in the position of either fulfilling their Oath or meeting in-congruent performance expectations.  Individual members need always to apply performance expectations within the context of their Oath or risk facing individual consequences and being left hung out to dry by their Department.

If it was easy anyone could do it…:)

Policing is an incredibly challenging profession chock full of complex decisions and value judgments.  Living our Oath when it is personally distasteful or easier to take another course of action lends credibility to the profession and us, as individuals.  The fact that we choose to live by an Oath in a day when society often scoffs at such things is a great part of the nobility of our call.

I am interested what ways you have found to make the Oath a living part of your decision making – please let me know by leaving your comments below.

As always, THANK YOU for what you do and please BE SAFE.



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