Photo: Kelly Bracken
Shortly after I got off patrol training I was told that the Major Crimes Detail had contacted the Temple station detective bureau regarding an arrest I'd made of a particularly prolific serial burglar. They were impressed with my investigation and wanted to talk to me about it. I was supposed to call them back.
Rejecting that opportunity wasn’t an arbitrary decision on my part. The station detective let me know that it was simply the Detail's way of letting me know that I'd done good, and it was an opportunity to get my face and name known.
I didn't want to do either.
In one sense, my posture wasn't demonstrably different than what it had always been.
At first, my MO was largely born out of insecurity and a desire to fly under the radar. After all, keeping a low profile at 6'3" wasn't easy, but it'd helped save me from being platoon sergeant or cadet sergeant in the sheriff's academy.
But as time went by and I became more self-assured in my varying capacities on the department there was a corresponding diminution in my shyness. And if I was not wholly capable of ridding myself of my insecurity, it was at least differently manifest, mostly asserting itself in a series of largely needless confrontations with those I worked with (my paranoia of my co-workers might have served Caesar better than it did me).
One thing did not change: A desire not to call attention to myself.
Insecurity continued to play a part, but so did a growing conviction that it was bad form to promote one's self. Nothing so instilled this belief as the behavior of too many type A personalities I had come in contact with. The lyrics and music might've been absent, but the vibe was all from that old Irving Berlin song "Anything you can do I can do better than you."
I did not mind confidence. But there was an all-too-clear dividing line between the kind of confidence that I respected and the cockiness I did not. One was embodied in those deputies who day in and day out went about their jobs in a fashion all the more heroic for its lack of exhibitionism. The other was found in the braggadocio of the chest-thumping deputy hauling a skinny hype into a booking cage.
In time, the cumulative exposure to these diametrically opposite personalities and their ensuing trajectories within the law enforcement community made me realize something: Whatever my personal reservations about the transparent campaigns of the grandstanding community, it didn't seem to stop either their promotions or transfers to coveted assignments. If anything, and as counter-intuitive as I wanted it to be, their crusades were actually paying off for them.
Now just about any kid who has examined the contents of an unflushed toilet can tell you that it isn't always the cream that rises to the top, but I found this epiphany most disconcerting. That so many people of marginal character and skillsets should ascend so highly on so many departments confounded me. Couldn't others see through their charades?
Perhaps it had something to do with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' maxim that if you tell people something enough they'll believe you. Maybe it was simply a matter of like attracting like. My suspicions rested upon a synergy between those who lacked the requisite reflectivity with which to recognize their conspicuous shortcomings and their benefactors who proved no less constrained. Whatever the cause, those who thought themselves uniquely deserving—irrespective of a lack of any objective foundation for that conclusion—tended to get what they wanted.
Of course, guys like me were the dummies in this equation. The truth was that the nail sticking out didn’t necessarily get hammered. An incredible amount of the time it got promoted.
It is hard to ignore my sour grapes. But that doesn't mitigate the fact that thanks to their ill-warranted sense of worth there are many people who just plow forward until they find themselves occupying those offices they covet. They include people who have exploited their offices, others who claim to have been insulated or somehow out of touch with the myriad bureaus under their command, or still others who blame a selective amnesia for condoning questionable operations. Suddenly, the men who know everything know nothing.
All of this leads me to my point: If you are not already doing so, I hope that you will get in the habit of promoting yourself. And doing so aggressively.
Now, in a perfect world you wouldn't be reading this, let alone hopefully contemplating its suggestions. But the world isn't perfect; life has a way of attenuating one's ideals, and the proof's in the pudding. The reality is that self-promotion has been around since the dawn of civilization and it’s still in vogue today. Octavian made a point of impressing his image on more coinage than any other emperor; Barack Obama has made a point of conjoining his name with all presidential biographies on the White House Web page.
These men can teach you one very important lesson: Every little bit of name and facial recognition helps. And You need to get your fair share.
My thinking is that if all cops showed greater initiative in promoting who they are and what they are about, the playing field would at least be leveled a bit and the cream would have a better chance of rising to the top.
Personal philosophies aside, you have no excuse not to promote yourself. For better or worse your generation is better equipped to document your career through a variety of media. Thanks to print-on-demand reports and body-and-car-cams, every day you add to your CV through your well documented adventures.
And if you are shy about knocking on doors and face-to-face campaigning, there's e-mail, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other media through which you can network. These media allow others to review your info at their leisure and with minimal resentment. You don't even need to send in a job application right away. Just get yourself on the radar through the sharing of innocuous jokes or stories relevant to their interest. The thing is, it is human nature to prefer to deal with people that you know. By getting yourself recognized before any job opportunity announcement, you give yourself a leg up on the competition.
And if you get the opportunity to speak with someone of a special assignment—even one you may not be particularly interested in joining—take advantage of it. They have friends, and the more people that you know that can put in a good word for you, the better.
It would be nice if it didn't come down to packaging and marketing. Often, it doesn't. There will always be those good souls that will go far within their agencies or elsewhere without a bunch of arduous "look at me" campaigning.
But without exception I wonder how far and how fast they might have rocketed if they'd been endowed with that same politically ambitious DNA that saw so many lesser men and women gravitate upwards. And believe me, most of you reading this column will at one point or another want to move on to some greener pasture. The greener that pasture, the greater the competition will be. You might as well plan your moves ahead of time. Believe me, that self-aggrandizing little twerp down the hall already is.
Outsiders, particularly critics of law enforcement who see the profession as occupied with nothing but grandstanding alpha males, may find it odd that I should devote a column addressing this for the benefit of officers. But for all the disproportionate griping I do about such types, I have found that they constitute a decided minority among the ranks. Unfortunately, I find them disproportionately represented the higher one looks at those ranks.
Implicit herein is an apology. Recently, a fellow writer pimped himself on Facebook by pushing out a column he'd written and characterizing it as "Great!" I chastised him for it, and told him to leave the praising of his written product to others. Today, I know I should have kept my mouth shut.
For as idealistic as I may be, I know that if you keep a laissez-faire attitude in promoting yourself, believe me—others will too. And that is at their best. At their most pernicious, they will co-opt your work and take credit for it.
Part of me can't believe that I am openly advocating self-promotion by today's officers; years ago, I would have bristled at my words herein. But with the advantage of experience and hindsight, I genuinely believe that much of your career comes down to having been put out, or shut out. I hope that you don't make many of the same mistakes I have made.
Now if you will excuse me, I have some networking I have to do.