Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Moral Immperitive of Survival

Some voice told me not to step across the threshold. At least I had an escape route as the drunken man waved his brand new — and very large — hunting knife in a challenge to me. Killing a man in his own home on his birthday would make for bad press, but I kept pressure on the trigger and watched the imaginary line I had drawn on the floor which would mark the man’s last breath. I was at peace with my decision even before fate intervened and the man lived. I could be in church the next morning with a clear conscience either way. Most religions, certainly true of mine, are purposed to have men live peaceably and yet they have a place of honor for warriors. In the natural order of things in a fallen world protectors are divinely ordained to exist as an agent of good. They are not commissioned to heal and spread glee. They are not armed with poetry and pillows. God knows we kill and He is OK with it. While this article deals with ethics from a Christian perspective, with rare exceptions most philosophies, moral systems, and theologies agree on this concept. Here is why, in my view, Biblical morality allows taking the life of another: 1.) The law of Moses (the Ten Commandments) forbids murder. This is not a prohibition against the killing of war, nor of self-defense, nor of administration of justice. Historical context and word study make this clear to most theologians. 2.) The biblical mandate for forgiveness and turning the other cheek is for personal morality. When we act on behalf of others, we have no moral authority to forgive on their behalf, to allow evil for the sake of tolerance, or to turn the cheek of anyone but ourselves. My badge represents all citizens. My sword and my body are in their service. To allow harm to me is to allow harm to them. To do them the most honor and highest service I must survive to continue the work. When I defend myself I defend thousands. 3.) Jesus was always kind to soldiers, even those who carried out his execution. The Apostle Paul, primary theologian for the young Christian religion is most likely author of the New Testament book of Romans chapter 13:1, states: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Certainly there are authorities who abuse their powers, just as there are parents - ordained by God to be caregivers of their children - who abuse their role. But the point is that when a person is acting in this God-ordained role appropriately, he or she is doing a noble duty in line with a legitimate earthly system of preserving order. 4.) Biblical accounts reveal the scars of battle on the minds of men. King David was called a man after God’s own heart, yet his legacy was soldiering. He was a righteous warrior with some human failings. David mourned only for the deaths he caused by his own scheming to cover up a scandal, and for his rebellious son. We are not told if he grieved for the tens of thousands who died at his hand in battle. The Apostle Paul personally executed believers until he, too, became one. Noah closed the door of the Ark against his prior tormentors left to drown when the floods came and they decided Noah wasn’t crazy after all. Conclusion My point is that even though death was a common theme in scripture there is no specific biblical prescription for handling death that comes from our own hands in terms of our emotional, mental, and spiritual state. There may be remorse, anger, guilt, glee, or a vacant place where feelings are expected to be. All of those reactions are normal and morally acceptable. They will be refined and worked out over time. Reactions to killing someone don’t have to be fully formed and resolved before the smoke of the gun clears, before the administrative leave is over, or before the counselor or chaplain visits are done. We may sense a global sadness about the loss of one’s potential for good, but being thankful that the other guy is dead and you’re still alive is not morally repugnant. Because the killing of one human by another is unthinkable to most citizens — and many officers — a police officer who kills has thrust upon them the collective anxieties of the whole social order. No way of feeling or thinking about the killing is going to please everyone. You feel what you feel. You did what you had to do. Take a deep breath and feel your pulse. If you survived, then you did the right thing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stop Saving Good Tactics for "The Big One"

suspect that everybody has something in a drawer or shelf that we just can’t bear to part with and yet never seem to use. If you haven’t yet seen A&E network’s popular show “Hoarders” — about compulsives who can’t throw anything away — you might still be able to relate to our innate fear of getting rid of something we might need someday. Too many patrol officers and supervisors have the same attitude about some aspects of police work. We keep some tactics on the shelf, ready to pull out only for what my old FTO referred to as the “Big Bust Club” (a moniker he gave up after our first female officer joined the force). The implication was that some aspects of policing belonged only to the SWAT team, or the detectives, or when we had a big felony bust. Here are a few examples (please add to the list) of tactics we keep on the shelf but that we should use routinely on everyday calls. Intel If knowledge is power, why not get as much power over a situation as possible? Before contacting a suspect can we find out more about him or her? Do we have time to talk to a neighbor, find out something about his friends, car, hobbies, habits? There is nothing more disarming to suspects than when they realize you know something about them that they didn’t expect you to know. Taking a few moments to talk to sources about the layout of a suspect’s house or if there are dogs or kids present can be a life saver. Gathering intelligence information should be as routine for the patrol officer as it is for the SWAT team preparing for a raid. Staging I remember being in a hotel attending a terrorism response conference when the fire alarm went off. Two local police officers responded and parked facing each other under the entrance canopy. The officers were exposed as they got out of their cars, impeded the egress of guests evacuating the hotel, and blocked a critical access for the responding fire and ambulance units. The officers were thinking response time, not operational management. If the call had been of a terrorist or active shooter in progress the response might have been radically different. The reality is the officers should have responded as if the call was an unknown trouble call — because aren’t all calls an unknown trouble? First responders should be conditioned to think about how their initial deployment will affect other responding units, as well as their own safety, in approaching every call. Debrief We learn by experience, and we learn from our experiences much more deeply and permanently by reflecting on them. Supervisors and fellow officers should take the opportunity to examine lessons learned from all kinds of call responses, not just the hostage situations and tactical team operations. I’m not talking about nit-picking every call but we can learn from every event. A high level of professional competence comes only from repetition of experiential learning (i.e. practice). If we can create learning opportunities every day, from both success and failure, we might avoid the high price of mistakes later. Evidence Collection Evidence, including physical, circumstantial, and testimonial, is often left to the investigators or shrugged off as not worth it in small cases. If we practice taking evidence in bicycle thefts and shoplifting cases several benefits can accrue. Victims will appreciate your effort. A happy customer may be the next willing witness or jury member for your future cases. Increasing solve rates on minor crimes is associated with solving more serious crimes. Practicing solid investigative skills on small cases is directly transferable to felony crime solving skills. Too often, supervisors will rush patrol officers, discourage tying up patrol time with investigations, and giving the impression that writing reports is the end product of police work rather than solving crimes and developing skills. Let's Get Started I remember visiting a friend as a teenager whose house was like a museum. There was white carpet we couldn’t walk on, antique chairs we couldn’t sit on, and fine China in a cabinet being saved for a special occasion that never seemed to come. What skills and tactics are you leaving on the shelf? Take one down, dust it off, and put it to use!

Staying Sane by Talking to Yourself

It’s four in the morning and I’m on call. The ringtone on my cell for dispatch makes me start trying to remember where my clothes are — I know I’m going out in fifteen below zero weather to take a report. “An opportunity to serve,” I mutter to myself. An opportunity to serve. That’s my manta for call-outs. By the time I’m on scene, I’ve usually said it a dozen times. It makes me remember what my purpose is, and to focus on the citizen customer who doesn’t need to know what an inconvenience he is to me. Although I’m good at recognizing the signs of stress, sometimes it takes a few minutes to realize that my shoulder muscles are tight or that I’m sighing a lot or that I’m concentrating on trivial, easily solved tasks instead of the elephant in the room. When I finally become self-aware I find that a focusing thought for the moment can restore my perspective. Rather than cursing or shouting a meaningless phrase like “SERENITY NOW!” I use a positive phrase containing some solid truth helps me get back on track. When my father, who rarely cursed, found his thumb under a hammer and was tempted to take the Lord’s name in vain to get his emotions and his pain under control, I would hear him say “God..... bless America!” In times of difficulty I remember a Bible verse or thought, like “In all things give thanks,” or “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives.” I’ve also made up my own sayings such as: “What doesn’t kill you still makes you flinch at loud noises,” to remind me that character building has its cost. Visual pictures can also help to reassemble one’s sanity on stressful days. I like the image of a tent being blown in the wind. Mentally I go to each corner of the tent, pounding the stakes into more solid ground. It reminds me to take care of the foundational things instead of chasing the wind. When writing my book Is the Line Ready: A policeman’s perspective on worldly wisdom, I assembled a year’s worth of great sayings to stay motivated and grounded. There are many such books as well as services that can email a quote a day or an inspirational thought or verse. Rather than engaging in verbal or mental rants and negative self-talk, try using guiding words, thoughts, and images. Doing so can be a bridge to healthy thinking.