“It is time to get back to basics: to self-discipline and respect for the law, to consideration for others, to accepting responsibility for yourself and your family, and not shuffling it off on the state.”
John Major, Former British Prime Minister
In this quote John Major talks about accepting responsibility and not shuffling it off on the state. Today I want to talk about accepting responsibility and not shuffling it off onto the department or onto you the trainer, or the training you provide.
What I am referring to is the problem facing law enforcement agencies across North America. The problem is officers who do not have the courage to accept responsibility for their words and their actions. I am talking about officers who screw up in the field and when called to task they blame their training, or they use ‘officer safety’ as an excuse for inappropriate behaviour.
Being a law enforcement professional is a tough job. The majority of officers act appropriately, professionally and lawfully the majority of the time. Law enforcement professionals however, are human. As humans we make mistakes. We say things we later regret and we do things we wish we had not done. I get that. I have been there and done that. In my 25 year career I have said and done my share of stupid things.
Human beings are also prone to make excuses and try to justify their actions. Too often this means pointing the finger of blame at others. You see this behavior in your children. You experience this behavior every time you investigate a traffic collision or stop someone for a traffic violation. It is always someone else’s fault. The other person must have been speeding, the speed limit is not well signed, etc.
Law enforcement officers in the field get tired of hearing those excuses from citizens just as supervisors and administrators get tired of hearing the excuses from officers. When the excuses are continually pointed at training or ‘officer safety’ is used as a justification for everything an officer does then training gets a bad name. Bosses get tired of hearing about officer safety, the winning mind and the warrior spirit. Trainers subsequently take the brunt of the blame and are told they cannot use the word warrior in their training. You, the trainers, are accused of being overly aggressive in your training and fear mongering. You get tired of those phone calls asking “What they hell are you teaching our officers?”
Sometimes the officer acted in a reasonable manner and in fact did what they were trained to do and their is either a ‘perception’ issue or the officer did a poor job of articulation. The reality in other cases however, is the officer’s actions in no way resembled what they were trained to do. Their inappropriate or unprofessional actions or comments fly in the face of training on the warrior spirit.
Seth Godin addressed this issue in his business / marketing blog:
We either ignore your brand or we judge it, usually with too little information. And when we judge it, we judge it based on the actions of the loudest, meanest, most selfish member of your tribe.
When a zealot advocates violence, outsiders see all members of his tribe as advocates of violence.
When a doctor rips off Medicare, all doctors are seen as less trustworthy.
When a fundamentalist advocates destruction of outsiders, all members of that organization are seen as intolerant.
When a soldier commits freelance violence, all citizens of his nation are seen as violent.
When a car rental franchise rips off a customer, all outlets of the franchise suffer.
Seems obvious, no? I wonder, then, why loyal and earnest members of the tribe hesitate to discipline, ostracize or expel the negative outliers.
“You’re hurting us, this is wrong, we are expelling you.”
What do you stand for?
We must continually address this issue with our officers. They need to understand that true courage and the essence of the warrior spirit is the ability to admit when they made a mistake, explain what they have learned from the experience and accept the consequences for their actions. In most cases if they admit they made a mistake they will receive some form of minor discipline, get told not to do it again and move on wiser for the experience.
“The truth of the matter is, we always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”
As trainers we must find a way to remove this perceived conflict between what is being taught in officer safety and use of force training and the core values and mission of the agency. They should be, and in most cases are, in complete alignment. The issues creating this perception are many. Some possible steps to correct this issue include:
- Create a culture where every day is a training day.
- Continual training to ensure an understanding of the law.
- Continual training in all aspects of mental preparation and conditions.
- Continual training in effective communications.
- Continual training in use of force and officer safety.
- Ensure there is effective supervision in the field starting with leadership training for all frontline supervisors and filed training officers.
- Ensure there is leadership training at all levels of the organization.
- Create an environment focused on recognizing and reward good work. As Bill Westfall we need to create a culture where we are continually seeking to “Catch a cop doing something right.”
- Create a culture of accountability and responsibility at all levels of the organization.
- Create a flow of communications between the training staff and the executive levels of organizations to help eliminate misperceptions and misunderstandings.
I would love to hear your thoughts as to how to best address this issue within the law enforcement community.
Note: If I Knew Then 2: Warrior Reflections is now available at the www.warriorspiritbooks.com. The Release Special of $20.00 is only available until the end of April. The books will also be available at the ILEETA Conference next week.