Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cancel the Whaaaa-mbulance

Kid driving convertible, dropping off baseball player:
Kid: What's your rush, dollbody? What do you say we slip in the back seat, and make a man out of me?
Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis): What do you say I smack you around for a while?
Kid: Can't we do both?

A League of Their Own (1992)

I read an article today, about police work, its challenges, and the current lexicon that has us being "Guardians" instead of "Warriors." Let's set that aside for the moment. A consultant, a man I know and admire, is quoted at the end saying "It's a tough time to be a cop." I beg to differ.

It's a fabulous time to be a cop.

Law enforcement, as a whole, has never been as professional as we are in 2015. People we would have considered standard in 1979 (the year I was first hired) probably wouldn't be considered for employment now. I was a rarity - I had a college degree. At the academy where I work nearly all the newbies have at least a bachelors degree. Several have Master's degrees.

Officers are better trained before they ever set foot in a police car. I was turned loose to work solo after three weeks of field training - and it was six weeks later that I attended the police academy. At my second department, I began classroom instruction in late June and by Thanksgiving I had completed both the academic portion and field training. The recruits I serve started in mid-July, and will finish classes around Christmas. They will still have sixteen weeks of field training to endure. They will not be certified for solo duty until spring.

We draw from an impressive pool of people. Many of the inspiring young men and women have military experience. Some have seen combat. Several were college athletes. Some came from professions such as banking, teaching or business. Many have been supervisors. Police work attracts bright men and women from every walk of life - every one. They all arrive with the same goal - to serve.

Anyone can do a job that is easy. Being a law enforcement officer today is hard. But, to quote another line from A League of Their Own, it's the hard that makes it great. The men and women in uniform take a great deal of pride in doing their jobs well. And they do them exceptionally well. For every time someone in our profession stumbles, there are dozens more where cops faced grave danger ("is there another kind?") and resolved the situation without resorting to force, let alone deadly force. Training to deal with individuals having mental health issues isn't new - I've been CIT trained for nearly 15 years. Negotiating with armed individuals? Crisis negotiators are integral parts of SWAT, and have been for thirty years. Shoot at everyone who points a gun? I personally know of three times recently where officers took cover and started talking, including one where I was present. I ended up hiding behind a tree.

So what of this notion that we are guardians, not warriors? It is very much like any other aspect of law enforcement done right. What is the correct tool for the occasion? A bullhorn, a battering ram or a pat on the back? A smile? A frown? The officer giving the little kid money so he can buy a burger can be confronted soon after by an armed asshole, and need to summon everything he knows about surviving deadly force encounters.

Which happened in San Diego. In that case, the officer lost. He was murdered.

The "pendulum" has not swung in our favor as of late. Happens. Some good will come out of it - new ideas, better training, maybe some renewed emphasis on rewarding the really good work that often goes unnoticed. Good people will stick around, and, as always, ask:

"How can I help?"

In the meantime, no one I know of is summoning the whaaaa-mbulance.

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