Saturday, September 28, 2013

I’ll Be More Professional If You’ll Tell Me What it Means

You probably have a policy that requires that you act professionally at all times. Looking at the dictionary definition of “profession” we see that it is an occupation requiring rigorous training and formal qualification. Some say it’s simply a contrast to an amateur. None of that helps the officer who is being told to “be more professional”.

So what does it mean for an officer to act professionally?

A professional holds knowledge that is not known by the general public. They are stewards of that knowledge in humility. They don’t disparage others for not knowing what they know. Professionals don’t shake their heads that the secrets of the law and human behavior are still a mystery to the public we serve. They calmly help educate and explain to the lay person things beyond the average person’s grasp.

A profession engenders trust. Our fellow citizens will necessarily judge us by the way we look, walk, speak, and conduct ourselves.  It isn’t always fair that they do so, but that’s the way humans work. Their ideal template of a professional peace officer is one who is fit, stands tall regardless of their stature, and gives them due attention.

Being a professional sometimes creates distance from others. Blood pressure goes up in the doctor’s office, people stumble over their words talking to a professor of English, and some try to show how much they know by telling about their experience or using our jargon. A professional puts others at ease, and does not compete for the title of who is the smartest person in the room.

A professional engenders confidence that everything is under control. Of all the skills they possess, the skill of appearing to know what’s going on is paramount. Not fearless, but courageous; not pondering, but thoughtful; not cocky, but confident.  Others look to the police officer in times of chaos and we must not fail them in those moments.  A professional is always a leader, even at the lowest rank in the organization.

A professional is a person that others aspire to be. They are a model of what one can accomplish with dedication, hard work, and mental fortitude. They are not perfect, but make perfection a goal in their craft, their conduct, and their relationships. For some, being a role model is thrust upon them. For others, it is happenstance. For the police officer, it is an occupational imperative.

A professional does excellent work all the time. We don’t want a physician taking shortcuts, a pharmacist doing guesswork, or a lawyer hoping nobody notices what she left out the contract. A professional meets the standards every time, exceeds the standards frequently, and takes pride in her work.

A professional knows the demands of their occupation well enough to know their own weaknesses and strengths. They know when to seek help and when to help others. They are self-aware and, though driven, do not ignore their need for balance in their lives in order to be at their best.

A professional knows that very few others know what it feels like to do the kind of work they do. They know that critics are many. They know that mistakes can cost in lives and lawsuits. Professionals are typically rewarded well by the satisfaction of their high calling, their respect in the community, and excellent compensation. In the law officer’s case it may be only one of those and seldom all of them.

A professional never stops learning. He or she is open to new methods and new knowledge. They learn from their colleagues and share information. They take self-improvement as a discipline and don’t rely on being coerced to attend training, even if it is a review of the most basic skills.

Only one person can look directly in a mirror and meet their own eyes. The professional may see fatigue and frustration in those eyes, but takes comfort in knowing that the people who depended on him that day saw a true professional at work.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hardwired for Faith

Hardwired for Faith

Many police trainers point to faith as essential to police work. That pronouncement usually comes with some statement that it doesn't matter what you believe in, just believe in something.

The majority of cops will nod in agreement, but it doesn't make everyone happy. People who are confident in their own religious faith often find that kind of statement disheartening because their faith teaches them that there is Truth that transcends the general concept of "faith in something, no matter what". Those who have no belief in a benevolent supernatural power, whether that be an outright hostility to the thought, a benign indifference, or an active disbelief, are troubled at the accusation that they are less of a cop. As it turns out, there are some atheists in foxholes.

From my perspective as an evangelical Christian, I see efficacy in any of the following perspectives on faith: faith in one's self, faith in an ideal potential, faith expressed in iconography, faith in a religious system, and faith in a personal God. I contend that everyone in law enforcement does, indeed, rely on one or more of these.

For the purpose of this article, I base my argument on science, not theology. Research on the mind-body connection (as if they were ever disconnected in the first place) yields some interesting findings. One is that perception affects behavior. Expectations are self-fulfilling, not because of some karmic influence, but because it engages brain chemistry as well as behavior templates that are already established from life experience.

Thinking about a previous success improves job interviews. Standing tall increases perceptions of authority attributed to you by others. Clenching a pencil in the mouth, thus forcing the "smile" muscles to work, actually creates changes reflected in optimistic behavior of research subjects.

Other recent research shows actual changes in the brain - not merely ephemeral thoughts - under the influence of meditation. And we all know the calming effect of combat breathing that results in both physiology and emotion. We also accept that positive self-talk affects our behavior.

Sociological studies show marked benefits in health, success, and longevity among those with a religious practice and supportive faith groups. Similar benefits accrue from any positive group affiliation.

My non-religious colleagues find that a locus of control centered on their own competence, drive, and purpose is quite powerful and sufficient to sustain them in their profession. Those who have a religion other than one based on Judeo-Christian tradition gain strength from their practices as well. Even mere superstitions can sustain us for a time. That is not incompatible with the beliefs of my evangelical Christian colleagues who would agree with me that God offers common grace to all, blesses the efforts of the peace officer for the common good, and has divinely designed a magnificent brain to operate within human free will. God, as we understand Him, does not deny His benefits beyond the fold.

Whether what you believe brings you ultimate, transcendent peace or fits you for heaven is quite another discussion (one I'd be happy to have with you). As to the question of whether faith in SOMETHING is essential, the science of the matter says we're wired for it. And that is something we can all believe.

Very excited! My first juvenile fiction book is now available at !  Soon available on Kindle!

Sorry I haven' t posted for a while. Catch my past Police One articles at