Washtenaw 100 had an opportunity to speak with Greg Bazick regarding his service and the profession of law enforcement. Greg shares from his experience as one who has been active in the Ann Arbor Police Department, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, and the Saline Police Department. He is now working for a supplier to the law enforcement community.

The Washtenaw 100: Greg, what is your background in law enforcement?

Greg Bazick

Greg Bazick

Greg Bazick: My career started back in 1991. I was first hired by the Ann Arbor Police Department and had a 25-year career there.  I retired from Ann Arbor and did another five years of uniform service in the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office. I had this little break for about nine months where I was Director of Technology at the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety. Then when Marlene Radzik was promoted to Chief in Saline, she reached out to me and asked if I would consider coming over to be her Deputy Chief.

The Washtenaw 100: That’s quite a record of service. What’s the day-to-day like?

Greg Bazick: Most people don’t typically interact with police unless they’ve been the victim of a crime and they need to make a report. Or they were stopped for a traffic violation or those kinds of things.

But I’d say 95% of what we do is not enforcement related. It is helping people in some way. And that can look differently depending on the situation. Helping motorists that are stranded is different than helping a mental health situation where a person is in the midst of crisis. Those two things look entirely different but they’re still at their core instances where the police are trying to contribute to helping.

But enforcement is critical. The police profession in this country, and I guess it’s probably similar in other parts of the world where it’s not military police but civilian police, it is really the only group of people that under certain circumstances have the lawful authority to restrict a person’s movement, detain them, arrest and in worst case scenarios take a life.

The authority piece of policing is one of the things that some people respect and some people don’t. As an individual I get it both ways, right. I know what it’s like to have to try to assert authority. I also understand that there are people that should not be in this profession. And they’re not always weeded out. And quite frankly some people come into the profession good, and they turn into bad apples because this is one of those helping professions that I really don’t believe you come out of it the same as you go into it. It does change you one way or another.

I don’t want to live in a society where I’m worried about being in a “police state.” Because one moment I’m the one enforcing. But by this evening I could drive to another city, and I could be the recipient of overzealous, overbearing policing being delivered not by the police department necessarily but by an individual officer. So, I think we’re always going to wrestle with the fact that whether we have policing the way that we see it now, or it evolves into something that looks different, the reality is that through all cultures in all times there has to be some authority, some peacekeeping mechanism.

With that said, I think developing genuine relationship is the key to everything in life and in particular, in the profession of policing. We are the visible extension of the government, of authority. And you know not everybody has a really good experience with that authority. But the quality of our relationships with one another and the community can be key in how effective we are.

The Washtenaw 100: You mention the importance of relationship. What’s a way that someone in the public could get to know a law enforcement officer?

Greg Bazick: Throughout my career and especially in the years that I’ve been in an administrative role one of the things we try to balance is engagement with the community without putting ourselves in a position or creating an appearance that we’re playing favorites. These questions get talked about at national levels, too–International Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. We’re always looking for ethical standards and guidance.

What it comes down to is if there is a way to not just do something one time but actually plan to try to build that connection and to show that you don’t want something for it. I mean that’s something any person is skeptical of. It’s like, “Well, what do you want?”

And for the public, if you have a neighbor who is in law enforcement, well, just be friends. And if you want to connect with a department, call them and ask to be connected with the officer or deputy in charge of community engagement.

The Washtenaw 100: What are some of the challenges that law enforcement officers face?

Greg Bazick: As you know there’s change across society about reevaluating the police role in some circumstances. That’s an active question.

You add into that what we as a nation have been wrestling with in terms of dealing with the inequities in society that go back to slavery.  Our country is always going to wrestle with that. I tell my kids there’s not ever going to be a point in your life where that is not part of the discussion. Because it took hundreds of years to get where we’re at and you don’t undo that in a four-year election cycle.

And we’re bombarded 24/7 by things that happen across the nation. When we’ve had examples like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. These high-profile examples where an officer did something that in hindsight should have never happened that way. That’s what gets seared in people’s minds. And people start to think, “Watch out for the police…”.

Then the roles the officer is asked to play. For example, what’s the first thing that comes to mind if you need something in an emergency? Call 911. And that often means you’re calling the police. Well over time the police become viewed as experts in more things than they initially were trained for. And while I know the profession’s adaptive, that puts pressure on.

Schedule is another. Shift work where you change shifts every few months or work midnights on a regular basis. There’s a sacrifice that’s made for holidays depending on the role of the person in the organization. They may get called away unexpectedly for a tactical call.

And you know it’s not just the people in the field. This is a tough environment to try to be a leader in—trying to manage people in the profession is difficult because if there’s not an element of self-care, this is a profession that will eat you up. There’s actually a really good book, it’s called Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement: A Guide for Officers and Their Families by Kevin M. Gilmartin that addresses this.

As a leader I try to be firm but fair. I try to be personable. I really do try to take into account other people’s perspectives. Because I have my own emotional triggers, I have to self-regulate.

We’re in a society that for decades now has been litigious so I’m always aware of the fact that I could be sued, even internally you know, for a personnel matter. You’ve got labor contracts that you have to navigate. You have personnel rules within the municipality.

You can’t 100% apply them consistently all the time and just like when you go to a scene you know you’ve got the standard and the rules and the laws, but you also have discretion. So, when you leverage your discretion the next time you respond to something that seems similar, if somebody doesn’t feel that they get the same outcome, they’re going to say, “That’s unfair. Why did you treat them differently?”

As I’ve tried to grow in my own leadership, I come back to “It’s about developing relationships.” It’s about continuing to work on those relationships because relationships strain. I don’t care how good of friends you are in a marriage, for example. Everybody struggles at points in time to keep the relationship solid. And that’s where you can practice leadership. The leaders that I have seen who are most effective are the ones that are real. They’re self-reflective. And even if I don’t agree with the outcome in a situation, I know that they’re not giving a directive or they’re doing something out of spite or because they let the authority of the title speak. But it is a constant, always evolving element. It’s complex. It’s not as easy as reading the books about the 10 best leadership traits.

The Washtenaw 100: With the challenges law enforcement officers face, what would you say to their families?

Greg Bazick: Here’s what I would say is some insight into the psyche of police. I think we struggle showing our humanity and vulnerability. That’s understandable because in our job we’re always trying to analyze what’s really going on and be objective no matter who or what we’re facing.

There are two things that happened in my life to help me recognize that our humanity as officers is difficult for us to show, perhaps for fear of exploitation, but we need to share it.

Greg Odell was a good friend of mine. He served in the Ann Arbor police force for 20 years and went to EMU as head of security and Chief of Police then he went to be U of M’s Chief. Unbeknownst to any of us, he was suffering from depression, and it hadn’t been diagnosed. Greg committed suicide two days before Christmas in 2011. And it was a wake-up call for me because it became clear that for a person who had everything outwardly there was still something inside that wasn’t working.

That’s helped me to understand that in a lot of situations, work and non-work related, “what you see isn’t always what you get.” So, self-care and that kind of stuff is getting better but it’s still something that every person in service needs to pay attention to.

What I’ve tried to develop with my kids is the perspective that “I just have more chronological time and experience in life than you do but in the end we’re exactly the same.” So, as they’re now adults, they’re more comfortable saying to me, “Hey, I’m just concerned about you because you seem to be overwhelmed.” Checking in with the family is important.

The other thing was in 2018, at 49, I was diagnosed unexpectedly with advanced stage colon cancer. I’m happy to report after surgery and chemo I’m 3 1/2 years out of treatment and everything looks good. But my point in bringing that up is simply that that was one of those moments in life where I got a real good dose of a reality check about just how quickly life can change in a moment. So as far as thinking about what I do from here, in whatever I do, I really just want to make things better—even if it’s just a little bit.

The Washtenaw 100: What message would you want to communicate to the communities you’ve served?

Greg Bazick: So, my message to the community is that we’re here as partners, peers. At the end of the day the uniform comes off and each one of us is a citizen. (Even though mentally we might always kind of have this bobblehead where we’re kind of checking things out because we get conditioned to it.)

I would just want them to know that their police departments are continually evolving and adapting to changes in the law and their community. And, yes, there are things that need to change. And, yes, there have been issues with equity and fairness. And, yes, I’m not afraid to do a critical deep dive into the data of what we do day-to-day and start to pick it apart so we can improve.

But, also, yes, these same communities can be proud of those who serve in law enforcement and for what they do every day on behalf of the public—in helping people and keeping them safe where they live and work each day.