The shooting death of Philando Castile rocked me as it rocked this nation. Horrific to watch: a man bleeding and dying, his girlfriend live streaming and calmly narrating events, a child wailing in the background, a police officer with his gun drawn, pleading with the woman, obviously in anguish himself … And just one day prior, on July 5, 2016, police in Baton Rouge, La., shot and killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling. This was also captured on video and both went viral simultaneously. Before that, of course, there was Ferguson.
Journalists say that three is a trend. The country’s mood was grim and tense in the days following Castile’s death. Media coverage of the “epidemic of police violence” was ceaseless. Accusations of racism were hurled in all directions before facts were known. Politicians and pundits jumped to condemn the officers involved and the profession as a whole.
As a person who has made policing my life, it was a painful and confusing time for me. The phones at Calibre Press’ offices rang nonstop: from journalists to death threats and everything in between.
A dogged reporter from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wanted to talk. She had discovered in city records that Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot Castile, attended our training more than two years before his encounter with Castile. The implication she made clear: Our “controversial” “warrior” training might have had a causal relationship with that outcome. Pretty soon it was running in the New York Times and everywhere else too. Calibre Press was, they seemed to suggest, party to a crime—or at the very least emblematic of the warrior mentality that was claiming the lives of so many innocents.
Except, of course, that nothing could be further from the truth.
Who We Are
Before I bought and relaunched Calibre Press, I was its lead instructor. Before that I did more than 29 years on the street as a cop. The reason I am so passionate about what I do is that I’ve seen first-hand what happens when police aren’t properly trained.
And it is on this point I agree with some of our fiercest critics: As a profession we simply don’t train enough or in the right areas.
Calibre Press is dedicated to training cops to be, and act, as professionals. “Hone your craft,” I tell them routinely. Our primary emphasis, in all that we teach, is in the importance of understanding of acute sudden-onset stress, how to control it, and communicate effectively during stressful events.
But you wouldn’t know that listening to our most vocal critics. They say we teach cops that hesitation equals death, to shoot first and ask questions later, how to lie and be exonerated, and so forth. Never mind that these claims are ridiculous and absolutely contrary to what we really teach. Never mind that they’ve never attended our training and lie about the little information about it they have been able to obtain. Critics have all the evidence they need: a tenuous article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that was picked up by the New York Times, trafficked on social media, embellished, lied about, and so on and so forth—a game of debauched telephone.
In other words: Scurrilous mendacity.
Recently a Calibre Press training held a seminar at the Mall of America for over 150 police officers. The seminar was protested on social media sites and physically at the Mall of America, where around 30 or fewer people showed up. Two agencies withdrew their officers as a result of the uproar.
Who They Really Are
But it’s not just our training the protestors really have a problem with. As they stated at their protest/press conference (that involved no actual press): “The problem is not rotten apples or poor police training. The institution of policing is rotten. … We must disband the police.”
Said another speaker: “I think everybody up here would agree, pretty much, with abolishing the police.”
Our critics, in other words, who claim to speak on behalf of “the community,” are proud and avowed police abolitionists. They want the police gone! This truth is readily evident—the quotes above were made live and are available on their website called Unicorn Riot—but you would get no sense of it when reading the popular press. Protestors are simply referred to as a group of “critics” and “activists,” and our training is “controversial.” Balanced journalism? More like euphemism par excellence.
Since when does a tiny brigade of police haters get to dictate what sort of training police get?
Welcome to the 21st Century.
Like most civilian peace officers, I got into this line of work to help people. Specifically, to help people in crisis, people in their worst moments. And I was able to do that. I’m proud of my service. I saw a lot of misery, death, and destruction along the way. I saw, and participated in, real violence. That’s sadly part of this job. Not because I want it that way, but this is the world we live in. Do away with cops and you consign our most vulnerable citizens to prolonged victimhood and pain. No thanks.
So what Calibre Press has done is brought on some of the best instructors in the country, each extremely experienced and highly educated. We research and discuss in order to create courses that address the reality of the job. How to calm victims. Assure the delusional. Gather the facts. Pay attention. Be fair and impartial. Avoid judgement. Protect. Communicate effectively. Lead. Understand the insidiousness of stress. Recognize danger cues, preattack indicators and yes, survive deadly force encounters!
It’s not like we’re hiding from it! I’ve participated in dozens of interviews, written hundreds of articles—and a book too, with others forthcoming—among many other public interactions. In fact, we recently had a PhD candidate in psychology not only spend the day with us in training, but she provided constructive feedback and addressed our audience directly. We’ve invited news networks into our training and many have treated us fairly. Others, however, came with a bias. They wanted nothing more than an out-of-context snippet to substantiate, or at least accompany, their preexisting conclusions.
Few other police training companies would dream of this degree of transparency and interaction. I’m proud of what we do—largely because Calibre Press is constantly improving, forever researching. We’re doing our best to narrow the divide between cops and communities. We talk honestly about our shortcomings. Our critics, such as those who tried to shut us down last week, show no such introspection. They freely admit they want to deepen this divide, until cops go away.
Threaten, lie, cajole: It’s part of their game plan. Their endgame is to see us gone.
Should these be the people our profession listens to about policy and training?