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7 winning techniques for independent learning

Becaming a specialist in any field not only can make you extremely valuable within the police organization, but can set you up for life after pulling the pin

All of us eventually come across a crime committed by a person who has developed unique skills, techniques, or knowledge. Sometimes all three! Included in this category of criminal are counterfeiters, safe crackers, as well as professional thieves of art, antiques, jewelry, and precious gems. You can probably add many categories to this list based on your own experience. Such was the case many years ago when I was a detective in Hartford, Connecticut sent to the scene of a local museum.

Upon my arrival, museum officials were standing in front of an open, walk-in, wall-size safe that was supposed to be impenetrable. A painting worth millions of dollars had been inside of the safe, but now of course it no longer was. The museum officials repeatedly pointed out to me the sophisticated electronic and mechanical mechanisms that were supposed to be “state of the art” and which the manufacturer has advertized as “invincible to unauthorized entry.”

After several weeks of going through the normal investigative steps, it became apparent to my partner and me that we were way out of our league. Neither of us knew much about professional safe cracking at this level, and even less about art. So, we did what all good investigators do and looked for cops who were experts in these fields. We soon learned that true “specialists” in these areas are few and far between, and if you’re from Connecticut you have to go to New York City to find them. So my partner and I took a trip to the Big Apple.

You would think that a city with more that 34,000 police officers would have hundreds of experts in safe cracking and art theft, but back in the 80’s they’re were only a few. Eventually we met with two very old detectives (mummy old!) who gave us a primer on safe cracking and art theft. It was soon obvious to us that these two cops were “specialists.” Neither had stepped foot in a college classroom, but when it came to safes and art they had spend a lifetime doing “independent study.”

They told us up front that we would never solve the crime or recover the painting and they were right. What did happen though was that I was so impressed with the knowledge and expertise o f these detectives that I wanted to be like them. Like so many of us who have had the experience of being associated with extraordinary people it inspired me to begin a life long journey of independent study.

Independent Study
My definition of independent study is “focused learning through a combination of education, training, personal research, and task related field work resulting in significantly increased and measureable skills, abilities, and personal traits.” In other words, being able to know or do something which most other people can’t. Some people use the term “expert” to describe such a person. I like “specialist.” There are many areas of law enforcement you can specialize in. Here are a few, although the list is endless:

• Accident Deconstructionist
• Bomb Technician
• Arson Investigator
• Homeland Security
• Counterterrorism
• Emergency Management
• Computer Technology

Add to those the myriad fields within forensics — such as ballistics, DNA, blood and blood splatter analysis, forensic entomology, forensic dentistry and bite marks, forensic anthropology, dactyloscopy, and crime scene photography — and you have a wide range of choices for specialization.

If you became a specialist in any of these fields — or many others — not only would you be extremely valuable within the police organization, but you would have set yourself up for life after pulling the pin. The private sector will seek you out if you are a national expert in any of these specialized areas of study!

How to Do It
What are you really interested in? It you don’t have a burning desire and high degree of motivation to learn about a specialized area then you’re finished before you begin. Choose something you hunger for! Maybe you’re in the National Guard and had some basic courses in explosives which peaked your interest to such a degree you got on the departments bomb squad. Perhaps the department even sent you to a school which certified you as a “bomb technician.” Maybe you have even served our country in a foreign land and learned how to deactivate all kinds of bombs. That’s a strong beginning, but not enough. Here are some of the things you need to do:

1.) Attend every single training seminar you can. Spend your own money! Make certain the seminar or training involves actual field work-doing behaviors, not merely academic instruction.
2.) Find out who the best experts are in the police, military, and/or private sector and seek them out. Get on a plane and go to them. There is no substitute from learning from the best. Find a mentor to teach you the stuff the books don’t.
3.) Obtain the names of all the trade magazines and publication and sign up.
4.) Join every organization you can find dealing with explosives.
5.) Take online courses and seek out academic instruction at colleges and universities,
6.) Read. Everything you can get your hands on or can research over the web.
7.) Write. If you want to learn then write an article on how to do it. Get it published.

I’m certain you can add to this list and if you can then step up. It isn’t status, prestige, money, or perks which drive the true specialist. He or she does it because they derive self satisfaction from the journey to knowing and being able to do what few others can. True specialists are a very rare breed. Someday I hope to be one of them!

Be safe out there!
Larry the Jet

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