Friday, July 28, 2017

Unflattering Imitation

Maybe we as officers have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals. Yes, I'm certain that I read that somewhere, once. Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson), A Few Good Men, 1992.

 Nothing to write about? Ha!

I haven't done more than post a couple of oldies in the past few weeks. I suppose there is a good reason. Several, in fact. Maybe I can get into a rhythm if I write about why I haven't been writing.

Work. Getting an academy class underway requires a degree of effort I would not have anticipated prior to my assignment into Training. As our organization has accelerated hiring, we've doubled the number of recruits...

No. Writing about stress is stressful.

Nothing about the real world is appealing, right now. Since National Review, or Vox or any of the alphabet big hitters don't pay me to write, I'm under no obligation to direct my attention to what is going on in DC. Sure, I'm a citizen. I should take a keen interest in the goings on of government because an informed opinion and blah, blah blah. Those people are weird. They are often stupid. Good people enter the Beltway and their brains - and their hearts - turn to mush. Writing about them for free seems like an exercise in futility.

Law enforcement has had some recent dark days. We've seen the deaths of several officers recently. But, nothing is as inexplicable (presently, anyway) as the shooting in Minnesota that took the life of a young woman. She had called police to report a suspicious incident. One of the officers who responded shot her. The reason has yet to be announced, other than a sort of general "He felt threatened."

I spent the better part of a bike ride framing a blog about that shooting. I reject, out of hand, the possibility that he shot her "for no reason." There is always a reason. Sometimes, it takes a while for the investigation to run its course. Occasionally, the underlying cause is not easy to understand.

About the time I was going to write about this officer's training, its potential good-faith flaws and the possible solutions, two things happened. One was the inevitable, foreseeable and totally predictable politicization of the tragedy. There isn't really a good reason to indulge any of that.

LinkedIn provided the actual reason I hesitated (until now). Someone posted an essay from an "Internationally-recognized expert on police training." I read it. That was a mistake.

The author's premise was that training (especially the lack thereof) could not be the culprit. He, an internationally-recognized expert on police training, had personally reviewed the curriculum of the academy the officer had probably attended. It was standard issue, as basic training goes and was mighty fine. There were no deficiencies he could detect, inasmuch as he was an internationally-recognized expert on police training and would be able to ferret out faults and flaws immediately.

I went to our pantry and fished out a bottle of tequila. The mere act of combining a glass of ice, some orange liqueur, lime juice and the result of distilling Baja Mexico's blue agave plants provided a chance to calm down. Here's to you, internationally-recognized expert on police training.

Training people to be police officers is a series of trade offs. The first one (a gifted friend turned me on to this) is the misappropriation of the word "training." I once made the mistake of using the T-word to describe a classroom lecture. "We were informed," he snarled. "It isn't training until the information is applied in a scenario, the officer's actions are critiqued, and the exercise is repeated successfully."

This distinction is often lost in the translation. Minimum training requirements at the academy level are often defined by hours delivered, tests passed and minimums attained. Had the young officer with two years' experience (did that include his basic training time?), partnered with a guy fresh out of the Academy, ever practice how to deal with threats while seated in his police car? If so, what was that like? How closely did it replicate reality? Was there a decisional shooting component - that is, was he trained (not just taught) how to distinguish between situations that are initially perceived as threats and ones that are lethal?

Good training is expensive, time-consuming and tough. Great training is rare and offered only to a select few, because it is prohibitively costly and takes officers away from their typical duties for long periods of time. So, departments do the best they can with the limitations facing them. 

Most purposefully-trained, genuinely decent officers (photos of the involved officer create a first impression that he is one) who are given a moment to reflect will ultimately solve the puzzles street situations present. But,  sometimes there is no time to ponder options. Instantaneous decisions are made, well or badly, based on how the mind has been trained to react. Not told, trained.

Was the young officer trained to handle what happened that fateful night? The internationally recognized expert says yes.

I am a mere simple country boy trying to make my way in this world. So I have to admit I haven't the slightest idea how the young man had been told, taught or trained. I do know one thing. Most professional police trainers will read the ultimate report multiple times, to make sure we are fulfilling our obligations to train the men and women charged with protecting our communities. We owe them, and the people they serve, nothing less.

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