Updated: Jul 17
The scariest thing about the George Floyd murder is the indifference in which it was carried out. Coming from a habit expert, I can tell you that this was not his first time that Derek Chauvin treated a human like this. His indifference showed that his actions were programmed deep into his limbic system. He was not kneeling on a human, he was kneeling on an object.
Where does this habit come from? Why has it continued to develop? Is it as simple as systemic racism? Let’s tackle a few possible answers to these huge questions while giving some answers as to what we should be doing as a society.
Let’s start with how organizational habits are formed using a police department as an example. Common events happen to an officer. The officer experiences a thought on how to respond and they take action. They then get a reward for a job well done or a scold for doing the wrong thing. Officers see these reactions and learn from them. Sometimes doing the wrong thing gets traction because it was popular amongst the officers or it was easier to execute. The new action starts to move like a virus through the department. Departments try to halt these habitual problems with ever more complex protocol. No matter how complex protocol and governing rules become, it can never account for the level of complexity faced on the job. Just like in Westworld, there are always outliers that make a perfect system impossible.
This is further convoluted as the habits of officers are dictated by many levels of complexity on a personal level. The call before this one may have been a teenager’s suicide. Their wife may have been cheating on them and they just found out. Their son may look like the assailant.
A Police officer is not a robot, he is a person. He does not just abide by policies handed down from politicians and work off the relatively small amount of training they received. There will never be enough policies to account for every scenario, and there would never be enough time to train all those scenarios efficiently. They also have feelings, emotions, and historical backgrounds that create deviance in how the “law” is interpreted and enforced.
Systemic problems occur when leadership continues to turn a blind eye to the actions that are creating bad policing habits. Those habits then become the norm for more and more officers. More and more officers become blind to the actions because they become more prevalent. A spiral of negative momentum occurs and eventually that wave hits the rocks. A horrific situation like that of George Floyd happens with 4 cops that are unconsciously incompetent that they are doing something wrong. Yes, I am sure that racism is one of the layers of the onion that led to Mr. Floyd’s death. No, it is not the main problem with police forces across the country.
The main problem is police culture. Media portrays cops on one side and the population on another. Cops and the population then feel forced to have their teams’ proverbial back. A cop might see something questionable from his partner, but not say anything because that is his teammate. The same way someone in the community may stonewall the police trying to investigate. This police culture is deeply ingrained and many books have been written on the challenges posed by cop culture.
So what do we do? How can we tackle such a large problem? No we do not disband forces and hope and pray that evil people don’t exist. They do, and disbanding our forces against them will create a huge socio-economic chasm which is for another blog. Here is my answer for this huge problem in 3 steps I suggest as a cure.
First step, we start developing the habits of empathy and active listening skills to leadership of departments. This isn’t a seminar or a 2 day getaway. This is a daily accountability and commitment that could take months or even years to develop. Have you ever tried to become excellent at something? For those of us who have, you know the work it will take to have empathetic behavior programmed as a first response, to be excellent at it. They will take this developed skill and implement it to individuals underneath them via the show don’t tell method. Once leadership has the empathy and active listening blades sharpened, it too will spread like a virus.
Step two, each department mandates therapy for all officers. Not as a reactionary measure but as a proactive measure. Dr. John Violanti of the University of New York at Buffalo estimates that 15 – 18 percent of police officers suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This PTSD manifests itself in the actions of the officers on the job. Mental health among public servants is a taboo discussion that needs to be brought out into the open. Being a cop is a hard job, you see some fucked up things. These things need to be processed with a professional.
Step three, each department spends at minimum 10% of their time training. This training includes in depth scenarios, neuro linguistic programming (NLP) techniques, and comprehensive, physical hand to hand combat training. More sophisticated scenario training will lead to more accurate threat identification. NLP would allow the officers to understand the power of verbiage, tone, and delivery while in an interaction with a civilian. Combat training is possibly the most controversial. It is only controversial because you have to train to know the big secret… Physical and hard combat training dissolves the participants' ego. People that know how to fight, honed the skill through going through the fire themselves. You develop empathy for struggles in everyday life. Respect and discipline is earned and programmed on the mats. These tools are necessary to do the job correctly.
These answers are simple in principle but very difficult in execution. I look forward to helping in all ways that I can using the habit formation and leadership skills I have honed over the years. If you are interested in helping develop and put these steps in place, I would love to talk with you, to build a team of like minded individuals focused on results. You are on my site, schedule a call with me. We can not snap our fingers and hope for systematic change, we must work for it. Let’s get it!