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Time to Stop Eating Our Own

Time to Stop Eating Our Own

Photo Courtesy: Chuck Humes


The law enforcement profession is a culture where we eat our own. We don’t discriminate; we eat our own regardless of age, service, sex, size, color or department. As much as we all would like to blame management, the media and the public for this, the worst offenders are our peers.

Make a mistake in an interview or interrogation, stumble during a skilled cross-examination in court, mess up a presentation, have a spelling error on a PowerPoint slide, lose a court case or lose a fight, and your peers will be all over you.

Whether it’s a use of force or a decision not to use force, there are always police pundits ready to pass judgment and make their opinions known. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop at force issues. Criticism flows quickly regarding word choice, tone of voice, size of an officer’s ears, the color of their socks, etc. It seems we just like to criticize our brother and sister officers and lie to ourselves, saying that we would have done it better.

Before everyone in the world had a camera, the critics were usually limited to people in your own agency. Now, cops you know (or thought you knew), cops you have never seen in your life and cops from halfway around the world will all have something to say about your performance, your upbringing, your mental capacity and your ability to do the job.

How many times have you heard a fellow officer start a sentence with the words “If I was there I would have…” What comes after that is a fairy tale we tell ourselves and anyone else who will listen. It’s also pure bull because the only people who know what they would have done are those who were actually there—and they know what they did.

There is no value in second-guessing and criticizing the actions of other officers. They likely did the best they could at that moment with the tools, training, knowledge and resources available to them. We have all screwed up more than once. Most of us were fortunate enough not to have it captured on video or to have it become a headline story.

I’m not suggesting there is no value in examining videos or case studies of incidents. If done properly, there can be tremendous value in these reviews. It’s time to stop being so critical and start using the information to be constructive and to improve our own abilities. Instead of stating, “If I was there I would have,” first ask yourself this question: “When I find myself in a similar situation in the future, what will I be most likely to do?” Follow up this question by exploring and brainstorming your options. Do a little research to determine as much as you can about the totality of circumstance, especially what was known at the time action was taken. Based on the totality of circumstances, ask yourself these questions:

  • What action(s) brought police involvement?
  • Do the actions justify an arrest of the subject?
  • What verbal commands, if any, would I use?
  • What force options do I have?
  • Of those force options, which option would I have the greatest confidence in using?
  • What follow-up techniques would I use?
  • How would I call it in on the radio?
  • What direction would I give to other officers on the scene, or arriving at the scene?

Once you have examined the situation and answered these and other relevant questions, take a few moments to engage in a brief performance enhancement imagery exercise. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the situation and allow it to play out the way you would most like it to. Imagine defeating the threat and controlling both the situation and the subject. Take time to run through it in your mind a few times.

This simple switch in your diet, from fellow officer to student, will pay dividends for you in your professionalism and your performance in the field.

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About The Author

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Brian Willis is the editor, publisher and contributing writer for the acclaimed books W.I.N.: Critical Issues in Training and Leading Warriors, W.I.N. 2: Insights Into Training and Leading Warriors, If I Knew Then: Life Lessons From Cops on the Street, If I Knew Then 2: Warrior Reflections, am I that man? How Heroes Role Models and Mentors Can Shape Your Life and a contributing writer for Warriors: On Living with Courage, Discipline and Honor. Brian serves as the Deputy Executive Director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers association (ILEETA). He is the past editor of the ILEETA Review, writes the W.I.N. Column for the ILEETA Journal and has had numerous articles published in law enforcement periodicals. Brian began his law enforcement career with the Calgary Police Service in 1979 and over the next 25 years he worked as a patrol officer, tactical officer, patrol supervisor and trainer. From 1995 to 2004 he was the head use of force trainer for the Calgary Police Service (an agency of 1950 officers). In that role he was responsible for researching, developing, instructing and overseeing the Officer Safety, Subject Control Tactics, Crowd Management, Incident Command and Emergency Vehicle Operations programs. Brian also served on the Crowd Control Unit for 19 years as a constable, supervisor in charge of training and development, Platoon Commander and Deputy Commander. He served in integral roles during the World Petroleum Congress and G8 Summit in Calgary. Brian served as a member of the National Advisory Board for Police Marksman Magazine from 2000 to 2007 and is a member of the National Tactical Officers Association, the Illinois Tactical Officers Association, the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and Canadian Association of Professional Speakers In addition to numerous law enforcement certifications Brian holds a Certificate in Adult Learning from the University of Calgary and Mount Royal College. He has given presentations on mental preparation and conditioning at numerous international conferences and is sought after as a speaker across North America for his presentations Excellence in Training, Harnessing The Winning Mind and Warrior Spirit, The Pursuit of Personal Excellence and am I that man?. Brian has trained law enforcement trainers from the FBI, DEA, RCMP, as well as trainers from state/provincial and municipal agencies from across Canada and the United States in his cutting edge Excellence in Training program.