We are family.
I got all my [brothers and] sisters with me . . . (Sister Sledge, 1979)
Every time I hear that song, I can’t help but think of The Birdcage with Robin Williams. Yeah, I know, but seeing Gene Hackman in drag, dancing to the song is worth it.
I also can’t help but think about who we are as LEOs. The Boss here at CopBlue has written many an article on The Brotherhood, and has alluded to it in most of his others. Moreover, the most recent article, by Brother Doug Griffith of Houston PD recounts stories of The Brotherhood during Houston’s hurricane this year.
The Brotherhood matters. That’s why it pains me to see so few references to it in academies and publications (save for this one) and among especially the newer officers and rookies coming on the job.
In one of many memorable story lines in the great NYPD Blue. My hero Andy Sipowicz is asked by the wife of a former NYPD dick, 20 years ago, if his ashes could be buried at the 15th. Both the L-T and Andy tell the widow no, but you know that Andy’s thinking.
After running in to another former dick (and I think a one-time Boss at the 15th) who says the deceased copper once saved his life, Andy knows what must be done.
And, as only God can orchestrate, the bathroom of the 15th is scheduled for some repair and maintenance and voila! Andy has his answer. The deceased copper’s wish is fulfilled. Why? Because Andy understands the importance of The Brotherhood.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Volunteer Law Enforcement Officer Alliance (VLEOA) annual conference, hosted by Dallas PD. (If you’re a reserve officer anywhere in the world, you should consider joining and attending, it’s a great organization and the annual conference is the best.)
Throughout the week, every instructor referred to the Dallas PD as family. And we were not excluded in that. We too were family, and not Cousin Eddie.
We do what few others can or will or even want to do. We deal with both the best and the worst of society. We are some of the best at communication that exists. We put more people back on the railroad tracks of life then we put in jail.
We help people every day. We make things better for people every shift. Because, that’s who we are, and that’s what The Brotherhood is all about. Taking care of each other oftentimes because when it gets gritty, no one else will.
Why then don’t we talk more about it? Why doesn’t every academy class, no matter the topic clearly and unequivocally point out the importance of it?
I had the occasion to talk to a retired major city officer the other day. He was recounting the differences in policing from then to now (millennials, technology, etc.).
He noted that back then when he went out on a traffic stop, when any copper went out, more than one copper would just drive by making sure he was OK. I too remember those days. I still do it. Even off duty.
He continued, and what he said next pained me beyond all measure. He said that as he was ending his career, less and less coppers did the drive by thing. He had no answer. I think I do: The Brotherhood is not emphasized any more. Not in the academy, not by FTOs; at least not as much or as often as it should be.
A DIFFERENT ANGLE
Retired Chief Master Sergeant Kevin Slater of the Air Force, relates the story of his graduation from NCO Preparatory Course. He says that his supervisor approached him, shook his hand and said, “I’ve got your back.” Perplexed, he asked her what she meant. She said, “Kevin, everyone has a specific role to play on our team.
Prior to today, your role has been to focus solely on yourself; to master the skills required of every Airman. My role has been to help you get there.
As of today, your role has changed. You are now a frontline supervisor and will add ‘responsibility for others’ to your job jar. My role has also changed. I’m now your first line of defense. So, I’ve got your back” (Slater, 2011). If only more Bosses and Suits felt that way.
This past weekend, I had the honor of working a major college game, as field security. The university wanted LEOs on the field, just in case. At their last home game, they were testing magnetometers at a few of the gates.
As part of our responsibility, we were to supervise their testing. We had university coppers watching our back to take care of anything, any gunmen that might attempt to enter.
After our briefing, the university Chief of Police called us all, off-duty, coppers outside. He told us he realized we were being asked to not do something we were trained to do. Something that we would instinctively want to do.
He also realized we were off duty, out of our jurisdictions, and he wanted us to know we had no worries that he and his officers had our backs. Something he reiterated several times. That’s a Suit. That’s The Brotherhood.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
I pray that as we move in to a new year, that more officers will feel this way. That more Bosses and Suits would feel this way. As cops we have responsibility for others, our first line of defense is The Brotherhood.
We hope we can count on the public. We hope we can count on the Bosses. We hope we can count on the Suits. We need to know that we can count on The Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is escorting the son of a slain Brother (or Sister) to the bus for kindergarten. It’s Frank Reagan walking the daughter of a wounded Boss to school until he gets well enough to do it himself.
It’s listening to a Brother (or Sister) in their time of distress. It’s standing together, honoring, as a Brother (or Sister) goes 10-42 for the last time. It’s Andy Sipowicz burying the ashes of a deceased copper in the precinct where he worked.
WHEN IT REALLY COUNTS
In the past month, we’ve had at least two Brothers commit suicide. They felt hopeless, for whatever reason. Did we miss the signs?
This is why The Brotherhood matters.
It’s just being there. All the time. No matter where. No matter what. No matter the reason.
As Lt. Horatio Caine once noted, “. . . at the end of the day, if we don’t hang together, we’ll die alone.”
No more dying alone.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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Clark, B. and Olmstead, M. (Writers), & DePaul, S. (Director). 10 December 2002). Half-Ashed, (Television series episode). In Bochco, S. and Milch, D. (Producers), NYPD Blue. Los Angeles, CA: ABC Studios.
Edwards, B. and Rodgers, N. (1979). We Are Family [Recorded by Sister Sledge]. Atlantic Records
Slater, K. (2011). I’ve Got Your Back. GovLeaders.org. Retrieved online from http://govleaders.org/got-your-back.htm)