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Turning combat vets into cops: Facilitating the cadet transformation

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
— Alan Kay

In my April article about combat veterans returning to our streets, I discussed several of the positive aspects surrounding our warriors returning home. Many of these men and women, quite naturally, will seek to join the ranks of law enforcement. The overwhelming majority of these candidates will make extraordinary officers. They have field-tested skills, increased tactical capabilities, and mental toughness.

With this increase in tactical capability and mental toughness comes an increase in responsibility. Sometimes that responsibility is not met — often with tragic consequences.

When reservist Joshua Cartwright murdered Florida Deputies Burt Lopez and Deputy Warren York, he became an example of how a trained individual can be involved in a traumatic event such as flipping your vehicle on the road, subsequently being TASERED, and still remaining in the fight. Cartwright engaged in a fight that was anything but righteous; a fight that took the lives of two of our best first-line defenders.

With a tragedy like this one, we must not only mourn — we must look for any valuable lessons we can take away. As law enforcement agencies throughout the United States encounter a significant increase in job applications from service members, there are some things that administrators must take into account. They include the military veteran’s mindset and understanding of things like:

• Rules of Engagement vs. Levels of Force
• Deadly Force Justification
• Psychological Testing and Post Traumatic Stress
• The Cadet Cultural Transformation

Marines are made, not born. Soldiers choose to enter a world like no other and sailors elect to accelerate their lives. For many, these simple catch phrases are nothing more than a clever string of words. For a combat veteran, each syllable evokes a higher truth and a constant reminder of the selfless choice to serve our great nation.

Today’s Veterans have been called upon to deploy to the four corners of the world. Blanket policies have been put into place to assist these professionals as they work to navigate through the constant unknown. Often those same policies have proven to be detrimental to the welfare and survivability of the professional as seen in the recent case surrounding MSG Joe Newell. Newell, an 18-year Special Forces soldier, was wrongfully tried for premeditated murder.

After 10 months of hardship, he was found not guilty on all charges.

There is a distinct difference surrounding active combat operations and community policing; yet these professionals have been tasked to conduct both without any tolerance. International politicians aggressively work to appease the masses which has become manifest in the present irrational guidelines preventing a soldier from shooting unless the suspected enemy combatant is carrying a visible firearm.

When our officers are placed into a shoot-no-shoot scenario, their actions seldom transpire into an international incident. Stateside law enforcement professionals are given the latitude to determine, act upon and articulate reasonableness surrounding deadly force encounters.

U.S. Armed Forces are given a series of use of force guidelines better known as the AOR Rules of Engagement. While these documents may appear similar, they are worlds apart. For example, during the Haiti Crisis of 2004, Chimers “local street thugs” could surround U.S. Marine checkpoints in the hundreds. Typically, bats, chains, and makeshift weapons were all visible. Yet a Marine could not fire a single shot until shot. Imagine looking at an AK-47 within what would appear to be a 1960’s-era street riot and have to wait to be shot at before you could “reasonably” engage.

For combat veterans seeking to become cops, deadly force training will need to be re-learned from the bottom up. You cannot simply expect a service member to shut off years of training because an agency’s guidelines say so.

Both the law enforcement and the military can attest: there is usually some form of emotional impact on the professional involved in a deadly force encounter. The extent to which the professional is psychologically affected is dependent upon variables that cannot simply be tallied or calculated.

I feel it is highly probable that current law enforcement administrators will eventually acquire first hand experience with one of the more than 300,000 veterans believed to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a disorder that traditional pre-hire psychological exams are not specifically designed to detect. Signs of PTSD may not appear until the officer becomes confronted with a similar emotionally charged altercation such as shots fired while establishing a perimeter on a barricaded suspect.

Who assumes liability when the officer is later found to have a verifiable psychological disorder? The agency which failed to detect the disorder? The officer who was functioning with a medically-classified impaired state of conscious awareness of his/her actions?

The point is: there will always be someone to blame. Administrators need to have a well-considered plan in place. Otherwise, we are looking at just another wildcard to hand our already bent judicial system, where lawyers look for loopholes instead of simply working to separate fact from fiction.

Cadet transformation is lurking on the horizon. A force of warriors waits to join the ranks of the greatest law enforcement community in the world. The question of acceptable application and emotional stability will remain unknown.

Academy instructors may find themselves in the company of battle-hardened warriors, not the typical untested cadet who is looking to find if they have what it takes to don the badge. The cadet transformation will need to include a train the trainer approach without losing the student centric focus.

Administrators may find that there is significant upside to developing an extended academy. An academy designed to help transition veterans back to the police force. Many academy instructors have never been in a real gunfight or taken the life of another.

The academy instructor must constantly ask themselves questions like:

• What applicable skills does this veteran possess?
• How were they trained?
• How can I harness the good and filter the obsolete?
• Am I prepared mentally for the challenge that many veterans will bring?

I opened this article by briefly touching on the issue of Joshua Cartwright, and it is with him that I will close. Cartwright has brought discredit to service, country, and self.  His actions can never be justified. He is an example of an individual who received the training but lacked the professional responsibility and demeanor the U.S. Military continuously demands of its professionals.

This was a trained soldier with a known past for domestic violence who was leaving a shooting range.

Joshua Cartwright does not deserve to be called a soldier in any future context. He was a soldier who turned into a murderer the moment he took the lives of two of Okaloosa County’s finest.

In part three we will discuss the truth behind gangs in the military, as well as efforts on the part of the cartels to target former combat veterans who revert back to the gang lifestyle, and the likely impact on stateside street violence.

Until then, stay safe.

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