A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Gena Bigler: Turning your back on a problem is not a solution; questions lead to answers

How do you make something stronger? You test it, push its limits and reinforce the weak spots. No matter what the “it” is you are testing, the process is not comfortable. When the “it” is an industry or profession and the individuals that form the body of the industry or profession, then the process is even more uncomfortable. No one likes someone, especially an outsider, looking over their shoulder, questioning their tactics or policies, and yet that is how strength is built.

 

Too often professionals in an industry are blind to their weaknesses because they have been taught that “this is the way it is” often followed by “and always has been.” A long time ago, I worked at a small restaurant and the norm was to literally race to the bank on pay day because there was never enough money in the corporate account to cover the entire payroll. The stragglers who didn’t get to the bank first would have to wait several days to actually receive the pay they were due. While from the outside this is obviously a serious problem, it was simply part of the corporate culture for the workers. Most problems and weaknesses are not so easy to spot. They become obfuscated by the daily work and fall to the background. Even highly regulated industries can have blind spots large enough for Bernie Madoff to walk through.

 

Painful as it might be, questions from the outside test the strength of an organization; they give you an opportunity to improve and build. The New York City police department is not only missing an opportunity to improve and strengthen the department and city relations, they are hurting themselves and the entire community by refusing to acknowledge the elected city leadership.

 

Recent history has shown us that there is no such thing as too big to fail. No matter how big the organization, how long and storied its history, there is always room for improvement. If thousands of citizens are questioning tactics and policies, what is the harm in reviewing those tactics and policies?

 

Across the nation, citizens are questioning police actions. Every life matters and when police end a life, it is reasonable to ask, “is there a less lethal way to police?” We don’t know how many Americans die or are shot by police each year. No reliable statistics are kept. This alone seems like a Madoff sized blind spot. Asking questions is not an attack; it is a request for information, a test for weak spots that may need reinforcing.

 

This does not mean the people asking hate police, or are anti-police; in most cases the opposite is true. Americans know how valuable a responsible police force is. We are acutely aware of crime statistics and crime prevention efforts. We also hold our police to a high standard. We want to be safe, from both criminals and our police force. The sight of a police officer should be comforting, not alarming or intimidating.

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Every industry and profession has bad apples. There are doctors who are repeatedly sued for malpractice and harming their patients and go right back to work harming more patients who are unaware of their dangerous history. There are other doctors who make a single mistake and as a result are more cautious and strive to improve their knowledge base and skills. The only way to ferret out a repeat offender or a bad apple is to question and hold them accountable. A recent study estimates that as many as 440,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors. Questioning this does not mean we hate doctors, it means we want better medical services.

 

It is possible to care about police officers and the people protesting police brutality. It is possible to care about your medical provider and question the medical industry. Striving for quality and justice is not an easy or comfortable process. Protesting has become a dangerous endeavor in the United States. Protesters are beaten, shot with rubber bullets, and tear gassed and dismissed as trouble makers and criminals. It is not easy to stand up against an established system. It is much easier to sit at home and hope somebody else will do something, or simply ignore the problems altogether. If Americans are willing to suffer the discomfort of protesting, the least we can do is listen.

 

The sting of criticism should not blind us to the potential for improvement. Instead of turning their back on the problem and their mayor, the New York police should look inward and see how they can make their department stronger.

 

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.

 

Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.

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