Law enforcement officers have a myriad of tools they rely on in order to aid in their effectiveness as they carry out their duties. These tools include experience and training, but are more commonly thought of as items such as firearms, tourniquets, and knives. Independently, each tool these professionals employ is relatively insignificant. However, once all of these tools are put together in concert, the level of effectiveness of each will experience a quantum increase.
Let’s take a knife for example. A knife is a typical “must-have” for law enforcement officers and you will struggle to find an officer who does not carry a knife on duty. Why is that? What characteristics make knives effective tools for law enforcement? Is it because of their size and ability to conceal? Maybe it’s because of the sharpness of their blade.
Much like a knife is expected to be sharp in order to display maximum effectiveness, so should all law enforcement professionals. However, this is not limited to intelligence and wit. I have coined the term SHARP to represent the characteristics that I desire for every law enforcement officer. In that, to be SHARP means to be Strong, Honorable, Aware, Respectful, and Professional. I’ve briefly expounded on each tenet below.
Strong: Each officer should be strong physically, in faith, and in resolve. It’s no secret officers benefit from being strong through physical conditioning. There is plenty proof-positive of what makes this critical. On the issue of faith: whether that faith is in God or is drawn from someplace else, officers need to tap into it intimately and allow it to guide them in conscience. Officers need to be strong in resolve. An officer who identifies their passion and resolve can target it intentionally and ultimately increase efficiency.
Honorable: Every officer should be honorable. The expectation is for officers to lead with dignity and create a discernible distinction that sets them apart. There are few things greater than honor amongst men (and women). In these days, honor seems to be increasingly scarce to come by and truly is an invaluable trait.
Aware: Awareness is a critical component of law enforcement. Not just from the standpoint of officer safety, which is supremely important, but also from the standpoint of overall conscious. Officers need to be aware of the climate and culture of their environment. Having as much information about a given situation makes officers better informed and subsequently, better equipped to deal with whatever circumstance they find themselves faced with. Personal and social awareness makes an officer far more effective and relatable.
Respectful: Let’s face it, everyone wants to be treated with respect. Respect is experienced through our speech and our actions. In law enforcement, each officer is tasked with the awesome responsibility of using varying degrees of force in the lawful execution of their duties. To that point, there is a very real possibility that an officer on any given call may be faced with the decision to employ lethal force. In this event, the decision should not be made lightly. Through effective training officers should gain valuable experience in making critical decisions in fractions of time. When practicable, an officer should attempt reasonable de-escalation efforts. When those efforts to value (respect) life have failed or are exhausted an officer may find lethal force is the only objectively reasonable alternative that remains. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the profession.
Professional: An officer who dons the uniform, carries the badge, or drives the department vehicle is an ambassador for the department and municipality that they represent. To that end, officers are challenged to place their best foot forward at all times. However, this is not to say that officers should be expected to pander to public opinion or scrutiny. Let’s be honest: there will always be a faction of the population who will never embrace nor support the body of work law enforcement professionals diligently carry out day-after-day. Still, officers are expected to fulfill their oaths without stumble or delay and most do so proudly and to the best of their abilities every single day.
It is my firm belief, with the tenets outlined above in mind, every officer can respond to practically any situation both proudly and persuasively. Being SHARP is more than a mindset, but a conscious effort to be matched among the top performers of the craft. The goal should be for every officer to be Strong, Honorable, Aware, Respectful, and Professional at every pass. Doing so will not only lead to a strong and successful career, but also make serious strides in repairing the professional image that has been unfairly and categorically ambushed by the media in recent years. We all play a part in the equation. Are you prepared to do what is necessary to be SHARP?
I know I am.
Sanford Swanson began his career as a law enforcement professional in 2006 and currently serves as a patrol officer for his department where he is employed. Sanford’s professional experiences span areas of patrol, investigations, training/instruction, and supervision. During his tenure, he has found passion in the areas of community policing and training. As a veteran law enforcement instructor of several disciplines, he places an emphasis on officer survival and control tactics/techniques. He travels across the country, as an instructor-trainer, training officers in STOPS officer survival tactics.