Book excerpt: Tactical Reload: Strategy Shifts for Emerging Leaders in Law Enforcement
It’s our responsibility to shed the pessimism that can creep into our heads, because once it takes root, it can spread like a cancer
Once a homeless high-school dropout, Adam Wilson is a 15-year law enforcement veteran who has served as a SWAT senior operator and also collaborated with federal authorities in cases involving public corruption, sexual exploitation of minors and corrupt organizations. Through personal stories and interviews with top police chiefs and thought leaders, Wilson explores current critical issues in law enforcement in "Tactical Reload: Strategy Shifts for Emerging Leaders in Law Enforcement." The following is an excerpt from the book.
Be Your Own Thinker
Warning: when you become a cop – and for those of you who already are, this may be old news – you are going to hear gossip and some trash talk about other officers, usually behind their backs. The weak-minded individual will let those misguided words form his or her opinion. The strong-minded officer will avoid the negative influence and eventually create his or her own opinions.
I’m not saying don’t listen. The point is to make your own assessments based on your objective appraisal of whatever the interactions might be.
Most have heard of the six-degrees-of-separation theory. Basically, everyone on the planet is connected through six people. You have a friend who has a friend who has a friend who has a friend who has a friend who knows a person in Japan, Austria, Boston, wherever – that’s the sixth degree.
But there is also another theory: the three degrees of influence, meaning you hold influence over your friend or family member, who holds influence over another and another. You may not even know the person, but you have a degree of influence over his or her behavior.
Now imagine stopping that negative degree of influence. You have the opportunity to stop those cynical degrees of influence in their tracks. You don’t have to perpetuate that cycle. You can instead keep your three degrees of influence positive. Don’t allow the negative degrees of influence to shape your thought process and influence your behavior. I often say be a voice, not an echo – but first you must be your own thinker.
Throughout your career, you’ll have heroes or role models in your department. That’s cool. Cops are human, after all, and tribal. We may gravitate to a clique within the troop because the shared values are strong and comforting. But don’t let admiration turn into hero worship or blind faith.
Just because someone you like and maybe even admire speaks up does not mean his or her comments are fact. Have the courage to recognize when something isn’t right, and then challenge it – even if you don’t do it publicly. Maybe you keep it to yourself, but in the back of your mind, you think, “I would never do that.” Keep the good stuff, and get rid of the bad.
Rookie officers are much more impressionable than veterans. Here they are coming into this brand-new job, which for many of us is a dream come true, and they want to succeed. So when new cops begin to interact with veteran officers, they may also begin to mimic how their teachers act and speak. Here’s the problem: many veterans can be negative after years on the job. New cops may believe this is the way they should act.
Remember those degrees of influence. Although you may not know it, you are without a doubt influencing someone around you. Be responsible with that influence. This is the only way we can stop breeding the vast amounts of cynicism in our culture. Be ready to conduct your own tactical reload of a new mind-set before twenty years have passed and all you can remember are your complaints about anything and everything.
Think of the next generation of police officers as a blue wave. They are part of a proud tradition, yes, but they must also bring fresh eyes and ears – innovation – to the program. Rookies are our best hope of helping law enforcement evolve.
That puts a lot of responsibility on us not to spread pessimism. Respect your superiors even while you are objectifying what is being said.
The locker room is its own culture and environment. I was reminded of this one day while walking through my department’s locker room. As I passed a rookie officer, I said hello and asked what he had been up to. He responded, “Oh, just trying to hide and not get any reports.”
That comment stunned me. The new officer must have seen my puzzled expression. “What?” he said.
Before I answered, I let my mind whirl a bit. He could not have come up with that line of thinking on his own. I thought, “Go easy, Adam,” even as I stepped up on my soapbox.
“But you’re new, right? Why aren’t you burning the streets up? This is the greatest job in the world and the most fun you’ll ever have.”
I was trying to encourage him to get out there and save the world by chasing down drug dealers and other public offenders. Yet three months in, he was hiding from the reports he would have to write up for each arrest or investigation. He should still be so excited to be a police officer that we would have to make him go home after his shift. Just a few months earlier, he was ripping the handles off the police car out of excitement for riding around in an actual police car.
Already he had fallen under the influence of a cynical, depressed veteran cop who likely had been giving him an earful of complaints about police work from A to Z, the whole works. And maybe the vet was a little paranoid and had concluded that the entire world was out to get him.
If you’re a cop reading this, you probably know somebody like this in your department: bitter, negative, retirement cannot come soon enough. I’m all for throwing a little compassion at the old pro who has burned out. But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t step in to set a rookie straight. Good habits and good intentions make great cops.
“But those reports you’ll write up are a record, a diary almost, of all the effort you’ve made. Don’t you want to end each shift knowing you are headed for a better position if you keep up the hard work? Don’t let these lazy pieces of crap dictate what you do. Being lazy isn’t a cool ‘veteran’ thing; it’s a sad, cynical thing. You know who wants lazy people working for them? Nobody. In this place, if you’re a worker, you can go anywhere you want to go, but that choice is yours. Don’t be mad at the result you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do.”
Those of us who belong to the millennial generation will one day assume leadership. When we’re ready to retire, we’ll want to look back and be proud of our choices. That’s why what we do today is so important. We’ll never get a chance to go back and do better. Do better now. It’s our responsibility to shed the pessimism that can creep into our heads. Once it takes root, it can spread like a cancer and bring down the morale of the department and cities and towns. Bad blood bleeds out and can destroy a community – a community that begins in the locker room.
Even this book is just an opinion. My opinion. Some people I work with may not agree with everything I say, and that’s OK. If I am going to preach the gospel of “Be your own thinker,” then I’d better demonstrate my own views and the kind of person I am, regardless of what others may think. Otherwise, I’m just a hypocrite mouthing everyone else’s beliefs.
But am I so stubborn that I dig my heels into the sand and refuse to budge and remain closed-minded about other people’s opinions?
No. If someone gives me good information and makes convincing points, I will consider changing my mind and admitting I was wrong. What I won’t do is say what I think is the most popular opinion in the room.
So disagree with me if you wish. Shape your own path by being your own thinker. You owe it to yourself. I am open to hearty discussions and debates; it strengthens us as we strive to elevate our police profession.