By now you have no doubt heard about the horrific death of Tyre Nichols and you have likely watched the video of the incident. In light of the recent events and really ongoing unrest, mainly orchestrated by ANTIFA, across the country, I want to discuss how Courageous Leaders should handle this going forward.
Nothing exposes the failure of leadership than a high-profile event. Both what could have been done before the event to prevent it and especially how it is handled afterwards. Mix in Ben Crump, the media and talking politicians and you really have a recipe for utter disaster when it comes to leadership.
Law enforcement has seen so many leadership failures in this area, so as I discuss what Courageous Leadership is each week, it only makes sense to discuss this situation and how it applies to what we talk about.
There are a few courageous leadership principles I want to specifically discuss here and if you haven’t been to our seminars or read the book, “The Courageous Police Leader” you may be asking yourself what are these principles?
In summary, it’s what courageous leadership is. It’s not a short definition, it’s not a meme or some fancy poster. Our principles are proven techniques that can help a leader navigate the simplest of decisions like the thin blue line flag issue I discussed a few weeks ago and the most difficult decisions such as what the Memphis Police Department is dealing with at this very moment.
The first principle to discuss here is objectivity over subjectivity. It is very important as courageous leaders that we make decisions based on objectivity and not subjectivity and especially not on emotion. The facts matter. The truth matters and we typically mess this one up. It becomes very difficult to operate with an objective, fact-based mindset when it may go against every narrative being thrown out there.
Anytime we deal with a high-profile event, the propaganda machine comes out and it certainly has here. I’ll never understand why a horrible incident, such as this one, isn’t bad enough for some and they have to go deeper with lies. So many were calling this white supremacy over the weekend, it was trending on twitter. That’s certainly odd considering everyone involved here is black, the police chief is black, the majority of the city council is black and 65% of the population is black and as usual, this is nothing more than a distraction. Whether it’s the media stoking emotion, the activist groups or politicians that use it to push for their agenda or fundraising or the lawyers that are looking to up the pay day, this is always going to happen. You can’t control it, but you can control how we respond to it.
Once again, courageous leaders should respond based on objectivity and facts, not emotion or rhetoric.
I’m going to discuss the Memphis Police Chief separately from all other police leaders because they will each be dealing with separate issues. And for me to follow this principle, speak on facts and objectivity, there isn’t a lot to say about the Memphis Chief yet. We simply don’t have enough information, but I will say that she did a pretty good job in another principle that we discuss.
That is be transparent, whether it’s good or bad.
Let me be clear here. We know about this incident because the Memphis police chief made it known and that is a good thing. Other than some vague opinions that were rather cryptic prior to the video, Chief Davis has kept the public informed of this incident and released the full video. That transparency should continue as she evaluates her agency. Her #1 concern at this moment is whether this is an isolated incident or some form of cultural issue within the agency. The right way to address this would be to immediately evaluate all use of force, and complaints. Begin auditing existing body camera videos with citizen contacts….something that I hope was already occurring and even roll out a program inside the agency to get feedback from other officers because if anyone sees the culture on a day-to-day basis it’s the employees. She should examine hiring standards, review background checks on existing officers, especially these officers and look at the training the agency is given. This may be an isolated incident with 5 police officers. It may be a cultural issue with one unit, or it could be agency wide but Chief Davis will never know this unless she does this.
That would be a start.
The wrong thing to do would be to throw your hands up, call the DOJ and throw yourself on the mercy of the federal government. I don’t know of one agency that has improved because government bureaucrats got involved with a local police matter. You would never go on vacation in any city under a federal consent decree. This may virtue signal that you are addressing an issue but it’s all talk with very little substance and doing that would be a good way to make Memphis even more crime ridden, which is hard to imagine.
So if your keeping up, I’ve mentioned 2 core courageous leadership principles. Be objective and not subjective. Be transparent, whether it’s good or bad and the third one I’ll mention will be the most difficult for Chief Davis.
Courageous leaders own it all. They own the good things and the bad things that occur in their agency. They are the responsible party and there is no getting out of this. Chief Davis must acknowledge that she failed. She may have had no clue this was going on, but great leaders step up, acknowledge their mistakes and then they get busy fixing it.
Many leaders shy away from this but in my experience, this is what leadership is and the majority in this country respect leaders that do this. It’s what all great leaders do and we desperately need this in law enforcement.
I could say more about Chief Davis but that is about all I can say with the information that I have. I think, more importantly, I need to discuss how all other law enforcement leaders need to handle this.
It’s odd that I have to discuss this because our profession is the only profession that feels that one incident in Memphis, somehow applies to the entire profession and we aren’t the only ones that feel this way. All the talking heads in the media and groups are telling the world that what happened in Memphis applies to all of law enforcement. It’s silly, dumb, and downright disingenuous because no other profession has to deal with this.
When doctors murder patients, we don’t demand that all doctors need reform. When teachers rape children, we don’t see all the school principals in America telling their community that we don’t agree with what happened and I could discuss every single occupation here. Anyone with a few brain cells understands what I’m talking about.
But unfortunately, law enforcement leaders have failed us so many times. Rather than making decisions based on facts, we make them based on our emotion or the emotion of a few others. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago, that many agencies banned LVNR, a very effective low force option because George Floyd was not killed by a LVNR. We banned chokeholds because George Floyd was not killed by a chokehold and chokeholds were only a deadly force option to begin with. We banned no knock warrants because Louisville officers did not execute a no knock warrant and Breonna Taylor was tragically killed when her boyfriend began shooting at cops and used her as a shield. Those are all facts, but they very much go against the propaganda and narrative and law enforcement leaders have a very bad track record of making decisions based on lies rather than truth. Sadly, they know they are making decisions based on lies when they do it and this really has to stop.
We have this history of making decisions that make no objective or factual sense and those decisions have hurt the profession. If LVNR has been banned in your agency, a technique by the way that’s used thousands of times in jiu jitsu gyms a day in America, than your other force options are physical strikes….which is much more susceptible to injuries. If you’ve banned no knock warrants, a constitutional warrant, rarely used, that has to be signed off by a judge, your officers are in greater danger during those high risk warrant services. If you’ve banned chokeholds, a force option that is for deadly force only, then your other deadly force option is to shoot someone.
So as we discuss the Memphis incident, I’m already hearing calls for every agency in America to ban street crimes units. These officers were part of one called SCORPION. First, that’s called a clue and I know we love our acronyms but naming your unit after a deadly animal wasn’t the smartest decision but….if we are to look at this objectively, what happened in Memphis has nothing to do with any other agency.
There are over 18,000 police departments and they are all separate organizations. Every state has different training guidelines, and every agency has different hiring guidelines. These demands mean nothing and if you have been leading correctly, you have already mitigated any chance that this could happen where you are.
With that said, we will see leaders do this and its virtue signaling at the highest level. I saw a chief write on social media the other day that what we saw in Memphis exists in every police department and it’s because the culture of law enforcement is broken. I cannot express to you how dumb this statement is. Who does he think builds and fosters culture in law enforcement? Leaders do. If culture is bad in an agency, it’s a leadership problem in that agency.
Once again, he’s just virtue signaling but in doing it, he looks like the dumbest chief in America.
I’ve also seen virtue signaling in a much lesser form. I’ve seen many chiefs and sheriffs write open letters to their community condemning the incident in Memphis. I don’t mind this as long as two things are occurring simultaneously. We should never respond to any incident unless we are being objective with the facts. In this case, I think we have enough information to do just that, but we have screwed this up more times than I care to mention in the past. Secondly, we can place effort into condemning the actions as long as we are currently leading our agencies in a courageous manner that would mitigate this type of behavior. Leadership is an everyday affair, not just when you think people are watching.
So, other than not jump at the demands of others based on an incident in a city far away, what should law enforcement leaders do. Well it depends. Great leaders have nothing to do because they’ve already done it.
While People are saying we should be evaluating street crime units and re-train cops, courageous leaders do that long before this happens. They ensure the right people are on the bus. They ensure that proper training is occurring. They ensure the right people are being hired and most importantly, they ensure that their agency represents the most important courageous leadership principle that we discuss…..men and women with integrity and character.
In the coming months you are going to see some so-called great reform ideas. We need training “on duty to intervene” which nothing new. We should stop doing traffic stops, which some cities have already done. We should disband specialty units and you all you have to do is look at the crime rate in Portland to see how that works out and it will go on and on and on…..and many cowardly leaders will just simply go with the flow and do it but you know what they are really telling you when they do it.
They weren’t leading at all.
That’s because courageous leaders do everything they can to build great police departments regardless of some high profile event or national outrage. Background checks, hiring, training, policy, tactics, and leadership is fostered throughout the agency. So much so that if anyone attempted to do what we saw on that video, you don’t need “duty to intervene” training to prevent it, a leader would step up and stop it.
You see, this is what everyone is missing here. What happened in Memphis was a leadership problem.
If one of those officers was a leader, that never happens and that is exactly what every chief or sheriff should be asking themselves today. Maybe they’ve done the duty to intervene training or any of the other check box things we are told to do and I don’t mind that bt no training program can take the place of leadership. If they have not fostered a culture of leadership in their agency…a philosophy that everyone with a badge has the duty of a leader, then they aren’t addressing the right issues.
It is that simple. Everything good and everything bad is because of leadership. Leadership is not some elusive concept that you obtain because you passed a promotional test or went to some fancy school.
Law enforcement today needs to hire leaders, we need to foster leadership, we need to train leadership, we need to promote leadership and when we do that, we have leaders on every call. We have men and women with excellent character, impeccable integrity and with a strong sense of right and wrong.
Why are many agencies struggling in this issue. It’s because we bought the lie that some fancy training class or wiz bang reform will fix the issues and that is like putting water into a jet. On the outside it looks great, but the inside will cause everything to crash and burn.
In the coming weeks pay attention. This horrific event in Memphis will expose our cowards in leadership and it is also an opportunity for courageous leadership to reign.
I pray that courageous leadership prevails.
Until then, lead on and stay courageous.
Travis Yates is a commander with a large municipal police department and author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and Doctoral Candidate in Strategic Leadership. You can subscribe to weekly articles by Travis Yates here and his podcast here.