What prevents young cops from training to win?

By Lt. Jim Glennon, Lombard, IL (ret.)

Apathy, denial, procrastination, and fear...

Having spent almost 30 years in law enforcement I have accumulated enough time to be classified as “seasoned.” I don’t really mind the seasoned moniker but I hate being in any group where the word old is the main descriptive. I try not to act old — though my kids would argue that point and would tell you that I look for any excuse to teach life lessons and begin a lot of sentences with the phrase: “Damn kids.”

I work out, eat fairly well, am on the move all the time, constantly stay abreast of the latest law enforcement realities, read incessantly, and I try to think “future” rather than “past.” But I really hate being considered an old guy because somehow my experiences may be viewed to be irrelevant — somehow brushed aside as issues of a bygone era — even as I can’t help but notice some of the questionable trends of the younger generation.

I know, I know, you younger people don’t care what I think. You don’t want to hear anything negative about your... tendencies. You’re more sophisticated than us old guys — more culturally, socially, and intellectually aware. You surf, you e-mail, you ‘Google’ and ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter.’ You are comfortable with technology, have many more acquaintances than you’ll ever need, know how to find vital information, download useless information, and you are really good at navigating around the menu-driven world.

But there are some downsides to your current state of affairs. As I continue however, understand that what follows is admittedly a list of theoretical generalizations. If you don’t think they describe you accurately, well they probably don’t, simple as that. But, those born after 1980 tend to — like all generations — have their own particular traits. Here are a few:

• You like orders, rules, guidelines, and menus — you’re more comfortable with black and white answers and work really well (and are very creative) within the established lines
• Your feelings are easily hurt and you don’t know how to end relationships because there is no reason to end them because there are about a “Gazillion” ways to stay in touch
• You’re not comfortable dealing with confrontation because you’ve never had to — there were always guidelines, rules, referees, umpires, and parents who stepped in to resolve conflict before anyone’s fragile psyche was bruised
• Everyone is equal because winning and losing was deemphasized — you tried, therefore you succeeded — no one ever really lost and everybody got a trophy just for showing up
• The 24/7, 360-degree media made you skeptical because you were privy to unbelievable levels of scamming, cheating, lying, and exploitation by those in leadership positions
• You sometimes can’t differentiate between the famous, the insignificant, the essential, and the important since the plight of the Bachelor and the Survivor were presented as vital outcomes and monumental moments in history
• You won’t risk answering a phone that doesn’t have caller ID (“Why would I answer it Dad, if I don’t know who it is?”) and you text, text, text, text, to the point of anti-social behavior (I read that people under 30 prefer to use e-mails and texting to break up with romantic partners in electronic “Dear John” letters)
• Most of you have never been in a real fight and have no concept of true violence
• And if you need training that may save your life, someone else will send you and someone else should pay for it

Every generation has its pros and cons, I fully recognize that. I could write volumes about the rigidness of the generations that have gone before. But what has spurred me to write this particular article is a trend I have noticed more and more lately, and it involves that last bullet point: Officer Safety. Staying Alive.

I am honored to be one of five Instructors for the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar. Without too much bias I think the program is one of the best in the world. This view is supported by roughly 98 percent of the approximately 10,000 attendees of the program each year. The standard quote we get on our evaluations is a variation of:

“Every law enforcement officer in the country should attend this seminar.”

The reason the Seminar is so good has less to do with the five instructors and more to do with the fact that the two days is packed with the experiences of officers from all over the country over a period of close to 30 years. I can say without hesitation and without qualification that the Seminar saves lives.

At these Seminars I have had the opportunity to meet officers from all corners of the country with experience that ranges from one day on the job to 55 years. To my dismay in the past six or seven years I have consistently encountered particular mindsets and excuses about taking personal responsibility when it comes to dealing with the reality of violence and learning the skills necessary to win on the street.

Apathy — Many younger officers (though this certainly applies to cops in every generation) have told me that they have colleagues who have no interest in attending any training that they are not assigned to by administrators and not paid for by their department. “If they think it is important then they’ll send me and pay for it” is a prevailing mindset for far too many, and increasingly so in this new millennium.

Denial — “It’ll never happen to me.” Officers tell me that they have friends who say things like this all the time. I even wrote a column about it last year after a disturbing conversation with a young officer from a small town in Montana. The article was titled: No one on my beat will try to kill me, I know them all and they like me and it generated more e-mails and emotional comments than anything else I’ve ever written.

Procrastination — “I finally got tired of waiting for my buddy to go with me or my department to make a decision so I signed up myself.” This is another common comment we hear at the Seminars. As one officer (an obvious exception to this tendency toward procrastination) recently said, “Putting off this training isn’t putting off the guy who may want to kill me tomorrow. I finally figured out that my life is mine. My performance is up to me. Coming here is the smartest thing I’ve done in my career.”

Fear — There are two fears that must be addressed here. The first comes from the line level officers and I’ve heard it dozens of times: “If my department finds out I came here I’ll be in trouble.” The first time I heard this I approached our Senior Instructor Dave Smith, who in his subsequent explanation revealed fear number two. “Yeah, there are some departments, and particularly some supervisors, who are scared of us. They are afraid that their officers will learn something not under their control. So not only do they not send their guys, they forbid them from attending even on their own dime.”

I’ll address both of these fears more in depth in a future article, but as we say in our Peak Performance block during the Seminar: Your safety is your responsibility.

So learn your craft, get your head out of the sand, don’t let apathy, denial, procrastination, and fear override your need to recognize the real dangers inherent in your chosen profession. You ain’t making widgets. You’re not selling insurance. Accept that while treating people with dignity and respect is an absolute, it is no more of an absolute than your life being in your own hands every second you are on the job. Make safety a top priority. Don’t wait for others to make it more important than you do. It has to be on top of your list. Live it. Practice it. Demand realistic training. Expand your horizons and seek ideas and principles that exist outside of your own cultural comfort zone.

Train to Win! Which, by the way, is the entire point of the Seminar.

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