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Courage: Rebuilding after a Police Department Faces Trauma

Our department was suffering, and no one was talking about it. - Guest Blogger Police Chief Stan Standridge

With 26 years in policing and 11 years as a Chief, I found myself a rookie all over again. Coming to my second agency in 2020, I was quickly humbled by the pressing circumstances. There were two line of duty deaths by gunfire in five years, two more shot and who had not yet returned to duty, another two struck on the interstate and unlikely to ever return, and one serious case of off-duty misconduct. And all of this was happening on the heels of COVID. My new department had been wrecked by trauma. Thankfully, even the darkest plays have at least two acts. Our story does.

If you asked anyone, the department was suffering, and no one was talking about it. Brene Brown (2019) points to the link between Courage and vulnerability, which she describes as having the Courage to show up when you cannot control the outcome. She then offered, “We can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you’re willing to be” (USA Today). This is a tough sell in any police department. But everyone in our department wanted better.

How did this police department find the Courage to get better? Habit is stronger than reason. Therefore, we began by cultivating our self-awareness. The Courage it took for everyone to face hard issues changed us. Meetings were messy, and long. But that messiness made all of us better. This story is not about the specifics of our meetings. This story is more about picking your hard, as Marcus Brunel likes to say. Living with trauma is hard; healing from trauma is hard; pick your hard. We chose Courage.

Dave Anderson defines Courage as acting despite perceived or actual risk. The Latin root of the word Courage is Couer, meaning ‘heart.’ However, Courage does not guarantee a return. It doesn’t even provide the why. In the Bible, Job was never told why. Instead, he was asked to trust. We moved from asking “why” to forming habits.

Courage is not always born in a decisive moment and in response to fear, but instead can be character-driven based on habit. A willingness to be vulnerable, to confront conflict, to adopt change, to pick your hard – these things can become habit. Courage then becomes the strong internal voice that we have rehearsed again and again, moving us toward honor and away from impulse or fear. We need not be reactive.

Dave Anderson points out that character begins with our thoughts; thoughts lead to words, and words lead us to actions. Actions over time become habits, and habits determine our character. That sounds like a process, versus an immediate response to fear. Courage is so much more than response to fear. What we do now matters. What we do now, builds the habit of Courage we will need in the future.

Our department has the Courage to be vulnerable in spite of perceived risk. It is not easy. We work hard to embrace a courageous culture. We set our North Star: Doing our BEST for Community, Department, Family and Self. Dave Anderson said, “If you are not uncomfortable, you probably are not growing.”

We choose discomfort; we choose to grow; we choose Courage.

I (Dave) want to thank Stan for his poignant insights on organizational Courage. Recovering from organizational trauma takes a leader who will be both strong and vulnerable at the same time. Stan and his leadership team stepped up when Courage was needed for his agency to recover from some very traumatic years. I am honored to call Stan a friend.

Police Chief Stan Standridge began in law enforcement in 1995. He has served as Chief of Police in two different agencies since 2009, and he served as the President of the Texas Police Chiefs Association. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy Session 226. Prior to law enforcement, Stan served in the United States Air Force. (https://www.sanmarcostx.gov/436/Chief-of-Police)

 

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