“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”
It’s the goal of every officer who dons the mantle of “trainer” or “educator” to create an officer who is quintessentially “The One”: he or she who will motivate and lead all of those around them. But the reality is that this process after the academy is far less introduction to the movie “300” and more Bill Murray’s amazing comedy “Groundhog Day.” This article aims to address the brain drain that’s suffered at all departments as their officers learn how to actually do the job and then move on.
A law enforcement officer (LEO) is a huge investment for the department. Fresh from the academy, the newly minted officers are then deposited into the trust of a vetted senior officer to show them in four months or less all the life lessons needed to become a successful LEO. After that, the LEO then struggles to learn on the job all the important lessons needed to be successful, all the while facing criminals who are constantly evolving, adapting, and becoming better at crime.
After four or five years, the LEO is now seasoned and well-versed in the tactics of the local criminal element. They know their beat, have developed sources, have developed contacts in the community, and have developed a methodology of applying the law to its most effective and efficient conclusion as it pertains to the local law enforcement culture and the agency which he or she serves. Now that the LEO has survived the crucible of patrol for five years, he or she looks to further develop their career. They leave for another division within their agency or even to another agency.
What happens to all that hard-earned knowledge that the law enforcement officer obtained during his or her five years of service? What happens to all the valuable resources and contacts that were developed and refined to the point that they became fruitful? What happens to the benefit of shared experiences that could have been imparted upon the following group of up-and-coming LEOs?
It depends on the agency, but in most cases the LEOs who remain are left to pick up the pieces. The criminals, meanwhile, keep at their beat. So how can we stem this loss of institutional knowledge and build a more resilient culture?
To Do Better
Cops disdain and complain about two things: 1) when things change; 2) when they stay the same.
Criminals, on the other hand, are motivated by many things. But two of the primary motivators are profit and fear of being caught. As a result, the criminal culture is one of constant evolution. Yes, of course, there are criminals who never learn and may arguably become worse criminals as their careers progress. However, these aren’t the types of criminals I am referring to. I am referring to the type who is caught, goes to Criminal University (AKA prison), and comes out a stronger, faster, more well-versed criminal. Society expects us, law enforcement, to be equally effective in catching this new Criminal 2.0 as we were in catching him or her prior to them entering their own crucible.
So now that we have the issue defined, and our adversary defined, let’s now move onto workable solutions. [Disclaimer: I don’t have all the answers. In fact, it is my most earnest desire that this essay sparks discourse amongst the training community to develop robust methods of breaking the habit of reinventing the law enforcement training wheel. I remain a life long student of my tradecraft, Law Enforcement, and like all diligent students, I seek a better understanding of my tradecraft. Or, as my former martial arts instructor Mr. Brandon Sieg put it, “Congratulations, you got your blackbelt. All this shows that you are now a dedicated student to your art.”]
Mentorship. The first solution that I present is to institute a mentorship program within the shift. The mentor would be charged with taking the newly minted law enforcement officer and assisting them in their continued growth. The mentor would share resources, agency and shift best practices, local knowledge, etc. While the younger officer brings forth the energy and drive of someone who wants to tackle all the world’s problems and have them solved before lunch.
In addition, the mentor adds a buffer layer between the new law enforcement officer and the sergeant, which then spares the sergeant from the innocent, but incessant, “Hey, yeah, Sarge … I got a question …”
In addition, it teaches the young officer to learn how to ask for help and properly use the resources available. To the mentor, the benefit gained is that it takes one level of understanding to do the job, and whole other level of understanding to teach the job. This would aide the mentor in developing a better grasp of the subject matter which would then aide them in any future endeavors, i.e., testing for promotion. The mentor program also develops teamwork and ownership of any local issues.
So often it is easy for the more seasoned officers to complain about how deficient the newer officers are as they come out of the academy and then the ensuing FTO program. This option of developing a mentorship program gives the seasoned vets a direct, meaningful, and tangible method of developing a solution to their perceived problem. There would be immediate feedback and ultimately as the saying goes, a rising tide raises all ships in the harbor.
Shift database. The next solution I present is developing a resource for the shift. This database could contain phone numbers for contacts to business that have frequent alarms or the phone number for on-call resources, maps for apartment complexes within the jurisdiction, maps of schools or other large areas that an officer may need to respond too, or commonly used legal statutes. The point is to develop a database that’s beneficial to all the subjects on that shift, but doesn’t rest with any one member of that shift. Everyone provides information into the database and everyone shall benefit from it.
There may need to be a database administrator, and it is easy enough to appoint a secondary one in case the first one is unavailable. This database can exist on an Excel spreadsheet, a Microsoft word document, or a web page within the agency intranet. If the agency is willing to create a resource page for the officers, it must also develop a methodology of having the information updated.
The benefits to such a database are clear. While not perfect, it would help mitigate any loss of institutional knowledge due to shift brain drain. It would empower the members of the shift or organization with ownership, which would then only encourage more buy in, e.g. the care and treatment of issued assets vs. personally purchased assets.
These two solutions may or may not work for your agency. Think of them as starting points, completely modular and adaptable to the needs of your organization. The most important part is to achieve buy in, listen to the people involved, and figure out a way to address their needs. We in law enforcement are problem solvers. We are not helpless, we are not victims, and we are not quitters. Much like any problem created by people, within ourselves we can find the solution.
Stay safe and do remarkable things, my blue family.