“No good, low-life, back-stabbing, sons of bitches”

That’s a mouthful, but it kind of rolls off your tongue. Those words were about me and a couple of others.  Normally, those would be serious and troubling words to hear.  In this case, I let it roll off like a raindrop.  I had to, it was a fight.  Not one I wanted to be in the middle of, but it quickly turned that direction.

A fight? I thought we were supposed to be serving our citizens, not engaged in programmatic combat. How did it devolve into a fight?

So, what was this about, and who said those words? The people involved, are all deceased, but I won’t reveal their identities. I worked in an organization where change was met with a high, defensive perimeter.  Unless, change was suggested from the inside, and I was not an insider.  In the interest of the public good, I was asked to secure funding to help bolster a unit of a police department.  To do so, we would create a specialized team and do something out of the ordinary.  At least different from how some things were being done, and the deeper we developed this program, the less it was embraced by the command staff of the police department.

The city’s political leadership wanted this project, and the police department brass certainly did not.  Ideally, this could have been a win-win, but that possibility dissolved early on. They did not like the concept, in part because they had to admit that certain crimes were rising and beyond their current strategies to combat it effectively. They were attached to an old paradigm, and they resented being prodded to change.  Early meetings on a different, but related matter, conveyed their sense of “thanks, but no thanks.”

Picking a fight with the police department, not the smartest idea.  The department had already brushed off efforts at modernizing some methods and wouldn’t even considering some successful efforts used by other police departments.  I was instructed to keep pushing past the resistance I was getting.  Unfortunately, I was running into difficulty within my own part of the organization, who were getting push-back from the police. To my advantage, not everyone in the police department was opposed to this effort.  Everyone was picking a side.

I worked for over a year on this project, and it was a very tough year.  The implementation was naturally awkward, but it began to show results.  The police administration resented this program and began to chip away at it, marginalizing those inside the program that sought to make it successful.  It was their way of closing ranks.

“No good, low-life, back-stabbing, sons of bitches!”  Those words were never said to my face, but I heard it repeated.  A few years later, I was gone from the organization, in part because of that project, but there were other reason.

This grant project would be a good case study for how not to introduce change.  Could there have been a different methodology to make this effort more palatable to the police management?  Many years later, some options look possible, but in the fog of battle, whatever mistakes you made are magnified.

Once the muscles were flexed on both sides, there was no de-escalation. Our battle spilled out in public and was an irritant to the City Council. We looked silly when the newspaper printed a cartoon of each side looking through opposite ends of a telescope, to emphasize our opposite views on the matter.  I’ve never been the object of a cartoon, before or since.  Thankfully.

There were lessons to be learned from this experience.  The same disagreement would exist over the changing crime environment, but that should have been a discussion that happened above my pay grade, to set the path forward.  Unfortunately, that did not happen, still, there were missed opportunities, like building support from an external group.  The prosecutors were a very influential group, and while they were on-board with our idea, we did not use them to built unity with the police.

All of this is water under the bridge.  We had a good idea, executed poorly.  Instead of a partner, we had the police administration as an enemy, and it hurt the long-term success of the program. On more than one occasion, when asked a question about the program, the police brass would say, “Ask the Mayor’s Office, they run the program.” Some resentment? You bet.

All those years later, that program does not exist. Long ago, it was absorbed into another program, but it accomplished what it was intended to do, and it opened the door to other changes.  In the end, they (police brass) were praised for the efforts of a program they did not want.

We used a lot of energy battling instead of finding common ground.  In those days, divisiveness, was how city business got done.  It was a chess game of moves, each one politically motivated and recorded on the scorecard.  It is easy to be hypnotized by the power plays and energized by grandeur of battle, forgetting our purpose and public duty.

While the efforts of the first year were quite effective, it was a sore point for those who could have enjoyed the success. I distanced myself from the effort, wanting to remove myself from any further internal battles. It was humbling to say the least.

Why is this important now? In the universe it is not even a pinprick.  There is no expiration date on learning.  Until the last breath, we will take our turn at bat. Some battles we will win, others lose.  Don’t act defeated when you lose or a jackass when you win. And frankly, not everything has to be a battle. There is no defeat in joining hands to create something better than what we had, even if the finished result does not match our original vision. That would have been a better result here. It is usually easier to see the landmines without the fog.

Every once in awhile I think about those words. “No good, low-life, back-stabbing, sons of bitches!”  It dredges up a lot of memories, some good, some bad. Those were interesting times.


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