I suppose it’s not really fair to refer to fine, hard-working police officers as "whiners", but since I’ve whined a bit in my own career, we have all probably fit the definition at one time or another. The important thing is that we learn to recognize when we are whining and resolve to take charge of our own future.
A few months back I wrote in this column a three-part treatise on adapting Rapid Deployment tactics for use against a Mumbai-style terrorist attack. A number of responders felt I had delivered sensible recommendations but went on to lament how their department would never support such a plan with training or doctrine. Of course they won’t! Police departments are traditionally reactionary and all too often it takes a catastrophe to trigger real change - such as the Columbine school attack.
Most positive changes in law enforcement trickle UP from the street to the Chief’s office, not vice versa. Hence my overwhelming urge to yell out in frustration, “quit whining about no support and change yourself and whatever small piece of your agency you can influence!” I had to learn this lesson myself, the hard way, but my life and career satisfaction improved every time I re-learned the lesson.
If you feel your agency is woefully unprepared for a terrorist attack, then prepare yourself and your little piece of the department as best you can. Put together a “go bag” with extra loaded magazines and other essentials. Discuss the issue with your co-workers and pre-plan how YOU will respond in the event “X” kind of incident occurs on your watch. Get the training you think you will need to deal with a perceived threat, however you have to get that training. Yes, I mean getting the training on your own time at your own expense if you feel that strongly about the issue.
Early in my career I wanted to become a firearms instructor. My first agency sent me to a formal police firearms instructor course, but I wasn’t satisfied knowing little more than how to conduct a qualification shoot. So, I jumped into the early phases of practical pistol competition - on my own time, firing my own ammunition because the agency wouldn’t support me. I wanted to attend the premier firearms training facility of the day (Gunsite Ranch under the tutelage of Jeff Cooper), so I worked extra jobs to save the money, handloaded my ammunition and camped at the ranch to save motel costs. A friend, who was a full-time firearms instructor at an academy, repeatedly whined about how his employer wouldn’t pay his way to Gunsite. After suffering through a few of his whining sessions I told him if he really wanted the training, to pay for it himself ... like I had. My friend never went to Gunsite and eventually left the profession. He didn’t want the training badly enough to move himself from the whining stage to action.
In another of life’s lessons, I once served as a Chief Deputy for Detention (read: Jail Administrator). That department was in the throes of terrible internal strife, severe enough to compromise officer safety in both the patrol and jail environments. I couldn’t fix the department-wide infighting, but I could damn sure stop it in the jail, and I did. It required driving a bit of a wedge between the two divisions, patrol and jail, but in a relatively short time the jail staff coalesced into a team that watched out for each other and functioned very smoothly. Our discipline problems dropped to zero and attracted the attention of the Sheriff and Under Sheriff who became furious that their personal war suddenly didn’t involve the whole agency. The command’s attempts to “stir the pot” with my staff merely drove our team more tightly together. Most of what I did to develop that level of teamwork was without the permission of my boss(es) and not always completely within policy, but I didn’t really care. I took the initiative to fix my little piece of the pie and was able to watch the rest of the agency descend into chaos.
What I’m talking about here is simple leadership. Taking charge to lead your own life and career in the direction you choose and then expanding that influence to those around you ... when you can. That is how positive changes take place in police agencies. Some frustrated street cop decides to do what they think needs to be done, even if it pisses off the boss. If what you do to improve yourself, or your squad/shift/unit works well, others will mirror your actions. Some of those “others” will even try to take credit for your actions, we all know the type. So, once again you will have to decide whether to whine about them stealing your thunder or take action. Learning how to write a good memo and effectively “sell” your idea will keep the kudos coming in your direction. Or, if you get old enough to adopt my philosophy, you will reach a point where you don’t give a damn who gets the credit, as long as the positive changes take place. I have been able to make more dramatic changes as a low-level player than I was ever able to accomplish in higher-level administrative assignments.
Be a leader. Start implementing the planning and training that will better prepare you for the tasks you face. If you are able to influence others around you, then stretch your authority to the absolute breaking point. Remember, if you don’t ask permission, some weak-kneed supervisor can’t tell you no.
The Band of Brothers might have bitched about the lack of food, ammunition and winter clothing they faced during the Battle of the Bulge, but they didn’t whine. They made do with the scant resources they had, and their own will to prevail.
Prepare yourself for the future. If your agency happens to throw some training, equipment or support your way, consider it a bonus. But, only you can make sure you are prepared for the future.