Over my twenty year career as an LE trainer, I have had the honor and pleasure of speaking to recruit classes of virgin law enforcement officers who are in the academy. They are typically bright-eyed young faces.
It is usually refreshing because recruits are polite, respectful and attentive. They make me feel welcome. Generally, I describe the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington D.C. along with raising awareness of the family they were joining.
THE CHANGED ENVIRONMENT
Many/most academies today are part of a community college. Some are housed in facilities shared by the general student population while others are in facilities dedicated to public safety students. Recruits can be side-by-side with other students who may be studying just about anything.
In days gone by, recruits attended a live-in academies which were conducted and sponsored by individual agencies. That remains the case for many state agencies, today. By and large, live-in training has been replaced by live-at-home learning, although they remained independent learning centers with cops only.
Many senior cops believe the college setting is too sterile and divorced from being a ‘real’ cop environment. In those instances, academy recruits must follow the college standard policies and procedures for all students. Those policies and practices would probably be different if it were an all-cop environment.
I believe the argument saying the community college based academy experience is too sterile has some basis in truth. In doing research for this article, I asked about ten cops who are currently in service. The sentiment common among them was, “I wish the academy provided even a small understanding (or resemblance) of what working on the street is like.”
WELCOME TO THE FAMILY
I speak to academy classes with a desire to reinforce a topic they have probably heard about from other instructors: the Brotherhood of law enforcement officers.
Introducing academy recruits to the law enforcement Brotherhood would be similar to your college student son (or daughter) coming home and bringing with them their new fiancé so they could meet the family for the first time. As a parent you want to welcome them and make a good first impression.
Just as in any family, there are benefits and obligations of being a member. It is the same in our Brotherhood.
Today’s academy experience is unlike a live-in academy when you are immersed with a group of recruits 24×7. There, you learn, eat and sleep together. By the time the academy is finished, the class has an unbreakable bond.
Becoming a law enforcement officer is akin to pledging a fraternity, getting married and joining the Marines all at the same time. You are not preparing to take a job. Rather you are preparing to fundamentally change who you are.
Like a marriage, you are pledging fidelity to the law and the Brotherhood. The complaint from experienced cops is that most academies bear little – if any – resemblance to real cop work. Recruits get hired and can be shocked to learn the realities of the job when they start at their new jobs as well as when they hit the street.
WAR STORY (short)
Back in the early 1960’s, a new cop would be hired by the Detroit Police Department. He would be put with a senior officers for ONE WEEK and then cut loose on his own.
A cop learned how to be a cop from other cops, on the job.
END OF WAR STORY
Today, a new recruit may spend many months in an academy – most of it in a classroom. I question the wisdom of that approach.
I recall seeing a cop TV show many years ago. It was very realistic, based upon NYPD. A new recruit was fresh out of the academy and arrived for his first shift with a stack of books under his arm. He was assigned to work with a salty old cop with many years on the job.
On their way to their patrol car, the senior officer asked the recruit to give him all the books. The senior guy promptly threw them in a nearby trash can much to the horror of the rookie. Senior cop then turned to the FNG and said, “Now I’m going to teach you how to be a cop.”
While the scene is overly dramatic, it reinforces exactly what happens with today’s new hires.
Teaching someone how to be a cop in a classroom would be the same as using a classroom to teach someone how to lay brick, be a carpenter or finish concrete. Those are jobs that we learn from people who have been doing it for many years. (It could be termed an apprenticeship.) Newbies learned each new task as they came upon it.
In my opinion, classrooms should teach some of the fundamentals with the bulk of a new cops training now coming on the job. It might be an 80/20 split.
THE BROTHERHOOD – KEEPING IT ALIVE
When speaking to recruits, I talk about the Brotherhood, how we are a family and that we genuinely care for one another.
I reinforce the notion that we love one another so much that we would take a bullet for a brother officer without a moment’s hesitation.
A video about the Memorial is almost always shown that includes some very emotional segments. I also share details about the Police Week experience with them.
In my experience, when I do that with a group of seasoned cops, about half of them will be in tears at the end. Although academy groups are usually attentive, the presentation does not generally have the same impact on them as with seasoned cops.
I suspect that part of the reason is simple: environmental sterility.
The fact is, the community college based training structure is not going to change anytime soon. It makes economic sense and it is now well entrenched. And most of the decision makers don’t necessarily have an appreciation for the emotional cost of the current approach.
There are some law enforcement leaders who suggest a possible cause. They suggest that today’s recruits are part of the “ME” generation. They generally lack dedication to the job, to others and to their employer as in earlier times. For them, it’s all about ME.
Unlike prior generations, cops today often work for multiple agencies in their career. When I was a young guy, you hired in to an agency and spent your entire work life there. No more.
WHERE DID I LEARN ABOUT THE BROTHERHOOD?
In thinking about how to engage new cops about the Brotherhood and all that comes with it, I tried to recall how I learned.
It was in the late 1990s. I had yet to go to the academy, but I was out 3-4 shifts a week on ride alongs. My consulting company was teaching cops how to use in-car computers. In-car computers were brand-new back then; cops had never seen them – much less used them.
For a couple of years prior to my academy I was heavily involved with Warren PD and Flint PD – both in Michigan. I had become a fixture and the cops there took me in and made me an honorary part of their crews.
I responded to calls, directed traffic, occasionally helped with arrests and provided cover for my partners. My sense of comradery evolved over time.
- If the crew grabbed a few barley pops at the end of the shift, I was included.
- We ate our mid-shift meals together.
- I was included with the crew when one of them needed help putting a deck on his home.
- I was invited to the shift Christmas party.
- I was a competitive bodybuilder at the time. Many days were spent at the gym with my cop friends helping them get in shape.
- I worked my first homicide with Carver in Warren.
- I experienced my first LODD when Chris Wooters – a Warren cop was shot by a dirtbag in the station.
It was after all of those experiences – and more – that I heard an academy instructor extoll the importance of the National Memorial and the Brotherhood.
WHAT DO WE DO?
Placing blame is a useless exercise. The important issue: how do we fix this? We need the new recruits to appreciate the Brotherhood and their role in it.
First, I believe the responsibility to teach and share our story belongs to each one of us, individually. It cannot be shifted to someone else, nor can we expect some big group to come in and do the job. The task is ours. I encourage you to grab on.
- There is probably an academy in the area where you work. Find out. Introduce yourself to the director. Explain that you would like to contribute to the effort of bringing the recruits into the fraternity of police work.
- Consider taking snacks (donuts, bagels, etc.) in for their AM coffee break. Or, maybe energy drinks in the afternoon. Spend some time talking with them, informally.
- Take your copy of American Police Beat, Police Magazine or other LE periodicals to them once you’re finished. Those are great reading on breaks.
- If your department or the FOP/PBA is having a social function, consider inviting the recruits to be part of it.
- Here’s a crazy idea: how about if the cops on your crew or your entire department each adopted one of the academy recruits? Be a mentor, take them on a ride along, give them some real cop experiences.
Think about how you learned about the Brotherhood. What “firsts” do you remember? What experiences have you had being part of the Brotherhood which stand out in your memory.
Your own experiences and your gut instincts are probably the best guide you have in figuring out what to do for the newbies.
Every cop who has helped to a brother – or received help – understands the importance of being committed to the Brotherhood. It doesn’t matter if it was just a loan for twenty bucks or saving your life from an imminent threat.
Knowing that we can count on one other when the chips are down, in all circumstances, is vital to our success as cops.
My faith calls me to believe that our Brotherhood is of God’s creation and has His blessing. Think of Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Where would you or I be were it not the blessings we have received from our Brotherhood? I judge that we would be the miserable old bastard on the crew who hates the job and lets everyone else know it. No one wants to be around him – much less work with him. Don’t be that guy. We need to help the newbies from making that mistake.
If continuance of the Brotherhood into the future is important (I believe it is) then EACH ONE OF US has a direct responsibility to welcome new officers into it. We senior guys have been given its gifts. It is up to us to pass those blessing along
Be creative. Show the recruits that you care. Encourage the young to become part of the family. As an organization, we have a bond much like the Marines. You’re either in or you’re out. There is no middle ground.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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Thank you for taking the time to read this message and allowing me to share my story with you. I can be contacted with questions or input: EMAIL ME or call me at my home office (386) 763-3000.