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A provocative face-off on traits of a successful officer

She said 'One must first think to survive the street.' He said 'a thinking cop without a good right cross is worthless.' Are both right?

With which of the two statements below do you most agree?

• “today’s officer is isolated within a patrol car, emboldened with body armor, quick to draw a TASER or firearm, and slow to engage people skills to resolve everyday issues.”
Or that:
• “there’s a generalized over-emphasis in law enforcement training on using force rather than problem solving.”

A reader who retired after 35 years in policing and now teaches for the criminal justice program at University of Phoenix expressed those views in reaction to my recent column on the 7 habits of successful police officers, as enumerated by trainer Kevin Davis, a three-decade veteran of patrol and SWAT operations.

Corinne Garrett, a former training commander with a large Central Florida law enforcement agency, believes Davis’s list gives too little attention to the importance of “mental aspects” in successful law enforcement,” including “basics like communication, negotiation, observation, and critical thinking.”

Her opinions sparked a provocative email exchange with Davis, which surfaced a variety of critical issues in modern policing. Here are excerpts from their extended dialog, focused primarily on what each believes law enforcement training and performance should be concentrating on.

What do you think?

Before serving as training commander for her last four years with her agency, Garrett worked the street at both line and supervisory levels; filled a variety of assignments in the detective, juvenile, and community policing divisions; graduated from the FBI National Academy; and was a leadership fellow and adjunct instructor at the FBI Training Academy at Quantico. She holds master’s degrees in criminal justice and education.

In his continuing career with a major municipal department in northeast Ohio, Davis has worked high-crime patrol, street narcotics, gang enforcement, and SWAT. He’s a popular instructor at ILEETA training conferences and provides consulting services to agencies throughout the country through his organization, Advanced Tactical Concepts.

We start with Garrett’s initial comments.

Garrett: “One must first think to survive the street”
I find that there is heavy emphasis by trainers within the profession on tactics and not so much on the mental aspects of successful law enforcement that must influence an officer’s judgment long before weaponry or force need to be deployed.

Too many officers center on technology and weapons while ignoring basics like communication, negotiation, observation, and critical thinking skills. Agencies train heavily for weapons skills while never instructing officers how to effectively listen to people, analyze situations, or simply read body language.

Today’s officer is isolated within a patrol car, emboldened with body armor, quick to draw a TASER or firearm, and slow to engage people skills to resolve everyday issues. There is a general distain for ethics, communication, and logics training. Analysis is for geeks, not street cops. Yet in reality nothing could be farther from the truth.

Without critical thinking and correct evaluation of information, weaponry rapidly becomes a liability in cases where officer decision-making processes are intrinsically flawed.

If mental skill is introduced as a core value, included as one of the 7 Habits of the Highly Successful Cop, perhaps law enforcement could be smarter than the bad guys instead of trying to out-muscle them. Neanderthal man became extinct by employing the tactic of brute force alone. One must first think to survive the street.

As government resources dwindle for personnel allocation, and desire to enter public service narrows, we must train the few to be smarter, not simply harder.

Davis Responds: “There’s a time to talk and a time to act”
“I’ve been in law enforcement for over 30 years with 12 1/2 years spent in SWAT. During my special operations experience I was involved in over 500 tactical operations including one fatal shooting. I can guarantee you that I and my teammates on SWAT, as well as my partner and I when we worked the busiest car in the city at night, were thinking constantly and were hardly the “Neanderthal man” you refer to. Matter-of-fact, we used to say, “SWAT is a thinking man’s game.”

All of the seven habits of successful officers mentioned in the article are mental. That said, a thinking cop without a good right cross is worthless. In today’s violent world, competence and confidence based on skills are vital.

A good talker and a good “engager” are worthless in a bar fight or when confronted with a deadly threat. Too many officers are killed trying to talk to a man with a gun instead of shooting him. Too many officers are injured because they are indecisive, unskilled, and unsure of themselves.

Have you ever seen a dynamic confrontation simulation where a very smart, very educated, very good-talking officer without adequate physical skills and little experience in stressful situations confronts a violent role player? The results are catastrophic, with “melt-down” being a good description.

On the street, there’s a time to talk and a time to act. If you keep talking at a suspect who won’t surrender during a barricade situation, for example, you give him time to bunker and prepare a response. At one training conference, an instructor gave a memorable presentation called “Shut Up and Shoot,” in which he acknowledged the problem of officers over-talking with armed suspects.

If you take out the 18 percent who are ambushed, nearly one-third of all officers killed feloniously did not use or attempt to use their own weapon to defend themselves. Talking is a form of hesitation, so talking when appropriate is fine but when it’s not, you’d better be able and willing to go hands on and your skills must be there.

Cops love solid, realistic training programs that improve their performance and survivability on the street — programs such as verbal judo and practical training on dealing with the mentally ill. They hate untested theoretical programs espoused by non-law enforcement academics or illegitimate programs such as ethics classes that talk about the dangers of accepting a free cup of coffee, taught by a supervisor in an agency where rules and policies are not applied to supervisors.

I’m not arguing against the mental aspects of officer survival. Nor am I against a strong tactical communication. I agree with you: We need to train harder and smarter. And officers need to accept personal responsibility for carrying on their education and training when departments fail them (as is, sadly, often the case nowadays).

Garrett: “Be respected vs. feared”
I am not undercutting a need for tactical training. The point of commenting on the article was to point out a generalized over-emphasis in law enforcement training on using force rather than problem solving and, perhaps, opening a dialog. I am decrying the ongoing lack of training for interactive skills that diffuse tension as an alternative to immediately resorting to force, even though that may still become the ultimate outcome. It is not a viable option for an agency to teach an officer to shoot, but not emphasize how to analyze the situation beforehand.

The key is reliance on both mental aptitude and tactics, and communicating that clearly when training — not one in preference or emphasis over the other. The force continuum begins with verbalization and can successfully (and most often does) end there.

Academic application worked for me on the street when I weighed only 110 pounts. Being a woman in LE wasn’t a cakewalk, with no TASERs, no issued chemical agent, and male officers who would not back you up because they resented you.

The gift of persuasion served me well when I went hands on with my share, including engaging members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang. Don’t think physical tactics carried me in conflict situations; it was savvy and skill at talking my way through a situation that safeguarded me and my partners. We could resolve dangerous situations no matter how warped, high, drunk, or crazy the combatant. Overwhelming hands-on force with my physical build was not an option but I was never injured in the line of duty.

Law enforcement doesn’t always have to swat flies; flies can be drawn into submission through stealth, guile, and metaphorical honey—but only if you are wise and are trained to do so. Too many of today’s LE candidates have poor interpersonal skills reinforced by the increasingly isolating technology-based society. Fewer can adequately write, spell, read, or effectively construct a decent police report, let alone resolve a crisis without using violence.

The community will respect officers for using strategy every bit as much as using force and it is always preferable to be respected versus feared.

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