Interview with Kristen Ziman, Former Chief of the Aurora Police Department

    Kristen Ziman, who at the time of this interview was Chief of the Aurora Police Department in Illinois, is a 20-year veteran and the holder of a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Management from Boston University. She is also a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (Senior Executives in State and Local Government) and a graduate of the FBI National Academy #249. She helped co-found “Blue Courage,” a two-day training course for police officers. She is now CEO of her own firm, Kristen Ziman Consulting LLC, working to prevent mass shootings.

    Tell us about what led you to pursue a career in law enforcement.

    kristen-zimanI gravitated at a very young age to law enforcement as a career because my father was a police officer, and his passion for the job and his integrating me into his profession by bringing me to the department with him made it part of my hard-wiring.

    When I was old enough to make the next logical step towards college, it became clear that entering law enforcement was not a passing fantasy, but a reality that I wanted to pursue. The job appealed to me because of the adventure and the service. I liked the idea of having a career where I would be able to affect lives in a noble way.

    What are some guidelines that you think a police officer just entering the field might follow?

    Be impeccable. Remember that everything you say and do is a reflection of who you are. Now that I’m in management, I look for officers who are strong in character – we can teach the skills necessary to do the job, but it’s more challenging to find those who are there for the right reasons. If you are planning on entering the field of law enforcement, be sure you understand that you WILL be held to a higher standard. This is not unjust, but a necessary fact. Those who are chosen to uphold the constitution and must do so with responsibility, and that means they must live their lives as an example.

    Be authentic. The biggest lesson I learned came a few years into my career. By the very nature of human adaptation, I sought to “fit in” so much so that I lost my uniqueness. When I was a brand-new police officer, I acted the way I thought I was supposed to act and I emulated those around me.

    After a dangerous situation that left me vulnerable, I learned that when you treat people with dignity and respect and never look down on them (even when they are literally lying in the gutter), they will cooperate and even help you.

    I was a successful police officer because I stopped trying to be what I believed I was supposed to be and started being authentic.

    How would you advise someone just entering the police force professions to proceed? What obstacles may they face?

    The challenges are unique to each individual, but the best advice I can give to anyone entering this profession is to never take anything personally.

    You will encounter people who want to hurt you for no reason other than because you wear a uniform. As such, they will say things in an attempt to elicit a response from you.

    In the beginning of my career, I felt defensive and wanted to respond by saying, “What did I ever do to you?” I soon realized that it had nothing to do with me personally, but what I represented to them as a police officer. I still see officers get offended by insults and take attacks personally, and that gets you nowhere but in trouble. Learn to become secure in yourself, so the bad behavior of others doesn’t affect you.

    The next challenge is losing yourself in the darkness, and you have to do everything in your power to fight that. You will soon begin to believe that all people are bad because that is what you come in contact with on a daily basis. As a result, you will turn inward, and you will begin to distrust mankind.

    The remedy to this is to surround yourself with good as much as you possibly can. Just because mechanics work on broken cars all day doesn’t mean all cars are broken. The same is true of human beings. Go out of your way to mingle with the law-abiding citizens of society. Frequent local businesses on your beat, talk to citizens, etc. If you look for good, you will find it, so seek it out.

    Keep friends in your circle who aren’t in law enforcement. Negativity breeds negativity, and it festers, so make it your mission to maintain friendships outside policing so you can get a fresh perspective on life every once in a while.

    What is one interesting case you have worked on, and what was your role?

    I was a Domestic Violence Detective for five years during my career, so there are many cases (some heinous) where I have felt a significant achievement in putting away the offender.

    While I’m proud of the outcome in those cases, the biggest reward for me over the years has been to watch many victims come to understand that they didn’t deserve to be hurt in a relationship. There are some people who have lived with violence and abuse their entire lives and have no idea what a healthy relationship is.

    I was happy to have been a part of the progress that some victims made, which also meant that their children would learn not to become victims or abusers themselves.

    How have changing technologies in law enforcement impacted your job?

    Technological advances like Intelligence Lead Policing allows us to utilize software that can predict crimes before they occur. We find that people act in patterns and by plotting those patterns, we are able to predict (to some degree) where they will strike again.

    I’m most excited about new advances in technology in the field of DNA. Currently, we wait months for the results of DNA to come back, but there is a new technology on the horizon that will give us those results in 90 minutes. This will literally change the way we do business because we will be able to match DNA on a database that will allow us to capture the offender immediately, rather than being in limbo for the months awaiting results.

    What do you think is an important quality for successful police officers to have?

    The best police officers I know (no matter what their physical stature) have one common trait: their ability to communicate with others.

    Personally, I do not have the physical stature to dominate those with whom I come in contact, so I have had to develop excellent communication skills that help me talk people into handcuffs.

    Those who are most successful in this profession have developed the same skills. What that means is talking to people on their level and never looking down on them. All people (even those who commit) crimes want to be treated with respect and even though we cannot (should not) ever condone what they have done, we should still treat them like a human being.

    Successful police officers display empathy and compassion towards everyone. Some believe that this is weak or soft, but the fact is, it takes a tremendous amount of courage and strength to be empathic. It doesn’t mean that we let our guard down or risk officer safety – quite the contrary. We can still ensure our tactical position while simultaneously practicing empathy.

    We thank Commander Kristen Ziman for being so generous with her time and sharing these valuable insights. You can find out more about Kristen on her website and LinkedIn.