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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Thinking Like a Cop

Mental training will help you handle situations that don't always present the worst-case scenario.

June 20, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

One of the biggest transitions a recruit must make is to start thinking like a cop, rather than Joe Average Guy on the street. I'm not talking about speaking in police tongues such as 10 codes, jargon and criminal codes. Making the transition from civilian to academy recruit to real cop is a big one, and some still don't get it.

Here's a great story to explain what I refer to as reality orientation or instant learning. Once I had a rookie who was straight out of college. He was a bright lad but due to his academic background as a sociology major, he tended not to view life as a cop would. We were dispatched to a violent domestic dispute with injuries.

I asked him his thoughts on the way to the call. He rambled about the plight of urban man with social issues, economic disadvantages, and modern day stress. Great, but we ended up fighting our tails off. The male party was the aggressor; we had to arrest him for domestic violence. The female changed her mind, and it was on. If you have never had this happen to you, it will.

Now matter what the stressors of his life were, no recruit and extremely handsome FTO (that's me) would solve urban man's plight while he's in a drunken rage with this wife on that Friday night. When it was all over, the recruit admitted he was never prepared for this to have unfolded in front of him. He saw the light.

Very few preconceived plans in life ever work when put into action. There are as many quotes about this as there are home remedies. I want to give you some insights on how I try to get my students to initiate critical thinking.

When I taught defensive tactics, I would inject a sensory or input overload. You had grown comfortable with a skill provided the aggressors were being controlled from the right-hand side. That's when I would inject an all left-sided scenario. This is my "what to do, what to do, what to do" portion of training. I repeat it three times, loudly. This forces the student to make a decision. On the streets, this is what's going through your mind. Luck and hope are not viable strategies.

The next level of critical decision-making is what I refer to as "but, what, if, and then" thinking. These four words are what I later call Plans A, B, C and D. There are no concrete or easy answers on the street. Therefore, your solutions can be as complex as the variables put before you.

The academy does prepare you for the worse-case scenario. They concentrate on firearms, defensive tactics, and so forth. Great, but we don't always shoot'em or whoop'em. Most often, we talk to them. We tend to negotiate with our contacts towards reasonable, peaceful and amenable solutions.

Even issuing traffic citations, which can be a point of consternation to violators, can be explained and accepted if done so in a professional manner. My biggest point here is that we must retrain your mind to think like a winner not a loser. Winners have answers and solutions. Train with your mind as well as your body.

Tags: Mental Training, Verbal Communication, Field Interviews


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Jeremy @ 6/21/2011 8:57 PM

Well put. This article made me smile as well ad it hit home. Thanks for the words of truth..well spoken

tucker @ 6/22/2011 4:11 PM

Good officers will always be good talkers, the ultimate persuaders and of course can back it up if need be.

Big D @ 8/29/2012 10:11 PM

Thinking like a cop. This is exactly what the public is against. You become a cop and have the attitude that you are ABOVE THE LAW. You do it, you act it and we all see it. There was a time when respect was the forefront and yet that has been lost. Look at The LAPD and others and ask yourself if admiration is still there? Think about it.

James 253 @ 4/3/2013 9:17 PM

Very good article. When a trainee is overly harsh, I often ask the new recruit how they would react if I talked to their mother/wife/sibling the way that they had just talked to a suspect and or arrestee. ALL police work can be done with courtesy...... and YES, now and then a family size can of WHOOP-A#$.

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