The Illinois State Police has had a tough year. Like most law enforcement agencies, when an officer is killed in the line of duty the effect is both immediate and long-term. When these tragedies come in waves the impact can be overwhelming.
As a result of these trials a group of troopers and others in leadership decided they’d had enough and pushed ISP to act. Thankfully, they did. Part of the initiative was inviting me to conduct three workshops from the northern to southern parts of the state for ISP officers and others who were invited. We had almost 300 people attend and all three days were some of the best I have spent teaching on the subjects of PTSD, resiliency, peer support and leadership.
While there is much I could write about this event, the first thing I wanted to relate was the humility expressed by Illinois State Police leadership. If you’ve seen me, my talks are tough and one of my targets is always leadership. Leadership sets the tone in all organizations when it comes to mental health and even well intentioned leaders can drop the ball. In front of their troopers the Director of the Illinois State Police and the Colonel and Lt. Colonels in charge of patrol all said in their own words with incredible sincerity, “We need to do better, and it starts with us. We make mistakes as leaders and we are going to use this tough year to look in the mirror and do better.” All three gave very personal examples to back up this sentiment which went a long way to reassure all in attendance of their commitment.
Words are cheap. Action is what matters. These words were more than just words, they were not cheap. They came as they were taking action and planning for more. They were real, vulnerable, personal, and emotional. The actions of these leaders put wind in the sails of those in the room and it was one of my greatest honors to be part of it. It is rare, and refreshing, at this level to see leaders so publicly humble themselves.
In closing, I told the room that they needed to hold their leaders accountable, and their leaders needed to do the same for them. We talk about officer wellness and resiliency, but action takes a deep commitment to changing culture and stigma. Within days I received messages from troopers on patrol to those at headquarters that tangible actions were being taken. I look forward to seeing how this develops. I truly believe the Illinois State Police has an opportunity to use their own trials and traumas as fuel to create a model for what law enforcement peer support and responses to trauma should look like.
Let all of us follow this example of leadership and humility in our own lives, whether at work or at home. Motivation, credibility, and change begin with looking in the mirror. Be safe, and many blessings to you all.