How do you define success in police work?

We look for greatness in ourselves and look to provide greatness to our families, loved ones, communities, and departments

Success is something that everyone should strive for, but as a profession, how do we define it? Furthermore, how do we define greatness? Is it some benchmark or accolade from the chief, city council, or administrator? Or is it knowing — and having satisfaction in your life — that you made a difference in someone else’s life? I contend that it’s the latter.

For me, it’s one moment — one singular incident; when a mother of a victim of child sexual assault came up to me and said “thanks.” This was the first, last and only time I was thanked for doing my job. It was powerful. Success wasn’t about me — it was (and is) what I did for that victim.

While the specific details of the case fade, I still struggle with emotions from that investigation, but I’m proud of the difference I made.  

There was another moment in my career about which I’m not as proud. I was looking to lateral to a different police agency and during the interview process, I was asked how I defined success.

My reply was that the mark of a good career is a successful retirement. 

This created an honest discussion amongst the panelists, but was in stark contrast to what I would have said when I was looking for work. 

While this was an honest answer, there was no greatness. There was no spark — no passion. 

The joy and excitement I had when I entered the profession had changed. I had soured and I was looking only toward the end of the career.

When I entered law enforcement, I wanted to “protect and serve.”

I wanted to help, foster growth, and change my community in a positive manner. What had happened to me? I’d become jaded and cynical. I bought into the “us against them” — and them was not just bad guys. It was management. It was everyone that was not us line officers. 

What happened to me has happened to many professionals in law enforcement. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it can be reversed.  

Now, in revaluating success, I would say the mark of success is having the ability to perpetuate positive things — those traits and qualities from the previous generation to the next generation of law enforcement. Senior officers must train the next generation of law enforcement so they can succeed and protect the community. 

When you leave this profession, what memories will you take with you? I am going to remember and miss the friendship, kinship, loyalty and trust of fellow brothers and sisters in blue. The most important thing is having and creating those memories with co-workers and colleagues. 

We also must honor those that have gone before us, our friends, mentors, partners, supervisors, and executives, we must share their stories. In sharing their stories we honor them, we remember them, and provide tribute to their sacrifice to their families’ sacrifices. 

Dare to be Great
As Brian Willis teaches us, it is all about “What’s Important Now.” 

What’s important now is that we honor the profession — that we honor our fallen officers and their families. We look for greatness in ourselves and look to provide greatness to our families, loved ones, communities, and departments. 

Look to create individual success — individual greatness — and individual memories out of your career for however long it is. Do your best with what time you have when you pin on that badge. It is the most awesome experience and privilege. Do not take it for granted. 

Today let’s remember and honor our fallen brothers and sisters. As we do, let’s keep looking for that dare to be great moment. How do you define your greatness? How do you define success? How will you be remembered once you leave this earth? 

I’ve had the distinct honor of knowing three great individuals whose names have — sadly — been placed on the wall in Washington. This article is for them. Take a moment and look up Captain M. Sparkes, Officer E. Ottis, and Deputy J. Kuredjian. 

Now, how do you define greatness? 

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