Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Moral Imperative of Intentionality - a leadership lesson from the noxious weed world

In my part of the great American Southwest there’s a terrible weed called tribulus terrestris. Roughly translated it means “pointy weapon of the earth”. We call them goat heads because of their shape and pointy horns. These burrs are worse than their cactus neighbors because they hitch a ride on clothing and drop strategically inside the house in places most likely to be traversed by bare feet. I find it no coincidence that the devil himself is often symbolized by a goat’s head.

After spending a good bit of time wresting them from my yard and gravel drive I began to think about the ease with which they seem to exist. Unlike the cool green grass I try to nurture and grow, or the tiny tremulous tomato plants we fed and watered, the pernicious weeds just got haphazardly dropped in the worst soil on the property and settled in for a long season. I case there is a chance of missing the metaphor, weeds are the damaging attitudes and behaviors in an organization in contrast to a carefully crafted workplace culture.  Here are a few lessons that occurred to me as I stabbed at those wicked roots in the hot sun:

Weeds are lazy and lucky
The things that leaders want, such as loyalty, performance, congruence with the mission, are things that must be nurtured, cared for, and maintained. We can seek to hire people with these qualities but maintaining desired behavior and attitudes is a constant process of growth. Low morale and sloppy work are insidious and barely noticeable but take root in any crevice they find.

Weeds are selfish
Annoying burrs don’t like to work for a living. They take their nutrients from the good plants. The beautiful and helpful growth will be weakened by the weeds. Not only do the weeds need to be stopped, killed, or removed, but the healthy plants must be protected. Pulling weeds near roses can damage the rose bush unless it happens early and carefully

Weeds cause unseen damage
I often am blissfully unaware of the goat head in the driveway until I unwittingly carry a burr into the house where, days later, I discover it in the sole of my bare foot during a 2 a.m. trek to the kitchen. Suddenly my whole attention is directed not only to removing the thorn from my paw, but also planning a venture into the dark web to purchase a nuclear device to rid the planet of tribulus terrestris. But a temporary rage against the annoyance solves nothing. Neither does a brief nuclear attack on the immediate problem. Cultivation and care is the key.

What are the weeds in your agency?
To apply the lessons of weed control the first quest is to find out what the weeds are and where they are hiding. After that comes not only an effort at eradication, but a renewed effort at nurturing the plants that need to be healthy and useful for a healthy environment.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Just another beating?

“Shocking video shows black man being 'beaten, punched and kicked by six North Carolina police officers'” shouts the headline on the UK’s Daily Mail website and echoed by many media outlets. It makes me wonder if they were reporting on an appendectomy whether the headline would read “Woman drugged and stabbed by masked gang”.

While the media are fighting for credibility like never before, the explosive bias of headlines like these can’t be balanced by the occasional reporting of actual facts buried in their narrative. Like moths to a flame, the assumption that police action is not only wrong but outrageously and gratuitously violent, seems to be irresistible. So, just in case any reporters read something other than their own bylines, let me break this down for them.

Shocking implies something wild, unexpected, and deeply wrong. Stories have a beginning, and this is where the story turned shocking – when the man was contacted by police and began actively assaulting them. It was very likely a surprise to the officers, but not shocking. After all, most cops have repeatedly experienced attempts by other to hurt or kill them. That part wasn’t shocking at all.

One perspective, almost always edited for effect by newscasts, showing a small percentage of the action being reported. Unlike television fictional fight scenes, street encounters are not choreographed, are not staged to show the tension-building falls and punches, and are not played to take greatest advantage of camera angles. The scenes, to my career-long disappointment, are also absent the background theme music and sound effects. Video can be evidence of something, but it is rarely automatically proof of anything.

“shows black man”
Why this racist approach to reporting continues in the face of culturally sensitive political censors is a mystery. The suspect’s behavior is hardly an asterisk in these reports and should be the focus of the finding of fact. If race, ethnicity, or gender were equally significant in all citizen-police encounters then headlines reporting the murders of police officers would routinely label the officers or their attackers as white, black, Asian, latino, female, male, gay or transgender. Victim officers are just cops. The demographics of offenders resisting arrest are rarely noted unless reporters smell the opportunity to cry racism.

“beaten, punched, and kicked”
No reader could doubt the connotation of this inflammatory language. There is little room for the reality of the careful calculation and restraint in use of force exhibited by these officers. Baton strikes are designed to be less than lethal efforts to stop an attack by interfering with nerve and muscle function. Baton strikes are aimed at specific parts of the body, but can be ineffective or land on an unintended target area during an actively attacking person. A single strike may not be effective in the most ideal circumstances when the baton is needed, so multiple strikes or strikes at more than one area simultaneously by more than one officer in no way constitutes a “beating” in the common understanding of the word.
Similarly, the use of an officer’s hands and feet to disable an attacker and bring an end to the resistance is perfectly aligned with lawful use of force to effect an arrest. Any observer familiar with the range of compliance options available to police officers to avoid lethal force can see that from verbal commands to empty hand control to Taser to baton, the officers heroically avoided killing a man who seemed intent on violently ending their attempts to take him into custody.

“Six North Carolina officers”
The number of officers is a fact to be reported, but to imply that there was an unfair number of officers against a lone offender is to rewrite the manual on use of force. Whether these officers intentionally engaged in a swarm maneuver, the concept of having multiple officers to enable a more peaceful restraint of a violent offender was developed for the very purpose of reducing injuries to suspects.

While it may be natural to emotionally identify with the officers with the belief that they are angry and offended, the reality is that the officers were using skills for which they were trained, equipped, and authorized to use. The story begins with the suspect’s resistance and violent attacks on the officers. The officers are aware that if the offender escapes, it isn’t just a blow to their ego, it pushes this violent man into the public’s risk. They are also aware that with each officer carrying multiple items which, if seized by the suspect in his frantic grasps, could be used to kill or disable an officer or other innocent citizen, the sooner this episode is ended, the safer it is for everyone, including the suspect.

A fact based headline
So, fellow journalists, can we stick to objective reporting in headlines? How about “Officers work together to arrest violent offender”, then a subheading of “man attempts to punch and bite responding officers, resists Taser”.

Now, roll that video. 

All of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A brief history of Street Smart Force training

Hi, I’m Joel and I’d like to share the story of StreetSmartForce training.  

I can easily share my resume, but all that will tell you is that I’ve been very fortunate to know some of the best, most dedicated trainers and educators of our day in the criminal justice field. What I really want you to know is that I really care about America’s police officers. As I look back on my many years of service I am astounded by how I survived! 

You see, I started at a time and place where you got suited up and put on patrol with the possibility of attending an academy sometime in the future. In fact, I was part of the very first class in my home state that started after the mandatory training law went into effect, even though I was grandfathered and exempt. My academy was a whole 120 hours and I completed it in my eighth month of my career.  

Within two years I became a trainer, adding Field Training Officer and Supervisor to my experience. I obtained first responder chaplain certification before 9/11 and volunteered with the NYPD shortly after flight resumed. I also began writing for Calibre Press’ Street Survival Newsline, and still write an award-winning column for PoliceOne.com. 

With further education I began to teach college courses part time and eventually became a full-time police academy instructor before moving into my first chief of police role. My biggest incentive came after taking the reigns of a police department just months after an unresolved officer-involved shooting, just about the same time I was finishing my doctoral dissertation on community policing through the University of Missouri.  

Being directly in charge of an OIS was a first for me, so I hit the research heavily. What I though I knew about high stress violent encounters. That was over ten years ago and led to my registration with the State of Colorado as a psychotherapist, and to my writing three of my books – Forward I Go – a collection of inspirational readings to encourage police officer, The Badge and the Brain – the central tenants of my training centered on human performance under stress, and Fifteen Ways to Calm Your Mind without driving yourself crazy – a guide for anyone, but especially first responders, for dealing in a practical way with anxiety and mental fitness. 

Although I can train your officers or employees on virtually any topic, since the focus of law enforcement right now is the two-fold concerns of use of force and mental health, that is where my current emphasis is. Contact me soon if you have any questions or issue I can help you with – personal or professional, or to get a sample of my training material and quotes on costs – which I’m sure you’ll find quite reasonable and competitive. It will be a joy to engage with you, so call, email, or message me soon!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Moral Imperative of Coercion and Compliance

 The consent of the governed establishes authority in our constitutional republic. Our representatives enact laws with the intent that most citizens will comply, but with penalties attached if they don’t. The only way for those penalties to be meaningful and ensure the safety and equality of law-abiding citizens is to have a mechanism for activating those penalties provided under the law.
That mechanism is force. It is the legitimate police power of government.

 Our history as a nation has included unjust and immoral laws. These laws have often been amended or eliminated by democratic action. Some have been changed through resistance and rebellion. Some remain to be aligned with the best of our natures. But the law requires obedience except in the most extraordinary circumstances. 

When police officers refer to the thin blue line, they mean that element of government that is empowered to bring those who break the laws of the land into accountability to their fellow citizens. This accountability is through a carefully crafted system that, though not flawless, faces the accused with a judgement by his or her peers in a court of law. Without these armed government agents, the system collapses, and those who would happily and peaceably obey the laws would be forced to fend for themselves at the mercy of the violent.

As a nation whose history includes revolution and civil disobedience for a higher moral calling of greater freedom and justice, we hold a culturally sacred place for thoughtful resistance. Historians of the future, and astute contemporary observers, will find the current culture of resistance to law enforcement is based on a tragically misplaced, destructive, delusional belief.

In the study of human behavior, especially collective and “viral” behavior, it is observed that while criminal behavior often derives from the offender’s ability to disregard social norms by some internal justification. When that criminal behavior gets defined by others with social influence and leadership as acceptable or at least justifiable, and in some cases admirable, the stage is set for broader social permission, or license, for others to emulate the once unacceptable behavior.

The narrative of rampant, enculturated unlawful behavior by law enforcement has been expressly and tacitly endorsed by an increasing number of persons of influence. These influencers, from President Obama to other elected officials, sports and Hollywood personalities, and social activists, have embedded in a layer of national consciousness the pernicious idea that the police in the United States have no moral authority to enforce the law. 

The results of this narrative is increased crime and violence against law enforcement officers by offenders, and injustice to officers lawfully engaged in their sworn duties who face punishment in the courts and in their agencies. At a time when study after study endorses the reality of the overwhelmingly appropriate and courageous actions of officers in the millions of daily transactions with the citizenry, the misguided endorsement of mistrust of the institution of policing in this country has veered from legitimate accountability into a national travesty.

The solution is for the voices of sanity to become louder than the increasingly irrational voices of encouraging lawlessness. The majority of Americans overwhelmingly respect and rely on their police. Those voices must be encouraged and  heard. Facts must become the substance of the narrative about racism, use of force, and police accountability. Lawmakers, clergy, journalists, and even members of our own profession must become better informed both on the facts, and on the reality of coercion as a legitimate democratic function of government, and compliance as the duty of its citizens. 

There are few people in a position to lead this education effort. If police officers, trainers, and leaders don’t take that responsibility, no one else will.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

From the archives: Survival mindset: Fake it 'til you make it?

First appeared in PoliceOne.com September of 2012
What I’m about to say may burst your bubble and make you so ticked off you can’t even finish the article through your angry eyes. I’m going to meddle with our collective and perhaps necessary cultural mythology. I’ll be branded a heretic to the religion of officer survival because I’m going to rail against cheap thinking that replaces reality in the minds of many of our police officers today. And I’ll even throw in a Bible verse to make the atheists and agnostics think I’m narrow minded and exclusive. All ready on the firing line?
The survival mindset is overrated.
Hold your fire. Maybe what I really mean is that survival mindset is misunderstood, misapplied, and misdirected.
Let’s do a little thinking about what sometimes passes for a survival mindset.
Are you overweight, out of shape, and full of junk food? Then you don’t have a survival mindset, you have a good luck charm. Your positive attitude isn’t going to push more oxygen through that extra few miles of blood vessels you’ve got weaving through your fat cells. If you had a genuine survival mindset you’d go for a walk every once in a while and stop popping buttons off your shirt.
Is your personal life a mess? Then you don’t have a survival mindset, you have paranoia and control issues. Your so-called will to survive is limited to not getting killed on any given day. A genuine survival mindset comes with a lot of reality checks and life balance.
“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he,” says Proverbs 23:7.
How can you be a survivor in one area of your life and not all? Real confidence applies to every facet of your life, not just your swagger in uniform.
Are you as ready to sacrifice your life for a heroic cause as you are to survive combat? If not, then you have a strong sense of self-preservation, not a survival mindset. If you are quick to criticize officers who have died in the line of duty by spouting off that they just didn’t have a survival mindset that’s usually a sign that you’re whistling in the dark in denial about the realities of dynamic lethal encounters that you just can’t process. A deep survival mindset accepts death as a reality that does not deter what you have to do.
Do you approach your duties casually because you can handle anything that comes up? Overconfidence is not a survival mindset. It’s just cocky and stupid. Are you afraid of what other officers will think if you ask for a back-up? Do you rush in to prove you’re not afraid of anything? That’s posturing for your buddies, not solid police work.
Do you ignore advice of senior officers or cops from other agencies because you think you have the best, newest training? The survival mindset wastes no information. It seeks out small nuggets and puts together bits and pieces from every person, every trainer, every offender, and even people you don’t like. The officer who thinks they have arrived at their peak of knowledge and proficiency is not survival minded, but small minded. The true warrior is a humble learner.
Do you make light of death, tragedy, sorrow, and see emotion as a weakness? Then you’ve got a light-weight coping skill, not a tough survival mindset. Survival deals with reality and processes in a slow, mature way. Survival does mean suppressing your emotions appropriately — not ignoring them in yourself or others.
I recognize that I haven’t given a good definition of what a survival mindset is — just a few examples of what it isn’t. My goal is to start a discussion about whether we are really training today’s officers in that attitude, or merely brainwashing them to think that mindset trumps discipline and training.
It does not.
Bravado, posturing, boasting, pretending, and ignoring our fears are useful tools. Sometimes we do have to fake it until we make it. But as a lifestyle, they are poor substitutes for a survival mindset that will rise to any occasion, yields to learning, and balances the will to live with the will to live well, and with the courage to die. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

From the archives: 7 habits of unsuccessful departments

This originally appeared on PoliceOne.com October 2010
Last week, Chuck Remsberg did an article — 7 habits of successful departments — that offered some excellent suggestions and best practices.  Unfortunately, we sometimes see police leaders who end up doing the exact opposite of what one may call a best practice.  So it seems fitting that we follow up with an article on unsuccessful departments. Without further delay — but with a respectful nod to Stephen Covey — here are seven characteristics of weak police agencies.
1. Serving the Wrong Customer
The first customer of a police leader is the officer in the patrol car. If officers treated citizens the way some supervisors treat officers there would be complaints rolling in on a daily basis. Compassion, communication, respect within a department creates the same attitudes on the street. If you want cops who care about the citizens you need leaders who care for their cops.
2. Pretending to do Community Policing
Chiefs are forced to claim they are doing community policing and will attach that label to the slenderest thread of something that resembles it. Genuine community policing involves bringing diverse interests into a discussion of community problems. Line level officers are critical to the success of collaborative efforts and must be empowered with discretion and resources.

3. Assuming Integrity
Public relations, crime prevention, and community meetings don’t amount to community policing but often are substituted for the hard work of communicating and collaborating.
Some departments over-assume police delinquency and have no trust in the professionalism of their officers. At the equally distressing opposite end of that spectrum is a department with no accountability and no healthy policy in place to maintain integrity.
Audits and reviews of all aspects of policing that are subject to discretion and abuse should be a part of operational structure. This includes evidence, petty cash, working with youth, drug enforcement, traffic enforcement, and attendance patterns. Monitoring officer conduct maintains discipline and serves as an early warning system for officers who need guidance. It also indentifies, rewards, and encourages integrity.
4. Exotic Training
The default training strategy of ineffective police departments is “scheduling by brochure” — the lack of a focused set of training objectives in favor of catching training as it happens along. While it’s good to offer specialty training to keep officers interested and motivated, sending an officer to underwater evidence recovery school makes little sense when basic competencies remain un-mastered. Underperforming police agencies fail to establish a cohesive and relevant training plan.
5. Bootstrap Counseling
Agencies that do not attend to the psychological health of their officers will suffer loss of productivity, shortened officer careers, and higher levels of sick leave and injury. Ignoring the traumatic events — or defining traumatic events as “just part of the job” — creates a sense of hopelessness in officers that can lead to a slow erosion of their effectiveness. Regular supportive and preventive services should be as important as any other department operational consideration.
6. Line-led Culture
Leadership requires the establishment and maintenance of culture and tradition. Departments that fail to create a sense of identity, mission, and purpose from its leaders will create their own out of the basic human need for identity and belonging. Values of hardened and cynical officers can dominate an agency if not countered by positive and rich symbols, ceremonies, language, and traditions established by high-performing leaders.
7. Unshared Leadership
Leaders who fail to understand that they are not always the smartest person in the room fail to cultivate the intellect and influence of their officers and staff. Ideas must be genuinely welcomed, available for consideration, and rewarded. Leaders may not want to share power, but it is essential that they share influence. Not every idea is a good one, but not every good idea comes from the command staff. Underperforming law enforcement agencies are almost always governed by fear of engagement with managers.
Effective policing is accomplished through an artful blend of strong leadership and discipline, balanced by trust and support of those who do the hard work on the streets. Mutual respect and communication will strengthen the agency and multiply its effectiveness in serving the community.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Listening to your brain: 5 ways to deal with job stress

From the archives: This first appeared in PoliceOne.com December 2009
The problem with talking to cops about stress is that there’s a little too much touchy-feely going on in some of those discussions. So let’s talk biology. Our brain soup is not a hot tub with little bubbles of hearts and balloons percolating around just waiting to be nurtured. It’s a complicated but primitive mess of chemistry and tissue. Much of what we interpret and label as “feelings” are actually biological processes over which we may have limited control.
No tough cop wants to think they have lost control of their feelings. I sure don’t want to think that. My job and identity are defined by self-control. I need it, I like it, I’m proud of it, and I’m not giving it up. But if I break a leg and it hurts and makes me limp, that has nothing to do with self-control. It’s just a limitation of biology caused by the stress of somebody’s bumper hitting me at 35 m.p.h. (been there, done that!). The same is true with my brain being thumped by stress. I can deal with it now, or limp with it later.
Basically your brain is operating in two different worlds: the rational and the primitive. When it comes to stress there’s a part of your brain that is sneaking around like a naughty teenager. Nestled comfortably somewhere behind your forehead is your parent-brain sitting in the den placidly smoking a pipe and reading Plato. The brain in the back of your skull is the teenager down in the basement bedroom doing God knows what. Like any parent of a teenager, the calm, rational brain relaxing in the den and analyzing life with a cool, experienced hand doesn’t necessarily want to know what’s going on in the basement. Like any teenager, the primitive basement brain doesn’t think the rational brain needs to know all of its business, but still needs attention and sometimes acts up just to see of the parent gives a darn.
So congratulations on that teen brain of yours. There it sits, nestled in the brain stem, probably thinking about sex. Even if you’re an old duffer like me that impulsive, adrenaline-fueled, hormone-charged bundle of nerves still wants to run things and doesn’t know when to shut up and behave.
Chances are good that your goofy youngster is doing what it thinks is best to help us survive, but making us miserable in the process. Basement brain is selfishly worried about surviving right this moment; it has no sense of the future. It doesn’t care about digestion or fighting off disease or starting a family. It only cares about keeping nerves at attention to recognize threats and getting blood to large muscle groups to be ready to fight. Teen brain doesn’t realize that putting the body in a state of hyper-alertness damages the parent’s ability to relax, engage in emotional closeness, sleep well, digest food, have fulfilling sex, or concentrate on small details. The parent brain is too busy compensating for these icky feelings to pay attention to the stuff in the basement even though that’s really where the problem is.
Are you getting the analogy? Is it time for you to get in touch with your inner 14-year-old. This is the person who is stressing you out and you don’t even know it. Consider one or more of these suggestions:
1) Ask the people who know you best “Do you think police work has changed me?” Don’t be defensive. Listen and let them answer honestly. Ask at least three people and compare their answers. Your self-awareness will impress them. 
2) Be a watcher and listener. Cut the bravado and big talk. If there’s a tough case a fellow officer just handled you don’t have to get your puppy dog face on and say, “How did that make you feel?” Just listen. What you hear may tell you as much about yourself as it does about the other person. 
3) Ask a younger version of yourself if you’re sadder, more tired, or less connected than you used to be. Think about who you were a few years ago. We all toughen up — that’s a good thing. But when we grew our thick skin did we trap a cold heart in there too? 
4) Casually ask your doctor about stress — both traumatic and cumulative — and see where you are on the checklist of warning signs. 
5) If you can’t manage to ask a professional then use the Internet or the public library to find some good information about PTSD, stress, and healthy lifestyles.
I want to hear from you, so e-mail me. I might even talk some sense into that teenaged brain of yours.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

From the Archives - The moral imperative of loyalty

First appeared in PoliceOne.com  Aug 3, 2009

The dyed fabric from the famous mills of Coventry, England in the 17th century kept its blue color so well that it was known as true blue. The color you bought was the color that stayed, without fading or changing. Is that you? Do you honor your highest and original values by remaining true blue? Can you state your most basic values that guide your daily behavior?

Loyalty is often expressed as if it were purely an emotion — the misting of eyes at the national anthem or a breathless vow of love in a moment of passion. I believe we need to understand loyalty as an act of will and intellect. It is this firmness of thought that will sustain our behavior within a solid ethical framework through a law enforcement career.

Our real loyalties are exposed in the grist mill of life experiences. In their book Theory in Practice, Chris Argyris and Donald Schon state, “When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use.”

This perspective on the contrast between espoused theory (our stated life principles) and our theory-in-use (what we really look like as we behave in the world) is an enlightening one for self-examination. For example, if we say that we are loyal to Constitutional principles, to a high morality, to the espoused values of our department, and yet falsify a use of force report for ourselves or a co-worker then we have established that our highest loyalty is to convenience and self-interest. Our true colors show, and they are faded and not true blue.

Without a clear reminder of what you really believe and live for, the expediency of the moment may prevail and betray your higher aspirations. A loss of focus that allows us to drift from our highest ideals can contribute to burnout and misconduct. A visible cornerstone for your primary, ethics-defining loyalty can have refreshing preservative value to the soul. Your cornerstone might be a cross or wedding ring worn daily. For others that reminder might be a family photo on the visor in the patrol car. For some, it might be a daily ritual or reading. I recommend a written personal mission motto.

A personal mission motto articulates your values so that you are compelled to define them. A motto or mission statement is the central measure for your life’s work and provides a standard against which to measure your decisions. My father was a WWII veteran who gave a lot of effort to the American Legion whose motto was “For God and Country.” All that he lived for, even the mundane tasks of work and family, was embodied by that phrase. Others might say “Family First” or “Remember Your Mission” or “Liberty and Justice.” Finding your cornerstone can help you through the day, and perhaps help you survive the worst days of all.

What is your motto?

Monday, June 11, 2018

It's a Curse, I Swear

From the archives: First appeared in January 2009 in Street Survival Newsline before Street Survival and P1 parted ways

Police officers are subject to a double and even triple standard in many respects. We are expected to catch bad guys without hurting them, solve problems in a few minutes that existed for years before we got called, get to emergencies instantly without driving too fast, and stop crime without making contacts with minority groups or rich white people. 

I remember listening to a citizen make a complaint on one of my officers for using foul language on a contact. I don't remember her exact words but it was something on the order of "Your [bleeping] cop used some [bleeping] language around my [bleeping] son and I think it was [bleeping] uncalled for and you should [bleeping] reprimand his [bleep]." Her point, although not well articulated, was that she could cuss but my officer couldn't. I actually agreed with her. 

Naturally if I begin a diatribe against the use of swearing the first offended person will say "Oh, like you never cussed in uniform!", and I confess I have. My use of foul language has been very rare and it was used for linguistic effect given the context, and with a purpose to achieve a specific communicative effect. Have I ever said other inappropriate things or acted out of emotion? - yes. As Sgt. Friday famously said "The only problem with police work is that you have to recruit from the human race.” 

Words have meaning. I used to have morning coffee with a cranky retired physics professor who would get a pained look on his face during holidays and sunny weather. On one particular morning he was talking about the silliness of thinly disguised euphemistic language in a sitcom he had watched in which the word "boinking" was used to refer to sex. His final assessment was that words are meaningless so you might as well use the "real" words. As I thought about his foolish assumption that words are meaningless I considered looking him in the eye and saying, "You know, you old bastard, that's really true," as a means to test his theory. 

The words and phrases that we use to describe this kind of language are meaningful as well. We talk about "cussing," which is a slang derivative of "cursing", associated with "swearing". Before language was easily reduced to writing for contracts and pledges, a person's word truly was a bond. History was passed down orally and naming a child often had a determinant effect on a life. Spoken words were powerful. False speaking was condemned in both legal and social discourse by ancient codes including the Ten Commandments and the Code of Hammurabi. Mystics believed - and still do I suppose - that you could speak a curse on someone and change their life course. Jesus taught that calling someone a disrespectful name was tantamount to murder in motive and heart. 

I once led a study by a group of middle schoolers from my church and talked about this very subject. I asked them to write down every cuss word they knew. Although they were hesitant at first, they quickly began, obviously, to enjoy the exercise. I wrote all the words and phrases on the blackboard (which I carefully and fastidiously erased at the end of the session) and began to reveal the hurtfulness behind each word or phrase. The sexual references often were demeaning to women, spoke of violence and adultery, or human waste and worthlessness. Other words spoke of disrespect to the Creator or expressing the desire for someone to be condemned to a life or eternity of suffering. The heaviness of the reality of what is meant by the words we so easily throw around became evident to the young people. 

One theory of aggression blames violence on our liberal use of foul language - not that bad words cause violence (although what fight starts without them?) - but that if cussing becomes meaningless by overuse then what's the next level of venting but punching somebody? Growing up in a home where my Dad was a religiously discipline man I never heard him swear except when he was working on the car or telling the banker who came to repossess the farm to get off our land. He taught by example that cussing was reserved for special occasions. 

There is an evolution of language that makes some words and phrases harsher or softer over time. When I was in high school if something "sucked" the reference was to a demeaning, forced sex act. Today the word connotes a vacuum, emptiness, or worthlessness and most people have little objection to it. The epithet of calling someone a bastard has lost its sting in today's America where babies born out of wedlock is the norm. Other examples come to mind but I feel like a little boy behind the barn practicing my curse words if I ponder it too much. 

The most ubiquitous and harsh word is the word that originates as a reference to rape. It is referred to as the F-word, eff, f***, or other recognizable codes for public print. There are plenty of arguments for avoiding this word in addition to its potential moral revulsion. In most cases the word is just a space filler and makes no grammatical sense whatsoeffingever. Since police officers in emotionally charged situations tend to revert to what they practice, the word pops up on video tapes of crisis situations too frequently. If I never hear "Get on the f***ing ground and show me your f***ing hands now!" on blutube.com again I'd be grateful. The word has no communicative purpose and, in fact, obscures the flow of the language and the conciseness of compliance commands. It can also be prejudicial to juries and attorneys even though they are quite content using the language themselves or at least enjoying movies and HBO without the slightest flinch at the word. 

As for the argument that this is the language of the streets and people need to know how serious we are, I just have to say that avoiding that language in my experience has never kept somebody from responding to my commands. We're not "one of them" and pretending that using gutter language bonds us to our rough communities is disingenuous. None of this is to say that total foul language abstinence is necessary any more than to say that we never do anything in the course of our jobs that is not also proper in normal social intercourse. We do use harsh language, we do use force, and we do use deception, all of which involve ethical calculations of ends justifying means and that, in a perfect world, would never be necessary tools of the trade. 

Avoiding swearing in public requires the discipline of avoiding it in private. The exercise might be a good self-improvement project for this year. What the heck - it couldn't hurt.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Contextual Compliance Tool Kit

This archived article from PoliceOne.com first appeared Sep 11, 2008

The word is spreading that the use of force continuum is dying a slow death. While the continuum model has served as a useful instructional tool for trainees over the years it has serious and even dangerous limitations as a tool for application in a field environment.
Police officers engaged in encounters with non-compliant offenders may feel that they are legally obligated to climb the use-of-force ladder and de-escalate to compliance, hesitating to take safer immediate assertive actions to end unlawful resistance. The stair- step dance of “he does that then I can do this” confuses practitioners, prosecutors, and juries. Fortunately, the US Supreme Court has a refreshingly realistic standard of reasonableness which has yet to be fully grasped by policymakers of my generation still trembling from the Warren court years.
This article offers five principles of understanding encounters with non-compliant offenders under the doctrinal umbrella of offender-centered decision making. That is to say that the subject with whom a peace officer is in lawful contact is the primary decider of the tenor of the encounter.
In all cases where the officer is dealing with an encounter outside of a purely consensual one (in which the subject has the right to simply turn and walk away), the law explicitly demands that the subject complies with the officer.
1. Training and report writing about non-compliant encounters should concentrate on the offender’s behavior and accurately portray the officer as reacting to the offender in the context of the event.
While this principle may not sound radically different than current practice it is a contrast to the continuum model. The continuum doctrine and its underlying premise is that officers are legally and morally bound to use no force where the remote possibility exists of avoiding it and to use the least force theoretically possible in the least intrusive way for the shortest possible amount of time.
The reality is that when an offender is non-compliant (they become an offender at the moment of non-compliance) the officer has the legal and moral obligation to gain compliance as quickly and safely as possible. Rather than lowest force, we must transition to a most effective paradigm. In this context, we would define “effective” as that which is quickest and safest. The most effective means of gaining compliance may not be the least possible force but must remain reasonable.
That which is most effective, i.e. fast and safe, tends to result in shorter physical contact when a hands-on disposition is inevitable. Briefer contact means less likelihood of injury to an offender, bystander, and officer. In that light, application of effective means to end non-compliance is a moral imperative as well as tactically superior and justifiable.
In addition, while de-escalation is one of the many tools in the compliance toolkit it is not always wise to employ attempts at verbal calming. Some conditions contributing to non-compliance are medical emergencies dependent on brain chemistry that will not respond to calming techniques and that will only get worse and less treatable over time. This does not argue against crisis intervention methods, but rather puts those methods in the toolbox for use when appropriate and to be left in the box when they are not.
2. Restructure the language of reporting to eliminate the term “use of force” from reports, policy, and training as much as possible.
The baggage that comes along with this term unfairly colors any objective report and tacitly implies that the officer’s actions are suspect and brutal. It promotes the assumption that if force was used it was the officer’s fault and he or she has some explaining to do.
In keeping with the concept that the decision to be non-compliant is with the offender, an officer’s efforts to gain lawful compliance should be described in those offender-centered terms with the officer identified as the victim. The subject of the narrative should be the offender, not the officer. Putting emphasis on the behavior of the offender and the context of the encounter more accurately portrays the offender’s unlawful behavior and minimizes the perception of the officer as the aggressor. The officer leads the reader to agree with him or her that the use of force was imposed upon them by the offender.
With offender-centered reporting, agencies may decide that separate forms for reporting use of force are unnecessary. Those reports were important in an earlier era of policing but can be supplanted by a more comprehensive approach to report making.
Any efforts required to gain offender compliance should be a part of the offense report narrative; fully documented in the accurate and comprehensive description of the offender’s unlawful behavior and the context of the contact. The offender-centered concept of non-compliance enhances officers’ awareness of their victimization which, in turn, will likely enhance the prosecutors’ and juries’ perceptions as well.
Use of force reports are by their nature defensive and carry the cloud of accusation over them. Documenting non-compliance puts the burden where it should be – on the offender’s behavior in the context of a criminal act of resistance.
In using language to convey the circumstances of the event officers should avoid passive language like “he was then subdued” and avoid mere labeling such as “resistive”, “combative”, “uncooperative”, “non-compliant” unless providing specific descriptions of behavior such as walking away, pushing, refusing to answer, fighting, etc.
3. Context is critical.
The context of the encounter gives the officer facts that determine his or her course of action. These facts are almost always unknown to the offender, but the offender’s ignorance of them must not justify his or her failure to comply. The law requires compliance.
The significance of environmental, social, and historical factors that color the officer’s perceptions of the encounter will escape the reader of the report unless the officer explicitly guides the reader to navigate the cumulative significance of those factors. All of the factual circumstances of the event and the officer’s subjective interpretation of them must be communicated in the report.
The reader of the report must have as much information as possible about the situation faced by the officer. Standard concerns such as time of day, number of persons, and knowledge of the offender’s emotional disposition should be articulated. Officers must give voice to their fears and concerns even though documenting fear seems counter to our self-image. Those who read the officer’s report should not be left to guess or assume the appropriateness of the officer’s actions without a fully painted picture.
4. Use the “Contextual Compliance Tool Kit” language and imagery.
Stage and step compliance policies should be altered to explicitly recognize the rapid decision making and fluidity inherent in non-compliance events. The metaphor of the toolkit is much more useful than some geometric graphic.
Rubrics, tables, arcs, stair steps, and wheels all imply some rational orbit of events when a person resists a police officer. The process of deciding how to gain compliance is a logical one, not trial and error.
The use of force continuum is predicated on trial and error – if step two doesn’t work go to step three and so on. It implies a willingness to err on the side of being ineffective. Achieving compliance efficiently is rational – the officer will select the tool most likely to be effective in solving the problem of non-compliance.
5. Document success.
Officers tend to subtly express in their reports that resorting to force was somehow a failure on their part. Lawful use of force is never a failure, except perhaps a failure of judgment on the part of the offender. Gaining compliance is what law enforcement does. That’s the “enforcement” part. It is what police are hired to do, empowered to do, entrusted to do, and expected to do. It is necessary and honorable.
The narrative regarding the efforts to gain compliance should be as positive as a realistic account can be. Is there a happy ending when somebody is subdued by multiple officers and handcuffed? Certainly, in the universal sense there was failure somewhere – family, school, religion, government, personal choices; all the things the criminologists study. But the officer’s mission is direct: gain compliance effectively. If that was accomplished then say so in the report. Document all of the care-giving that followed the offender’s resistance, including rights advisements, checking the tightness of handcuffs and restraints, and obtaining medical care.
Policymakers need to understand that the reactive measures of the past generation to lawsuits and bad publicity have achieved their purpose. We must proceed with caution and be ever mindful of the potential for litigation and loss of public confidence while scrupulously guarding civil rights of all whom we encounter. We need not agree with the enemies of law enforcement nor apologize for gaining compliance under the law – using all the tools in our tool kit.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

6 tips for getting the most out of police training

This is an archive repost that originally appeared in PoliceOne.com in May of 2008

Cops love training. Lock and load. Hit the range. Slap some leather. Punch some holes in some paper. Lay some tread on the track. Mount up. Sign me up for SWAT school!

But let’s face it, not all training is worthwhile, not all subjects are fun and not all trainers are gifted educators. Here are some tips to get the most out of training – even bad training.

After 30 years of seminars, academies, and recertifications, I could sleep through most classes. But I am a life-long learner and even if I go to a repeat class with a boring instructor, I always promise myself that I will learn at least one new thing. That makes me a gold miner – looking for nuggets of useful information along the way.

Listening and watching for those nuggets keeps me alert and interested in what may be around the next coffee break.

Learning and retention occur when information is meaningful, especially if emotion or social connections are attached. Sometimes you have to make your own meaning – especially if you’ve tuned out an instructor you don’t like.

Think creatively and be open-minded. Can this diversity class help my interrogation skills? Would this information be good for someone I am training or work with? Is this mandatory class a step on my career ladder?

Many times a concept, principle or course of instruction is presented as though it were brought down from Mt. Sinai along with the Ten Commandments. Methods, laws and training doctrine change. Sometimes new ideas are bad, sometimes new ideas are old ideas with new acronyms, and sometimes a trainer gets pulled in to teach a course for which they are not truly qualified.

You don’t have to be disruptive or disrespectful to question and debate things in your own mind. If you engage with the material and wrestle with it under the skeptic’s scope, you’ll add value to your training day.

Talk to other cops on break and at lunch. Pick their brains, listen to their war stories and get their business cards. The trainer is never the only person in the room with good information to share. Harvest knowledge from others.

Stop posturing. Quit trying to prove you know more than the instructor or the officer next to you. Avoid telling yourself you already know all of this stuff. You don’t have to have a better story, a better way to do something or figure out a way to announce how great you are. Listen to your own conversation.

If you start hearing yourself saying “I” more than three times in a brief conversation, it’s time to shut up and learn.

Despite the popular concept that there are no stupid questions, I know better. I have heard stupid questions and have been known to ask a few myself. It’s OK. Take the risk. The resulting dialogue will give a needed break to the course, inspire others to engage with the class and answer the stupid question somebody else was too afraid to ask.

If you don’t ask at the time, get the instructor’s email address and check the bibliography for the material to answer your questions later. You are the person most responsible for your own learning. Don’t be passive about it.

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Police Officer Memorial Day Prayer - given at a public ceremony May 15, 2012

In a culture of increasing awareness of terms like diversity and inclusiveness, the ironic result is often an exclusion of some of our great American traditions, including asking God's blessing on public events. This is not necessary under the establishment clause of the First Amendment and often injures the free exercise clause. Today's event deals in essence with death, and how its shadow informs the police officer's life. It is fitting then, that such a sober contemplation of things immortal, transcendent, and eternally significant be attended by calling upon our Creator to lend attention to this moment.

I invite you to join me as I do that or to engage in whatever pose, attitude, or thoughts that give honor to this occasion. My prayer is this -

Dear God, we gather today to honor servants of mankind who have given to us their last full measure of devotion. As we gather to honor the dead I pray that the light of their sacrifice might illuminate our own purpose; that as their life was too swiftly extinguished that it will yet fuel our dedication to peace and service.

May we as peace officers be renewed in our thankfulness to be numbered among heroes, and refreshed in our desire to faithfully serve others. As no greater love has any person but to lay down their life for another, let us so love - to love justice, to love our community, and to embrace our family and those who love us with active, purposeful demonstrations of love.

We pray that while we are wholly accountable for our actions that the critic' voice will be softened by voices of encouragement from our good citizens. We pray for wisdom for our legislators and leaders that they will never lightly employ our coercive power so that we shall never be a hand of oppression but always an instrument of peace.

Guard our liberty, Oh God. Guard our hearts Oh God. Guard our honor Oh God. In the name of the One who hears our petitions and has the power to grant them I pray. Amen.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Prejudice or politics? Why cop hate could be getting worse when cops are getting better

          A highly educated, intelligent, and moderately conservative acquaintance recently posted a story on his Facebook from a woman who had a police encounter to relate. The woman used social media to tell of a car stop of a vehicle in which she was a passenger and her boyfriend was the driver. The officer and the driver engaged in an escalation of tension ending with the officer pointing a gun at the driver. Upon their complaint to the officer’s supervisors, the officer reported that he had his Taser out and not a firearm, and there was no finding of wrongdoing. The woman decried that nothing had been done to discipline the officer. Her version was the only one presented. My acquaintance made this introduction to his sharing of the woman’s account: “Some of our police are heroes worthy of honor. But we need to reign in those who think that a badge and a gun make them lords among men.” That statement is factually true but bathed in the not so subtle prejudice that implies the worst of most officers. It sounds suspiciously like "I have a ____(black, gay, muslim, etc) friend and a lot of them are fine people....
            There was a time when critics of law enforcement were scofflaws and lawbreakers, or those who had personally experienced an unpleasant encounter with the police. Now we have ordinary and outstanding citizens who vicariously join ranks with the harshest critics, damning with faint praise with statements like “some of our police are good.” Losing the support of solid citizens who succumb to prejudice against the police is a blow to quality law enforcement.
            How did the narrative of deeply flawed policing catch fire at a time when police officers have never been more carefully selected and trained, with higher education levels and more professional leadership than ever? Why do the carefully edited and selected videos proffered by the media and anti-police activists gain superior credibility over scientific studies on the realities of violent encounters? Why is Michael Brown still a hands-up-don’t-shoot hero when every investigation says exactly the opposite?
            The answer to these questions of how prejudices develop is in psychology. The answers to why is in politics.
Origins of Prejudice
            Prejudices are just one way that the brain processes information seeking to enhance pleasure and avoid danger. We are programmed to generalize and predict. When we get information, we use that to establish templates for decision making. What is familiar to us does not alert strong feelings of fear or disgust. What is unfamiliar we approach with caution.
            Another factor is the human inclination to associate with groups or tribes. We know who our friends are and who else is like our friend group. We develop a sense of who is in and who is out and, further, we begin to build real or imaginary walls and defenses against the out-group for our protection.
            Throughout our lifetime we accumulate the information that our brains use to decide if something is safe and familiar or foreign and potentially a threat.  We tend to pay attention to information that verifies our existing conclusions, but our experiences and new information can eventually change our prejudices. Prejudices are not based on mathematical probabilities. Most sticks are not snakes. Most berries are not poison. Most cops are not jerks. But if very many things you thought were sticks turn out to be snakes, you will hate both sticks and snakes.
            Changes in prejudices seldom happen immediately and completely. If, for example, a person has an embedded mistrust of police, they can have a positive experience or friendship with a law enforcement officer. The person will consider that positive relationship an exception to the rule rather than an endorsement of all police officers in order to hold on to their preconceptions. A more general trust or appreciation of the broader group will take more intense experiences and positive information.
The Politics of Prejudice
            Whether intentional or not, the playing and replaying of controversial videos of violent encounters with law enforcement feeds information to a public increasingly willing to interpret those images negatively and apply them broadly. Because department spokespersons are usually not the first to frame the story or are rendered silent by legal issues, those negative first impressions get more attention from the brain of the civilian.
            Viral videos, whether on traditional mass media or social media, are often shown in edited form and with a sensationalistic narrative. Untrained observers are likely to be repulsed by the intensity of the encounter and immediately begin a mental process of denial to deal with the images. The denial process allows the civilian to believe that they wouldn’t act like the suspect or the officer, thus immediately making the persons in the video part of an out-group. And, if they identify with the suspect in some way, it places the law enforcement officer further away from the public’s embrace.
            Even events that are eminently explainable from a police perspective get imprinted as negative and no amount of scrubbing will convince most people that their first impressions were wrong. Those who profit from sensationalism, and those who benefit from opposition to the police, jump on these many opportunities to fan the flames of misinformation. Individuals come to believe that those negative impressions are the norm, providing more validation to an already existing bias. A police officer, who sees those in their in-group getting unfairly treated, is prone to respond defensively and angrily, often playing into the hands of critics ready to paint defensiveness as guilt.
Can the good guys win the perception wars?

            If the frequency of confusing images and negative messaging is a major cause of anti-police sentiment, the cure may be more frequent positive messaging. Police agencies may no longer be content for the occasional feel-good newspaper article or community relations program. Consistent, persistent, positive messaging through multiple avenues is a new essential in law enforcement leadership. Constantly building credibility with the public is not a distraction from fighting crime, it is an essential element in effective contemporary policing. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Quick Quiz on the Philadelphia Starbucks Arrest

Unless you have the self-discipline to ignore things on the news that are utterly un-newsworthy, you have probably heard that a couple of men were arrested by police officers for trespassing in a Starbucks in the city of brotherly love. Apparently, two gentlemen sat at the coffee place for a while then asked for access to the bathroom. Since they hadn’t purchased anything, the manager did not allow them to use the restroom and asked them to leave. When they did not leave the manager made a 911 call to ask the police to handle the matter. Now, let’s see how much you know about all that.

Q 1   The management is racist because non-minority persons are allowed to hang out without buying anything but these guys were black so no way was that going to be allowed.
            A. True
            B. False
            C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness,                                     attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to believe a                          violation had been committed.

Answer: C . For those of you who wished that there was a “D” choice, this is what it would have said : D. The officers should have called the CEO of the company and asked for a change in policy that would allow a person, regardless of race, color, or creed, to hang out at Starbucks like it was their living room for an indeterminate amount of time. If that had been an option on this multiple choice question, the answer would still have been C.

Q 2  A common cultural courtesy when sitting in a business is to:
            A. Keep looking at your watch to signal that you’re waiting for somebody
            B. Buy a pack of gum or something cheap as a good faith gesture
            C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness,                            attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to                                           believe a violation had been committed.
            D. Make yourself at home and make sure to take some napkins and sugar packets                              while you’re there

Answer: Yup, still C.

Q 3  Upon hearing of the incident, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross:
            A. Immediately appointed a task force made up of  one ACLU attorney, one                                  Black Lives Matter member, and a federal judge to investigate why officers are                             responding to 911 calls involving minorities
            B.  Placed the officers on unpaid leave until the investigation into the matter could                        be delayed long enough for the media to forget it ever happened
            C. Made a statement on social media explaining that the officers did nothing                                  wrong
            D. Implemented a policy prohibiting officers from drinking coffee with cream or                           sugar in it

Answer: Aha! Trick question! The answer is C. Support of line officers by an administration in politically charged environments does seem to be the exception to the rule, but Commissioner Ross decided to take the unique course of sticking with the facts and the law.

Q 4  In what ways did Starbucks back-pedal to keep its customers?
            A. Apologized for allowing its manager to follow its policy
            B. Denied the tweets that compared this incident to the Woolworth lunch
            counter arrests of the 1950s   
            C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness,                            attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to believe                              a violation had been committed.
            D. Passively took a verbal beating from Philadelphia’s mayor, who accused them                          of racism

Answer: Again, for our purposes, the answer is C – although I would score “all of the above” as correct.

Commissioner Ross is quoted as saying “These officers had legal standing to make this arrest. These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do, they were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen — and instead, they got the opposite back. I will say that as an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias. We are committed to fair and unbiased policing, and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department.”

Commissioner, I will be sending you a personal note of congratulations. And it will include my usual appreciation gift – a Starbucks gift card. Just make sure and order quickly when you do go in.