Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
Law Enforcement Needs to Engage Locally
Over a series of candid dinners with two dozen California legislators, several large law enforcement organizations and our advocates at Aaron Read & Associates, PORAC heard one constant refrain: Law enforcement needs to take the initiative and lead when it comes to engagement.
The dinners, the brainchild of Aaron Read and Assembly Member Evan Low, were held around Sacramento this summer to discuss the state of law enforcement in California, listen to attendees’ thoughts and gain their perspectives. I found the dinners — also attended by PORAC President Brian Marvel, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and California Association of Highway Patrolmen — informative and thought-provoking.
More law enforcement leaders need to be engaged in public discourse, both locally and on the state level, attendees agreed, adding that these representatives are really the only ones who can relate to what is going on in their communities. Not only that, we know the vast majority of the public supports law enforcement but waits to rally around us.
Clearly, the law enforcement landscape is changing, and the profession must change with it. We used to be able to count on the public and lawmakers for their vocal support. But the public is seemingly more swayed by the media these days, and lawmakers no longer seem to hold us up in such high regard anymore. We definitely can’t afford to take them at their word, because what they say and how they demonstrate their support is a growing divide.
It is easy to simply identify the problem, but what is the solution? You! As local law enforcement association leaders, you are in the best position to effect change.
How to implement that change, however, could be found in a variety of solutions. Drawing from my decade of leadership experience (five years at PORAC and five years at Sacramento POA), I’d like to offer my thoughts:
Identify the Up-and-Coming Leaders in Your “Sandbox”
The political “sandbox” is made up of all these folks (city council, board of supervisors, school board, Assembly, Senate districts, etc.) who aspire to represent your members’ families and issues when it comes to lawmaking. Certainly, you want to begin the relationship by getting in at the ground level. You just never know when one might make it to the big league! And by putting in the effort early and consistently nurturing it, you will begin to build the trust needed to get what you want in the future.
Attend meetings and pay attention. You should be going to your city council, board of supervisors, school district board meetings anyway, if they control your livelihood. If not, start by familiarizing yourself with their sandbox, identify what is important to them and see what you may be able to do to help. Knowing what is important to them is also paramount to getting what you want in the future. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, and use interaction with your membership to educate them:
- Take them on tours of your facility. (Your chief will probably also want a piece of this action, but don’t allow them to be escorted around without you.)
- Take them on ride-alongs, or connect them with members who exemplify the best of your association through their work at the agency.
- Sit in the communications center with them. It’s critical that they see the process and full picture of the work you do. Explain to them what your dispatchers do to get a sense of how a 9-1-1 call becomes a call for service, the actual response time, and how the job gets resolved. Many of your representatives really believe that the television show Law & Order is an accurate reflection of how quickly police work gets done. And we know it’s not!
Have Honest and Direct Discussions
- Meet for coffee once a month at a location that’s neither your office nor theirs.
- Introduce them to your association’s leadership and PORAC chapter. Explain what you, as well as PORAC, can do for them on the state level.
- Demonstrate what you can do for them and articulate directly what they could do for you. Quid pro quo is inappropriate and can be unlawful if you’re talking contract negotiations, so never trade one thing for another.
- Back them up when they help you out. Support them publicly with statements or, more prominently, on social media. Call them out when needed, but do so publicly, professionally and factually.
- Don’t shy away from the tough conversations or shut them down when the issues are difficult. This is when the strongest relationships are made! But don’t let them run roughshod over you, disrespect your association or membership, or embellish the facts. Hold them accountable so that the public and your members see that you’re paying attention.
Remember, It’s Not Personal
It’s business (or politics). Don’t make it that way by spiking the ball or taking unnecessary personal shots. This is a tough game, and you can’t have thin skin if you want to play it.
These are just a few key recommendations to get you started. They may or may not be suitable for your association, as we all have different local circumstances that we have to live with today, of course. Being successful depends on your situation and, more importantly, how you respond to what is going on and changing around you.
Just as with the use-of-force continuum, you have to adapt to the environment you’re in, playing to your strengths, capabilities and available resources. Never is it more important than now that we step up and guide public discourse to improve relations and maintain the positive and professional image of law enforcement.
Let’s take stock in what we’ve learned from these law enforcement caucus dinners and lead!
Thank you for your membership, have fun, and stay safe!