“Hahaha! Not one officer in this department would recommend anyone work for us!”

February 28, 2020

Calibre Press conducts a seminar all around the country titled, Recruiting & Retaining the Next Generation. The course is exactly what it sounds like, though we talk about all generations, as well as the evolution of the profession. We also discuss the multitude of current problems that have resulted in low numbers of recruits (especially women and persons of color) and early retirements.

The two-day class is conducted by a team of instructors who have experience as police officers, administrators, and recruiters. It features a panel discussion and breakouts with attendees who talk about their department’s issues related to recruiting young people and retaining seasoned, experienced officers. In addition, we show well-produced, professional videos that advocate selling a lifestyle rather than just a job.

Several months ago, I asked an entire class this question:

“So, we’ve gone over examples of effective and impactful recruiting strategies, the truth about the profession vs. what the media and pundits push, and a ton of new ideas about recruiting young officers and retaining much-needed veterans.”

“Say your department implements all of this to the best of its abilities. Some young person becomes interested in joining your department and walks up to the average cop in your agency. She asks, ‘Should I join your police department?’ What would be that random officers’ response?”

I couldn’t get the question finished before three recruiters – experienced officers of a very large police department – started laughing out loud.

Obviously, this gained my immediate attention. I turned towards them as they, without prompting, explained the motivation behind their spontaneous and somewhat unprofessional response.

“This stuff is great. We learned a lot. But no matter how many bells and whistles we add and no matter how attractive we make our department look, there isn’t one officer in this entire agency who would recommend that someone join us.”


“Zero trust. We don’t trust our administrators because they have no interest in standing up to the politicians, the media, and the activists. They don’t want to know the truth. The stats you show, the truth about how often we don’t and do use force – they don’t want to hear it. They will throw an officer under the bus so fast to protect their jobs that the average cop doesn’t believe they will be protected even when they are in the right.”

After the class ended, the officer and I talked some more. He told me that “the bosses don’t want to hear about” the science of human performance – how fast someone can move, raise a gun, point and shoot, and the way acute stress affects decision making (all things we presented in the class). He made it clear that the administrators of his department “make up their minds about the fate of an officer based on the reaction of cop-haters.”

Oakland, CA

In mid-2019, the Oakland Police Commission, which is made up of an appointed, civilian-led body designed to oversee the Oakland Police Department, voted to terminate all officers involved in a police shooting which left a man named Joshua Pawlik dead. The commission deemed its decision as “appropriate discipline.” The Chief of Oakland defended the actions of her officers and was also terminated soon after voicing her support. The mayor of Oakland did not indicate whether or not the chief’s firing had anything to do specifically with her defending her officers.

As for the officers themselves, the local FOX affiliate KTVU noted that “[…] the commission members found that [the four officers] all discharged their rifles resulting in Pawlik’s death on March 11, 2018, in violation of police policy. They also found that [another officer] discharged a bean bag at Pawlik, which they said was a violation of the department’s use-of-force policy.”

When Pawilk was shot, he had a gun in his hand. The shooting was on video.

Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officer’s Association, said, “The commission’s decision is obviously born from a politically-driven need to prosecute police officers regardless of the facts.”

But the police union wasn’t alone in thinking that the officers’ actions were reasonable. From the KTVU website: “The [Oakland Police Commission’s] findings are in stark contrast to what Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, the Oakland Police Internal Affairs unit, and the Community Police Review Agency found and recommended. The CPRA, for example, advised that most of the officers should be exonerated.”

Even so, the commissioners rejected these findings from the three different entities, calling them “tainted.”

Tainted, I’m presuming, because the conclusions which resulted from complete investigations by experienced law enforcement professionals and investigators didn’t match up with what the inexperienced political appointees wanted to believe.

That may sound cynical, but I’ve actually always advocated for civilian oversight – even in the face of opposition from fellow criminal justice professionals. I simply believe that the government needs oversight from the civilian population which employs them and grants them power.

That said, I certainly don’t think that those doing the overseeing should be people with a record of anti-police bias and who believe they are experts in law enforcement because they binge-watch episodes of NCIS, CSI, COPS, and are fans of the Lethal Weapon movies.

One of the reasons given for firing the officers was that in the enhanced version of the unclear video the man never raised his firearm towards the officers. He held the gun in his hand and refused to drop it.

“The committee does not find persuasive officer testimony that Mr. Pawlik lifted, moved, or pointed the handgun in a threatening manner toward officers,” the commissioners detailed in their final report.

Of course, the people who made the decision very likely slowed the video down and even freeze-framed it to establish what the man was doing with the gun…a convenience officers in the midst of a real-time situation don’t have.

I doubt that any of these people know anything about the science of human performance and/or stress. They probably don’t know that someone can raise a gun, point, and fire in as little as 18/100ths of a second. It takes twice as long for an officer to pull the trigger of their own gun once their brain recognizes the need to shoot.

These decision-makers have no experience dealing with someone who is drunk, high, mentally unstable, and holding a weapon which can kill them faster than they can blink. But maybe they’ve seen movies where it’s easy to dodge a bullet moving at approximately 1,000 feet per second.

These commissioners, blessed with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, second-guessed literally everything the officers said and did in that heated moment.

While traveling the country speaking to individuals in law enforcement and reading about these oversight commissions, their perspectives, and their decisions, I have found that most of these people have no specific training for what it is they do. Many (and I stress many) hold their positions in these commissions precisely because they are harsh critics of law enforcement. That is not a controversial opinion. The fact is, there is an alarmingly high number of individuals who are appointed to these oversight commissions solely because of their hatred for the police.

I’ll admit that I have no idea about the background of the commissioners in Oakland. I don’t know their real motivations for taking these appointments. But I do know this: If you do take on such a role, you need to immerse yourself in reality, not politics and activism.

The criteria for commissioners should be strict. For example:

– 200 hours of ride-alongs with real officers (not administrators)

– Use-of-force training – both practically on the range as well as in control tactics. You must also prove with a test that you understand the law, case law, and policies pertaining to force events

– 40 hours of training on stress and the science of human performance

Anything less, then forget it. “Tainted?”

Who benefits when those who review the conduct of officers have no experience except for an unclear video of a real force event?

Who holds bias when one group consistently makes up its mind before all the facts are in?

You want fairness and transparency? Then realize that it begins with those screaming for it the most.

If you don’t practice what you preach, you will have zero trust from your officers.  If officers don’t trust you, then they will not advocate for the department you are overseeing.

And pretty soon, you’ll have no officers to oversee.


Click here for upcoming courses on recruiting and retaining officers

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