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Beyond Speeches: Building a Positive Leadership Legacy in Public Safety




Last Friday, I attended my neighbor’s public safety academy graduation. I have attended too many of these ceremonies in the last three decades to count. Generally, I spend the time during the boring commencement speeches to daydream and reminisce on my time as a police officer. At this particular gathering, in the casino Chalet Terrace Room, I took a moment to remember my police graduation. The memory is not a fond one.  And not just because I had an absolutely raging case of food poisoning from the recruit’s potluck dinner eaten the night before, but because of the address from the Chief back in that spring of 1995.  I recalled how he gripped the podium and spoke about change. He reinforced the ideas of leadership built on the foundation of actually leading by example.

 

I sat stone faced as the person dead center in the front row of graduates listening to the man wax poetically about the changes to come to law enforcement. He went on to ask our forgiveness. He said we would make mistakes, and likewise, he would as well. And if we could realize our own shortcomings as we tried our best to fulfill our duties as rookie officers, he would do the same and confess to his own mistakes while he tried to lead a department the best he could. But we were both to give the other grace. If we could extend a supporting hand to him when he tripped, he would do the same for us when we stumbled in our new profession. I remember thinking what a wonderful way to indoctrinate a group of new police officers. I would have walked through fire for him at that moment. He had my six. And I would have his.

 

Only that is not how things went at my department, with my administration, with my supervisors, or even the city government I worked for.  And from the sound of commiseration amongst other public safety agencies across America, I was not alone. The speech I was given all those years ago, the same one I was listening to this particular start to my most recent weekend, was one and the same. I couldn’t help but wonder, would these recruits be as disappointed in their leadership as I was during my career?

 

So much lip service has gone into leadership in the last thirty years. Books, seminars, classes, podcasts, and roundtable groups have spent countless hours chewing up the ideas and restating the facts of good leaders. Leaders are people others want to follow. They are examples of altruistic behaviors that benefit their followers before themselves. With or without rank or title or degree or appointment, a true leader of people sets a standard, lives by example, and has the follow through of promise even during the most difficult of circumstances to make good on their word. A leader is relatable yet a step up just high enough so that others look up to them and want to emulate them. The problem with many of today’s public safety leaders, is they have the concept of good leadership, the pedigree to prove competence in knowledge, yet lack the execution during the times they are most needed. How many times have we seen news headlines of besmirched officials or press releases from information officers who shun an employee that made an honest mistake? So often a media-hyped incident is missing key facts that would help the public better understand the decisions made at the time of a crisis, yet that particular leadership chose the easy route of blaming the accused officer instead of backing the persecuted employee?

 

On the Sixth Pillar Podcast, host Chief Neil Gang explores the topic of leadership fundamentals and the impact it has on this current generation of officers. Personal wellness becomes the root of exploration when trying to retain police officers in an era of public scrutiny. His guests, Thomas Rizzo and Chad Bruckner, weigh in on this alarming cycle of repetition in law enforcement as it relates to career longevity.

 

Bruckner spent 21 years as an officer but left law enforcement after experiencing mental and emotional health changes as a result of poor leadership. During his decorated career he held himself to a strict set of core values including integrity, selflessness, diligence, courage, and loyalty. Yet he was not afforded the same in return. He went on to use the lessons he learned in law enforcement, as well as his military service background, to become a performance coach and motivational speaker. He has written a book, developed a wellness program, and teaches leadership workshop for municipalities since he left police work in 2019.

 

Rizzo is currently in his 23rd year of police work and a current Captain for an East Coast department. He has attended and taught at the West Point Command and Leadership Academy where he honed his own spin on transformational leadership philosophies, team creations, resilience, and wellness founded on empathy. He too has written a book on modern police leadership. Using human connection, vulnerability, and living his truths, Rizzo commands in the way many administrators speak of, but seldom exemplify. Rizzo is currently a guest host on the popular real time police work reality show, Live PD.

 

Together, Gang, Rizzo and Bruckner, provide personal examples of mentorship, or a lack thereof, that helped shape the police personnel they became. With over 70 years of real experience, they discuss the roadblocks our law enforcement leaders are struggling with to fulfill the promises made at just about every graduation commencement ceremony. No punches are spared as they call out poor leaders they have worked for and the lessons they learned from their own mistakes. Listeners are awarded a candid look inside a very passionate criticism of modern police command and what they are personally doing to change that dynamic.

 

This last Friday, at what felt like the 100th graduation I have sat through, the Chief referenced how this group of recruits was the future of public safety. All Chief’s say this. And to some extent, they are correct. The latest generation assumes command for the dated and outgoing current regime in due time. They most certainly are and will be the next line of leadership for any given institution. It just so happens, during my badge pinning, I sat across the stage from the person who would eventually become my last chief in law enforcement. I am one of the lucky ones. I have suffered through seven mediocre to lousy police chiefs before finally getting the briefest of time to work for my academy mate. He listened to the same speech I did at graduation and the repeat performance of it at even more ceremonies for the 30 or so years that followed. The difference with him, is he listened. He became the leader they all talked about and wanted to be.

 

The Sixth Pillar Podcast aims to highlight the discrepancies in what is said and what is done when it comes to protecting the health and emotional survival of the officers who serve our communities. Chief Gang calls on modern examples of men and women who are trying to change the culture of public safety for the next generation of public servants. Join him every month to listen to what can be done and what is being done for the future of law enforcement.

 

 

Missy Morris started in public safety as a juvenile probation worker after graduating from University of California Santa Barbara in 1991 with a degree in behavioral psychology. She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work in probation before quickly transitioning to police work. She spent three years with the Palo Alto and Mountain View police departments as a patrol officer. She spent the following 22 years of her 28-year career at the City of Roseville. Missy worked in critical incident negotiations, eventually becoming the multi-city team leader and serving seven years on the state board of hostage negotiators. Missy feels her greatest assignment was a five-year stint as a traffic motor officer riding a BMW and working fatal accidents. She held several special assignments before retiring in 2020 as a patrol lieutenant. Missy has written a fiction book, Sauce on Top, about a female starting out in the world of law enforcement, based on her own humorous stumbles and triumphs. The book is currently being edited and soon to be released. She now works with Techne Innovations as their Podcast Director.

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Chief Gang

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Embark on a transformative journey with The 6th Pillar Podcast, where Chief Neil Gang delves into crucial discussions on resilience, leadership, and wellness. Join us as we unveil the inaugural episode, sharing our mission to empower and inspire through meaningful conversations

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