How a little list of big values can guide your way

If you were to take the time to write down 10 values to help guide you at work and at home, what might they be?


Achieving the rank of detective is a momentous occasion. It’s the outward recognition that your investigative skills have been burnished to second nature, and that your practiced ways with victims, witnesses and suspects allow you even under difficult circumstances to wordsmith your way into getting the information you need. It’s about taking the pursuit of truth and justice to a whole new level. It also means you don’t have to do shift work for a while, and, even better than that, no uniforms.

But new detectives quickly find out that working bigger cases all the way to the end can be a real wilderness of mirrors. As cases start piling up, in order to get the win, it takes a new level of stick-to-it-tiveness. They learn that there’s also a new level of politics – not only in the assignment of caseloads – but in getting cases filed, too. And then, if you actually hope to have a case appropriately prosecuted instead of dismissed out of “furtherance of justice” or pled out for credit-for-time served, you discover you need to learn even more about how the system really works. Rising to the status of journeyman street cop is great preparation, but new detectives soon discover there’s many layers to this new onion, and it takes time and dogged effort to peel through them.

a Guide for how to respond

Going through a box of old work stuff a while back, I came across a small slip of laminated paper. I once made 50 of these for the detectives I supervised. (Photo/Dave Edmonds)
Going through a box of old work stuff a while back, I came across a small slip of laminated paper. I once made 50 of these for the detectives I supervised. (Photo/Dave Edmonds)

Starting way back in the 80s, I paid my detective dues. In the 90s, I went back to the Detective Bureau as a sergeant, running the same Violent Crimes Unit I’d previously been assigned to. A few years later, I became the Detective Bureau Lieutenant. Those last two jobs had their own frustrations and onion layers too.

Running the Bureau, my goal was to make the detectives’ jobs everything I ever hoped it could be when I was one of them. In building and running teams, there are some reliable values that can help you achieve synergy. For example, if you practice servant leadership, which means putting your people’s wants and needs ahead of your own, not only does much more get done, but everybody’s happier, too. And oddly, you’re rewarded with even greater payoffs and contentment.

Values are good things to live by. They form guideposts for how and why you respond to all kinds of circumstances that can pop up. The best values are always reliable, regardless. Seeing detectives breaking into their new job and life realities, I started thinking about what reliable values I could share with them, things that through trial and error I myself had learned. Reflecting on nuggets of wisdom that I accumulated over time, I came up with quite a few. Distilling things to their essence, I ended up with 10.

At the next Bureau-wide meeting, I told my troops about my experiences of learning and adapting, both on-duty and off-duty, to this role they were now in. Then I passed out 1-inch by 2-inch slips of laminated paper. I asked them to keep them in their wallets, and when things got dicey at work or at home, to pull them out for a read. The list I assembled went like this:

  1. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
  2. Follow the three Rs: Respect for self, respect for others and responsibility for all your actions.
  3. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
  4. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
  5. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
  6. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
  7. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  8. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think about it, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
  9. The atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
  10. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

Not long ago, I took this list out of my wallet and showed it to a young LEO friend and occasional beer buddy of mine. He read it, and a bit later asked me how, after all these years, I might rewrite my list. As I re-read each line so that I could give him an answer, I started thinking about the men and women I wrote it for. I was seeing them in my mind’s eye, the people who meant so much to me, and with gratitude, it made me smile. I thought about some of their on-duty and off-duty difficulties that were not unlike some of my own. I told him that it seemed to me that this list had done its job, and I didn’t think that I could make it any better.

I’ve only been retired for six years, but in that short time, this LEO job and life have gotten much more difficult. Recently, my oldest son graduated the police academy. Along with the smallest and lightest single stack 9mm backup roscoe out there, that little slip of laminated paper came out of my wallet as a graduation gift.

Done right, you’ve got the hardest job out there. If you were to take the time to write down 10 values to help guide you at work and at home, what might they be? Seeing you in my mind’s eye, and with gratitude for all that you’re trying to do, I hope that a little list ends up in your wallet too.

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