I have talked to Commanders and trainers who are proud of the fact they run a ‘stress academy’. They are proud of the fact they are hard on recruits so they can ‘weed out’ the ones who do not belong in the profession, the ones who do not have ‘it’. Interestingly enough most cannot describe ‘it’ in measurable objectives. They are proud of their high attrition rates.
The Stress Academy mentality is this:
If you put people under constant stress by screaming at them, yelling at them, and punishing them with physical activity you will turn them into outstanding police officers. As a result they are in recruits faces all day every day with the mistake belief this will somehow miraculously turn these people into warriors.
The reality is you are likely to have three types of people graduate from these academies.
- Those who realize it is a game and will play the game for the length of the academy then move on when they graduate. These people will likely be good officers.
- The bullies. These people believe the message is that once you are in a position of power, like the academy staff, you can scream, yell, swear, belittle, embarrass and generally treat people like shit. While some of these people may be some hard charging, high stat cops they are also going to generate more than their share of citizens complaints over attitude and language. This will frustrate the bosses and the trainers will claim they are not responsible and adamantly claim ‘we do not train them to do that’. Yes you do. If you treat them that way I do not care how many hours of Verbal Judo or tactical communications training you give them the behavior you model is making the greatest impression. Years later when these officers become trainers they will seek to carry on the tradition. After all, look how good they turned out.
- Non aggressive, subservient cops. These are the officers that allow subjects to treat them like shit. Trainers go crazy when they watch the videos of these officers interacting with aggressive subjects and again claim “that is not how we trained them”. Yes it is. For the entire academy they had to stand there while you screamed at them, embarrassed them, belittled them and punished them. On the street they are simply doing what you trained them to do.
I believe there are a number of reasons people buy into the stress academy mentality:
- Unintended consequences of selective memory from military basic training. I have talked to a number of military veterans who remember two things about boot camp. 1- being treated like shit. 2- coming out of the experience a stud. As a result they think 1 always leads to 2. Unfortunately they we not aware of the art and the science the drill instructors in boot camp employed to get the desired results. The other critical lesson from this is law enforcement is not the military and visa versa. We have different missions and different demographics in our training so we require different training philosophies.
- Trainers who justify this training methodology by saying “That is the way it was when I went through training and look how good I turned out.” First of all, get over yourself. Secondly it likely was not as bad as you remember it. We tend to exaggerate these things in our minds.
- People watch too many ‘boot camp’ movies and idolize the hard ass drill instuctor who is always yelling and screaming at the new recruits and by the end of the movie turns them into one of the greatest fighting forces on the face of the earth.
- People have heard repeatedly about the importance of stress inoculation and have locked onto the word stress. They mistakenly believe stress is the key to high performance training. Stress is not the key, but that is a whole other article.
I am not suggesting these are evil people. I believe it is simply unintended consequences of well intentioned training.
I am an advocate of high standards. I am an advocate of challenging people and making them work hard. I am also an advocate of treating people like professionals. I am an advocate of rewarding people when they success.
If you had the choice between working in the most stressful area of your agency where you knew you were going to continually get screamed at and could never do anything right, and working in an areas where the commander and supervisors had high standards, would demand your best effort but treated you like a professional and rewarded you when you were successful which area woukld you choose to work in?