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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