Richard Fullmer Feature

Richard Fullmer (TheLorian)

I was asked to write about modern policing strategies in this article. When I was considering what strategies to highlight I was reminded of what Renowned Management Theorist Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So, as we consider what strategies and reforms need to be implemented in law enforcement we cannot overlook the culture and expect changes. Modern policing could include bias recognition training, de-escalation tactics, body worn cameras, citizen review boards, employee assistance programs, wellness campaigns, the elimination of cash bail, ending qualified immunity, brain health response protocols. However, if these are new initiatives, they have to be implemented judiciously. Changing something for the sake of reform does not necessarily mean that it will be sustainable. Is evolutionary change possible? What would a revolution in policing look like?  

When I decided that I wanted to start a career in law enforcement I did not understand many of the things that would become most important; diversity, equity, inclusion, racial disparities, disparate impact, privilege…the list goes on. However, I do feel like I was well prepared to challenge my ignorance. My journey to becoming a police officer started in high school and I didn’t realize it at the time but so did my training. I had a friend in high school who taught me a very profound lesson and although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, he taught me about inequity. He would talk about race and how things were different for him, harder for him than they were for me because he was black and I was white. I would say, “that’s a lie- we’re both from single parent homes, we both need to work for the things we want, I have to put in just as much effort as you do.” He said, “you don’t get it, Rick. For you, the sky is the limit. For me, the limit is the sky.” I always remember that conversation. Even though I didn’t agree (at the time), I cared enough to listen.

It took me a long time to understand what he meant. Fast forward to 2009, I was in my junior year of undergrad and I was majoring in Criminal Justice and Political Science. Barack Obama was asked about the controversial arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and he said. “I think the officers, ‘acted stupidly.'” When the President of The United States of America Speaks, people listen. During a press conference days after the incident, President Obama pointed out that interactions between police officers and the African-American community can be fraught with misunderstanding. In my opinion, those two words were the impetus for impending reform. So, what made President Obama say that the officers acted stupidly? Unfortunately, the answer to that question has become all too clear to me in the decade since. Many people older than me already knew the answer. Particularly people of color.  

As a student, I had a professor tell me that I needed to be prepared to answer questions about diversity if I wanted to be successful in an interview. So, I took classes and read books on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and I hung around with fun people who would talk about these issues. I had a fantastic, diverse, group of friends- I still do, and although your friend group shrinks as you get older and busier, those memories and lessons remain. Even though we all didn’t agree on everything, we cared enough to listen to each other. 

 The big interview came and there were three questions about diversity. I had a textbook answer prepared but I couldn’t say it with confidence because I still didn’t feel like I totally understood it. Instead, after I was asked one of the questions, I looked at the people on the interview panel and said “I care, but I still have faults, I may hear something that I think is funny but if I don’t think I can repeat it in front of you (I pointed at an interviewer who was black) then I probably shouldn’t repeat it. Simply not repeating the joke only goes so far; It doesn’t solve the problem with me thinking it’s funny. Because in reality, it’s not funny at all. It’s hurtful. I’m grateful for the education and experiences I had prior to being hired. It was the work that I put into learning about the human condition that has made all the difference. I constantly think about my thoughts – some form of metacognition, I suppose. I am not perfect but I want to be correct. So, I challenge my biases and consider where my thoughts and feelings are coming from. I’m not all that unique, there are officers across this nation who have had similar experiences and they do a much better job than me. I work with many of them right here in Dubuque.”

I’ve had many great opportunities after being hired: I’ve been able to serve as a field training officer, a crisis negotiator, a precision driving instructor, a school resource officer, a Corporal, and now a Lieutenant. In addition, I’m currently in the certification process of becoming an Emotional Intelligence Coach as part of an initiative by the City of Dubuque.

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