18 Jan 2013

Badge Guys Interview – Chief Scott Silverii, Author of A Darker Side of Blue

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Sometimes in life you meet people who instantly blow you away. They have a presence and intellect that make you take stock and think “boy am I glad I ran into that guy!” Well today I am honored to introduce one such public servant who gives new meaning to the term dedicated police officer. Without further ado let me introduce you to Police Chief Scott Silverii, Author of A Darker Side of Blue, a thoughtful and fascinating book on the nature of today’s Police force and of the people who serve within it.

Chief Silverii pic1

Please introduce yourself? How long have you served in the police and where are you serving now?
I’m Scott Silverii, a native of south Louisiana’s Cajun Country. Growing up pretending to be a police officer, I did not consider the possibility of becoming one. I always thought it was a job for other people. Little did I know that officers came from every aspect of life, and the more variations of life experiences, the better the profession of policing.

My love affair with this calling began in 1990 with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office in south Louisiana. Twenty-one years with that CALEA accredited agency allowed many opportunities to serve in various capacities. The most special include 12 years narcotics, 16 years SWAT, and Divisional Commands over Investigations, Special Services, and Patrol. During these years, I earned a Master of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in Urban Studies (Anthropology) while traveling over 200 miles back and forth to the University of New Orleans. I would do it all over again; I loved it and the challenge of learning.

Currently serving as the Chief of Police for the City of Thibodaux, Louisiana, I am enjoying each day over the last 2 years leading at the tip of this progressive spear. I am fortunate to continue my passion for education by teaching college courses and contributing my expertise in data-driven approaches to crime and traffic safety at national conferences and workshops sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What was the inspiration behind the A Darker Side of Blue?
Sitting in an anthropology class one night, the professor asked for introductions, focus of research, and work experience. As I began sharing my work experience in the special operations groups (SOG) of undercover narcotics and SWAT, something slipped out about “being on the outside” for several years. I meant that I had left the SOG, but it sounded like comments prisoners or gang members make.

Wrapping up my spiel to the class with some academic dribble about research interest, my mind began racing over the similarities between cops and gang members (mostly outlaw motorcycle clubs – OMC). The cultural aspect of anthropology ignited, and by morning, my passion set me on course to discover who I had become.

Cops and OMC share many personal demographics including memberships of mostly white males, mid-to-low income economic status, high school / GED educations, and placing a high premium on conformity and homogeneity. Cops and OMC are also para-militaristic groups investing heavily in the symbolism of colors, insignia, speech, cultural expectancies and a code of silence engrained in a fraternity while living an edge lifestyle. We even call ourselves the largest gang in the world!
UC Days
In the book you say you discovered your “why” when faced with an extreme crisis. Can you tell the readers about the situation you found yourself in and how this affected your outlook on policing?

I’m gazing through the contacts list on my cell phone about 8 years ago, and saw there are only 5 civilians or immediate family in there. It rocked my foundation to realize I unknowingly isolated myself from everyone I knew (familial, social, and communal anchors) outside the fraternity of policing.

After brutal years of sacrificing health, safety, family, and friends for catching drug dealers, fugitives, and violent community victimizers, I was alone. All alone. From a former Sunday school teacher, husband to my college sweetheart, and dad to a great kid, I was now living alone and untethering myself from all accountability anchors.
Life Restored
I could not imagine quitting the job, so I sought to wholly understand what happened to me and ensure it never repeated. I enrolled in graduate school in another city (New Orleans) to increase my sphere of associates beyond the brothers in policing, and set a course for understanding the cultural draw.

What have you discovered about Policing’s culture that you didn’t realize when you started your career?

Culture is an amazing dynamic. It preserves our earliest survival when people of similar interests bonded together to ensure food, shelter and safety for the communal good. Though the hunters soon separated from the gatherers, culture and humanity diversified, yet continued. Culture is how children learn to become who they are, how national ideologies engrain themselves into the core of its citizenry, and how a clustering of once-random individuals come together for accomplishing something awesome.

Police culture is similar, and the process of occupational socialization is a powerfully seductive attraction quickly seizing all other interests. Through enculturation, we learn the fraternal expectancies, the informal pecking order outside the organization’s hierarchy, and about becoming blue. These are the aspects of culture promoting survival of the “species,” and the traditions of service.

Early in my career I thought the thin blue line separated honest citizens from criminals, but I soon learned the line divided “us” from everyone who wasn’t “us.” Police culture has the potential for fostering subcultures of officers I refer to as “dark blue.” Deviant behaviors such as alcohol abuse, domestic violence, drug misuse, and criminality occurs when a code of silence permeates the agency’s culture. Left unchecked, police subcultures quickly deviate from the institutional ideals of duty, honor, and service.

I coined the term “detrimental homogenetic entitlement” during my doctoral research referring to cultures of silence, intimidation, preferential treatment, and societal abuse that give a false sense of benefit to the individuals. This is also similar to the deviant environment leading Penn State’s legendary football program, catholic priests, Boy Scouts USA advisors, and U.S. Secret Service agents to become ensnared by sexual abuse scandals. While maintaining that code of silence may have seemed like an entitlement to abuse young boys and prostitutes, the eventual and detrimental effects of the cultural “benefit” was detrimental to the whole of its associates.

Do you think the public relates to police officers in a different way than when you started your career? If so could you give a little insight into both the good and bad that has evolved in this relationship?

I definitely believe the public relates differently to police than it did 20 years ago. While law enforcement maintains the self-appointed role as society’s moral entrepreneur, a more diverse culture is evolving beyond the traditional mores, making it difficult for police to identify with the emerging needs and unique service delivery requirements.

The challenging side of police – public relations is that new groups with varying needs may go unattended because they do not fit into the traditional interaction matrix of communicating needs. Non-traditional social groups such as immigrants and the LBGT communities for example, have issues relating to law enforcement through historical channels. As a result their legitimate needs are not addressed, and they are yet further victimized by policing’s inability to retool operations for inclusion.

The positive side of police – public relations comes through the challenges presented to law enforcement for breaking the comfortable authoritarian posture assumed for decades. Police came when called, but that reactive model fails to serve the public with any degree of efficiency or effectiveness. The “on-demand” culture inspired by technology and social media creates an informal, yet very public culture of accountability and transparency for citizen service agencies. Watching Chiefs enter the social media realm is like watching a cat in the tub.

In the book you explore why cops quit and the factors that affect their commitment. What are the key reasons behind this and are their means to resolve them without compromising the police service?

Cops quit for various reasons including better paying jobs, returning to school, and family priority to name a few influenced by exterior factors. Officers leaving the profession after heeding the call become victims of the occupational socialization process. The usual culprit is unrealistic expectations. We watch them on TV and movies, read about them in book and magazines, witness them in person and pretend to be them throughout childhood (and sometimes as adults). The mystique is enmeshed in our psyche and the reality will never equal the expectations of myth.

The hiring process can also be exceptionally long, and this immediate gratification culture quickly grows disinterested with the potential of the position. The first day of academy training is another critical factor redirecting cadets away from the idealistic notion of public avenger by introducing them to the stark reality of homogeneity. They are either quickly attracted to or repulsed by the sense of sameness within the culture. There is no room for innovation, creativity or individualism, ie.. Freaky people need not apply.

Unlike the military’s enculturation process teaching that the act of becoming a soldier is the peak of their service to an ideal greater than the individual, policing’s culture associates personal recognition and self-actualization as an important factor of job satisfaction. High-performance is perceived as not being associated with a system of reward or personal recognition.

Fixing this challenge begins with establishing a clear organizational identity and vision. Agencies mandating education or military, for example will only succeed if their vision is consistent with delivering the public safety services stimulating the higher caliber candidates.

Instilling an ideal that the honor of serving something larger than yourself is the highest level of personal sacrifice and professional satisfaction establishes commitment to the institution. Leaders must identify an institutional “why” within a clearly recognized culture of accountability, self-sacrifice and ideological ownership for those heeding the call to public service. This bridges the gap between fighting to stay and waiting to quit.

Another issue you touch on is the perceptions of racism. Could you discuss your experiences on this issue and to what extent the perception is the reality? Furthermore what can be done to resolve this issue?

While I did not observe institutionalized racism demonstrated or implied by those studied, I do fully understand that the origins of modern American policing are more closely related to the South Carolina Slave Patrols of 1704 than Sir Robert Peel’s London Metropolitan Police Service1829. This historical thread remains tied to the culture of law enforcement and the fact that over 70% of officers are white and male does not help dispel the perception or reality.

I study race extensively from biological, theoretical and societal aspects. People are shocked when I explain that race is a social construct, and not biological. You must understand the politics of race beyond the history of the United States. Going back to the European era of colonialism, their need to identify “others” by placing labels such as a color justified capitalistic conquest. Unfortunately, biases and cultural resistance remain.

Race can be a hot topic, so most agencies avoid it with an unrealistic hope it does not surface. Law enforcement today must actively seek solutions for addressing social issues such as race, gender, sexual preference, immigrants, and special needs populations. Diversity in recruiting and hiring practices relate back to the formula for retaining talented human capital. A multi-colored lens for policing means an empathetic response to an evolving society.

Having completed your doctoral dissertation what are the big take aways that you want to highlight to readers? In other words what are they going to get from your book that they might not be expecting?

During the course of my doctoral studies, I was surprised by the complexity of the culture, and the process of becoming blue (occupational socialization). I’ve asked and have been asked why do cops behave the way they do. It was a mystery until I began systematically examining the big picture of work groups, next focusing on professional social clusters, and then specifically at skill-set cultures. My surprise came at the revelation of the subcultures.

Although my work is about cop culture, the discoveries relate to all of us as members of various social, cultural, professional, and communal cultures. I use parallel literature ranging from health care to business schools to military, yet organizational dynamics are similar. We just get to carry guns and arrest crooks.

The most personal issue I discover is the toll taken on the human psyche. The emotional damage is alarming, with reported rates of officer involved alcoholism, domestic violence, drug abuse, depression, PTSD and suicide greater than the civilian population. Of course, the culture’s “code” demands that officers suffer in silence to protect the perception of an impenetrable shield.

The detrimental effects of living a life within society’s margin isolates officers from their accountability anchors, causing them to feel further detached from the society they serve. The irony comes from serving directly in the public domain, but suffering in such a private dilemma. I want to take the fraternity and say, “Open your freakin eyes. We can be better at helping each other.”

These are all such serious issues, is it all Dark Blue?

Policing is an amazing profession. There are so many creatively positive innovations happening, that it is an exciting time to be onboard. Leaders are better educated and willing to share their experiences with officers. The “macho” bravado is beginning to fade as agencies seek officers more for the might of their minds than their brute. Working smarter than hard is my agency’s credo, and one I experience across the nation. If it ended today, I can say that I have laughed more than I cried. That is always a great measure of one’s career and culture.

Chief Scott Silverii’s book A Darker Side of Blue is available for immediate download at www.createspace.com/4111029 and www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=scott+silverii. Stay posted on his every move by following his blog Bright Blue Line at brightblueline.wordpress.com/ and look out for more posts by Chief Silverii right here at TheBadgeGuys.com in the near future.

A Darker Shade of Blue book cover

Thanks for taking the time to discuss the book with us today Chief Silverii. We salute you and all the brave law enforcement professionals who serve the community.

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