Police Work Is Not a Game

A 73-year-old “deputy” charged with manslaughter

By Jim Glennon  |   Apr 17, 2015

To become a police officer you have to pass a written test. Once that’s done then there’s both physical agility and power tests. Next, a significant background investigation is conducted. Finally, a psychological examination, accompanied by a polygraph.

Those are the steps that most police departments have in place in order to be hired as a cop.

Once hired (or in some states before you’re hired), you need to attend a police academy that is typically 12 to 26 weeks long. Some are longer.

Once on the job there is a Field Training Program that in most cases is at a minimum four months long. That process involves riding with police officers in a shadowing/mentoring capacity and learning on-the-job.

During that time there are generally DORs (Daily Observation Reports) weekly and monthly summaries of the progress (or lack of progress) of the recruit officer.

Once that phase is completed, then the officer is on a probationary period that lasts anywhere from one to two years.

Law enforcement is a tough, complicated job that requires mental and physical acumen. Having a working knowledge of case law, state statutes and when and how to use force is essential for those in the profession. And that’s just the beginning. In other words, law enforcement is a very serious business with both criminal and civil implications when mistakes are made. It’s life and death in the most literal sense.

So why was a 73-year-old insurance company executive in the position to shoot and kill a man in Oklahoma? 

Policing, Not a Bucket List Item
That’s a question being asked around the country after Robert Bates a millionaire reserve deputy shot and killed 44-year-old Eric Harris, who was fleeing a drug bust.

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Watch the video of Robert Bates shooting Eric Harris.

Bates apologized immediately after mortally wounding Harris, indicating he thought the gun was actually his Taser. “Motor program” mistakes are not that uncommon and are apt to happen more often when training is limited.

And while this is an admittedly “general” statement, full-time comprehensive training is not normally available for part-time reserve officers.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to diminish the dedication of people in these positions. I commend those wishing to assist police departments and serve others. Most are dedicated, well-intentioned people with the best of intentions. Not only that, but countless police agencies couldn’t function without them. Many reservists have saved lives. Others have given their own in service to their communities. I recognize and fully appreciate that.

But this is, nonetheless, a complicated and thorny issue, as the Tulsa case makes clear. How can law enforcement demand such intense, rigorous testing processes and training programs for full-time officers and virtually hand guns and badges to others for a variety of questionable reasons, including contributions to political campaigns.

This is not meant to disparage Mr. Bates as a person. I know nothing about him. But, it makes no sense to spend all the money and time we do to training police officers then throw into the mix people who woefully lack both the training and day-to-day experience.

There are many professions where if you have the interest and the money you can indulge in most anything. Hell, you can pay right now to get a seat on a rocket ship to Mars apparently. You like racing? Plunk down a chunk of change and go to a controlled track and you can drive a Formula 1 racing car. If so inclined, you can go to a baseball fantasy camp and play catch with Sammy Sosa and Joe Pepitone.

But what other occupation allows the untrained to participate unaccompanied as an autonomous participant in a serious profession?

Can you cut hair at a licensed beauty parlor? No.

Give a massage, manicure or pedicure? No.

How about fly a plane or take out an appendix? Hell no.

But, getting a gun and the power accompanying a police badge and going out and playing cop a couple of times a month? Sure, why not? I’ve never understood it.

We desperately need to partner with the community and develop positive relationships. But there are so many things citizens can do to volunteer and assist: work parades, minor traffic control, write parking tickets, assist in the station—but participating in a drug raid with full-time cops, making traffic stops in the middle of the night and going on violent domestics? Not in my world.

Conclusion
I know I’m going to take a ton of heat for this, so let me say it again: I don’t question the motives and dedication of these people. But law enforcement isn’t a fantasy camp and it’s not something that can be played at. Consistency and serious training is imperative and the experience gained by full-time participation is immeasurable.

For those of you that go through the entire process, train the way full-time does and work over 20 hours a week, God bless you.

But for the others that contribute some money, are friends with the political class and want to play Wyatt Earp a couple of times a month, here’s my message to you: Please find another hobby.

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Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.