If you can’t be a professional, leave the profession
Your appearance and fitness are vital components of your presence and will have a large influence on how you are treated by suspects in the field
I recently had the opportunity to spend the day at a law enforcement academy, mingling with cadets and staff. Although I never attended this academy, the sights and sounds brought back many memories of the four years I spent as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy, as well as the numerous military and law enforcement training programs I have attended since.
While the cadets tend to draw the most attention at these places, with their smart marching and loud vocalizations, my eyes were trained more on the instructors and staff. Honestly, I saw a mix of things that left me both impressed and disappointed.
Some of what follows may make you mad – even uncomfortable. If so, then maybe you need to ask yourself why you feel that way. Are you justifiably mad, or just embarrassed that I called you out for behavior that you know is wrong?
Fitness and Appearance
During my visit, I saw some officers who looked like they were candidates for a recruiting poster – incredibly fit, with impeccable appearance and demeanor. They carried themselves well, and were excellent representatives of the image that this agency would like to present to the public.
On the other hand, I saw some officers who were quite the opposite – obviously unfit, unhealthy and unkempt. These officers did not carry themselves well, and reflected poorly on the capabilities and professionalism of the department.
I’m not saying that every officer has to look like a muscle-bound, 21-year-old, inspection-ready cadet the rest of his or her career, but I am saying there is a certain level of fitness and appearance that is rightfully expected of an officer, and those who cannot meet that standard need to correct the situation or take the uniform off. There’s a happy medium somewhere between Superman and the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and some officers haven’t found it yet.
It isn’t about just presenting a good example for the cadets or the public. Your appearance and fitness are vital components of your presence and will have a large influence on how you are treated by suspects in the field. If you look like an out-of-shape slob, your chances of having some suspect decide he can take you on are much higher than if you look like you have your stuff together and can hold your own.
If your duty gear looks like it was deep fried in mud and you couldn’t reach around your belly to get to your baton if your life depended on it, then you had better fix it before some hardened ex-con decides to make an example out of you – or before you vapor lock 20 yards into a foot pursuit.
This is about more than your pride – it’s about your safety and the safety of the officers and public who depend on you to watch their back. If you can’t meet your obligations to them, you need to find another line of work.
Duck and Run
During my visit to the academy there was a memorial service for the fallen officers from that agency. As the start of the ceremony loomed near, I saw several uniformed personnel and staff duck into the nearest building to avoid having to participate in the service and render the appropriate courtesies. In fact, as I was exiting a building for the express purpose of being able to share in the tribute, I was almost run over by two incoming officers who were trying to avoid it.
I occasionally saw this kind of behavior during my 26-plus-year military career and I always deplored it. If you’re too damned lazy, selfish and unprofessional to stand at attention and salute for Reveillie, Taps or a ceremony honoring your fallen brothers and sisters, then I have no use for you. Get out of that uniform that you have just insulted.
Badges of Office
There are some jobs around an administrative environment like the academy where it would be impractical for an officer to wear a fully equipped Sam Browne all day long. I get that.
What I don’t get are the types who wear a uniform without any weapon, or just the weapon itself, with no spare magazine.
This is simple. If you’re going to dress like a cop, then act like a cop.
You may work in the office all day long, behind security gates and cipher-locked doors. Great. So did the people at Fort Hood and the Washington Navy Yard who got murdered. When the next whack job decides to claim his five minutes of fame by coming into your lobby with guns blazing, will you be reduced to throwing staplers in your defense or hiding under a desk along with the civil service aides? Is there anything more useless than an unarmed, uniformed officer?
I have a special word to describe these people: Target. If you wanted to wear a uniform and badge without a gun, then why didn’t you pursue a career in mall security?
If you’re going to wear a pistol, then you need to wear a spare magazine as well. I don’t care if your duty gun holds 16 rounds, because this isn’t just about capacity, it’s about redundancy and reliability. Faulty magazines are among the most common sources of mechanical malfunctions in a semiautomatic pistol.
If your pistol chokes in the middle of a fight, you will probably need access to a spare magazine to fix it and get back in the fight, so consider your gun and spare magazine a matched pair.
Wearing your pistol sans spare magazine reeks of those idiots we see on TV from foreign countries where the pistol is a badge of office, not a fighting tool. You already have your badge of office – it’s called a badge.
Your pistol is for fighting, and it’s not worn as some kind of ornamental jewelry to show that you’re special. So get your mindset right. Not only may it save your life, it may save the lives of those around you.
This article, originally published on 10/17/2014, has been updated.