At a press conference on May 17th in Charlotte, North Carolina, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney discussed an issue he observed at the annual police memorial service for officers killed in the line of duty. Chief Putney took note of those in attendance and noticed only one elected official showed up, and that was District Attorney Spencer Merriweather. He said some city leaders engage in “irresponsible activism.”
“Leadership is about showing people how much you support them,” Putney said. “Leadership is about being there for people who need you. If all you care about is accountability when it comes to this profession, I think this world is upside down.”
Chief Putney made it known that he was referring to city leaders, specifically elected officials, although he made it clear it was not about the city manager nor Mayor Vi Lyles. Without calling names, it was apparent he was speaking about the controversial Charlotte City Council. “I apologize sometimes for the lack of leadership that we see,” Putney said.
Putney said his speech was geared towards the irresponsible activists who said they support officers but then say negative things about them. “I think irresponsible activism shows through. Judging by what they do and say, if they do anything,” he said. “When we are at our worst, and you say statements that I think portray our officials in a bad light, I think that is irresponsible.”
The interesting thing is, many chiefs and sheriffs tiptoe around these issues with local councils and commissioners because they fear losing their job. So they do what the city council or county commissioners ask, without ever fighting back for their people. Although they may not vocalize it, police officers see it and they recognize the cowardice in do-nothing police executives.
Walking around intimidated is not a good leadership trait as a commander. By not being intimidated and calling them out, Chief Putney showed that he was a police chief and not a city council’s chief. Officers immediately recognized this in his speech. It begat an overwhelming amount of support from law enforcement across the country for Chief Putney. When sheriffs and chiefs stand up to government officials, officers and deputies understand the significance of what their leader is doing and the ramifications it may have. But it ignites support from those you lead by showing that you are willing to fight for them at the potential expense of your career. We need more police leaders that are willing to stand up to disingenuous elected officials and not be bullied.