Establishing control of the “self” should be the most important aspect of law enforcement training.
Yep. Learning self-control, understanding it, what it is and why it’s hard to do needs to be the foundation of all law enforcement training.
This isn’t meant to imply that we should train in nothing else. I’m just saying that if you don’t have self-control then everything else is pointless.
In the past year the media has bent over backwards to establish a narrative about cops that portray us as being a group of overly aggressive, militaristically inclined violent thugs. Much of the blame is directed towards the way we train.
What they are selling—and what the public subsequently buys—is that police officers constantly train to be Warriors because we are convinced that almost everyone is out to kill us. So we practice shooting first and asking questions later. This theory is ludicrous, of course.
We in the profession know the real truths when it comes to training.
- We actually don’t train near as much as we should (or as much as the public thinks we do).
- Almost none of our training is spent learning how to actually win a real deadly force attack.
- Most of the time we fire our weapons we are standing still, not behind cover, and focusing on center mass.
- We do almost no training in empty-hands control tactics or using less-than-lethal force weapons.
- Stress is almost completely ignored during training: what it is, how to deal with it, what to expect, how to overcome and control it.
- Finally, real communication skills—I mean realistic ones to be used in real life, is almost completely overlooked. When communication training does happen it’s usually boring, and unrealistic and it totally ignores the human aspect of interactions, which includes the all-important self-control!
We at Calibre Press dissect every police video we come across and we come across all of them. We pay particular attention to the videos where officers either make mistakes or are perceived to have made mistakes.
Every time the public sees a video of a police officer yelling profanities, draws his weapon, over-uses physical control tactics or shoots a subject, the public thinks they are witnessing police officers out of control because they are violent by nature and train constantly for combat. What I see more often than not is someone undertrained to handle the stress of a situation they’ve suddenly found themselves in.
That has to change. Let’s start with the basics of the job and what it is to be human.
Your professional goal, virtually all the time, is simply to control, redirect and/or influence other people’s immediate behavior.
That’s it, and that’s a lot.
Whether it’s to calm them down, make them believe you care about their stolen bike, get them to leave the house for the night, move them off the corner or have them drop a weapon, you’re in the people manipulation business.
I know, the word manipulation sounds bad, but that’s what we do.
Look, you have to accept the fact that you’re not going to change a person’s life or philosophy during one interaction. There are no magic words that will stop some guy from being an abusive spouse. What they think about you, the cops, the government, God—doesn’t matter! Protect those who need protecting, but after that handle the situation at hand. Manipulate their immediate thought processes.
And to do that successfully you must learn how to control the immediate self.
Those Pesky Human Beings
I wrote a book called Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement. The book was designed to assist police officers in understanding the importance of communication and how to interact successfully on every level imaginable.
In it I address four truths as the book’s foundation:
- The Human animal is in a constant state of communication.
- Almost all communication happens unconsciously.
- During interactions people must believe that they are viewed by the other as having value, significance, worth and a level of importance.
- Every human being on the planet has an IDIOT living inside of them.
So let’s talk about the IDIOT.
The IDIOT is the uncontrolled child that resides within (Freud called it the id). It’s the part of the brain that doesn’t care about consequences. It ignores reality. It becomes myopic and illogical. It makes decisions based on primitive drives and raw emotion. In other words, the IDIOT is a reptile, and the reptilian brain establishes and defends territory.
In the modern human this reptile, this IDIOT, emerges when the human’s worth, value, and especially when its authority is challenged by another. When this happens to a police officer (“contempt of cop”), too often the IDIOT is unleashed, unfettered emotion takes control, and the officer on occasion decides that exercising his/her authority is the best way to reestablish power, territory and level of importance.
This manifests itself in many destructive ways.
- Screaming and swearing;
- Issuing orders that have nothing to do with their immediate goal;
- Making an arrest with no probable cause;
- Throwing more punches than necessary; and/or
- Firing a weapon when lethal force is not justified.
All of these things lead to disaster at some level. Disaster that could lead to discipline, career derailment, loss of a career, and in the worst case scenarios, loss of life and imprisonment.
The Sandra Bland Video
Full disclosure, I’ve been guilty of this IDIOT behavior many times myself, especially when I was a young, testosterone-filled 24-year-old night-shift-working man-cop.
But let’s examine the Texas DPS traffic stop of a motorist named Sandra Bland. This is one example of what I’m talking about: the nonsensical IDIOT being unleashed.
Now I’m not saying the trooper is an idiot. I’m talking about the IDIOT aspect of the human psyche. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think the trooper did anything illegal. But as I’ve said many times in my career: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Watch the clip attached to this article. The traffic stop is going fine. The officer is issuing the ticket. He notices she is perturbed, so he asks about it. Bland is frustrated and a little snarky, so what? The goal of the trooper is to issue the citation and get out of there. Bland isn’t going nuts, and even if she was, again, so what?
However, everything turns when he tells her to put out her cigarette and she balks. What he does next is absolutely lawful: He tells her to exit the vehicle. Again, it’s legal, but why do it? The reason for the stop was to cite her for the violation. He was almost done. Mission accomplished. But her attitude, her “contempt of cop” changed the trooper’s professional goal from issuing a ticket to reestablishing his worth and value.
When she challenged him, this awakened the IDIOT within. The IDIOT grunts: “I can take care of that. Let’s show her who’s boss.” So the trooper, for no logical reason that I can see at this point, tells her to exit the car and from there it goes downhill in an emotional tug-of-war.
During this period of time the trooper tells her that she is under arrest and she asks, “For what?” He never answers. Why? I think the logical side of him doesn’t know. And the longer it goes on, the more Brand challenges the trooper. She swears, calls him emasculating names, and threatens him and his career, which only adds to the stress, resulting in a more out-of-control reptilian IDIOT brain doing and saying things that need not be done or said. (This by the way will also effect his ability to remember the situation a mere minutes later.)
Again, please don’t misunderstand my point. I’m not indicting this trooper, his authority, his personhood or his overall professionalism. All of us have done something like this at some point. That is, all of us have lost control and handed it over to the IDIOT part of our brain.
We Must Train More & Better
Agencies have to accept that stress is the foremost problem when it comes to poor and unacceptable behavior from officers while interacting with the public. It’s not because they lack moral fiber and ethical values, it’s because they are ill-equipped and unprepared for the sudden onset of massive stress.
Police administrators need to address this issue yesterday. Unfortunately, they either don’t recognize that the inability to deal with stress is the problem and/or they don’t know how to tackle the topic realistically.
It begins with understanding human psychology. Then, they must make a commitment to train realistically in a way that the line-level will accept.
Either way, bosses, it needs to happen now.