Police professionalism: Trim your ego as often as your hair

When the barber — or hairdresser if that’s your choice — has you in for that shave and a haircut, think about how you can improve your personality while you’re there

My hairdresser likes me. Attach the ‘number one’ clipper and run it around on my bowling ball head so that I look like a Marine... at least from the ears up. Easy money. I trim my own fingernails, skip the pedicure, scrape my face of sad whiskers that have never been able to shape themselves into a decent mustache, and basically pay enough attention to my appearance that the rough edges are gone and I look presentable for the uniform.

It’s interesting to me that we do all kinds of stuff to our cars, our guns, our physique, and even our lawns to keep things running and remaining socially acceptable. For most of us there does seem to be one thing that never needs maintenance and stays at a state of perfection forever: our personality. I confess I’m pretty happy with mine. I find that when people don’t like me it’s their problem. They either don’t understand me, can’t handle the truth, or lack the wit and wisdom that I have honed to a fine point over the years. The obvious problem with that attitude is that when I am not doing maintenance and improvement on my personality I am opening myself up for others to do it for me.

Trimming the Ego
I was recently teaching a class, sort of a citizen’s police academy for credit, and we talked about qualifications for officers. The subject of tattoos came up and, being old-school, I made a few spontaneous jokes about the subject, since I have a delightful sense of humor. I took another crack at tats later in the class and a fine young student who recently served in the Marines and sported a few lines of ink on his well-developed biceps took exception. He was very polite but asked me simply why I was down on people with tattoos.


The truth is, back in my day the only people with tattoos were drunken (or formerly drunken) sailors, people who had been in prison, or ignorant white trash. In other words, my mother’s side of the family.

I know that tattoos are now popular, normal, conformist, and done with enthusiasm. My predictions of a generation of regretful senior citizens with droopy cartoons where their cool tats used to be notwithstanding, I had kept my old ideas and let them turn into disrespect for persons with a benign difference of opinion from mine.

I thanked the student for pointing that out, apologized for any offense, promised to watch that attitude, and asked him to partner with me in holding me accountable to that promise as the semester progressed.

Slapping on Skin Bracer
As if fate had not yet finished with my humility lesson, I left the class to find a parking ticket on my motorcycle, one written by one of my officers. Along the way I had somehow justified the special privilege of driving and parking on the sidewalk, a privilege that did not belong to me despite my exalted administrative position and that I lay my life on the line every day for you people.

When the student is ready, the lesson comes. I resolve, even though it’s not New Year’s Day, that when I look in the mirror to trim my fuzz that I’ll think about what rough edges my attitude might have developed as well. I’ll have some skin bracer ready though, because those adjustments often come with a little sting to them.

About the author

Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy.. He is retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30 year career in uniformed law enforcement and in criminal justice education Joel has served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and bachelors in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the US Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over fifty police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards including the Colorado POST curriculum committee as a subject matter expert.

Follow Joel on Twitter @ChiefShults.

Contact Joel Shults

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