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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

If You Don't Learn This, You'll Die!

There are certain things that every cop needs to know, and they aren’t taught in the classroom.

March 12, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

Photo by Kelly Bracken.
Photo by Kelly Bracken.

Linguistics guru Roger C. Schank noted that "We learn best when we want to learn information which helps us accomplish goals we have set for ourselves." If his offering is at first glance lacking in any particular profundity, then why is it that so much of the curriculum that we are exposed to throughout our lives is administered with little consideration as to our natural desires, inclinations, or talents? More importantly, why does it seem to ignore our actual needs and goals?

Throughout high school and college, students invest hundreds of hours in courses that rarely prove of commensurate import in their lives. Moreover, these same students are expected to memorize factual information so as to be capable of regurgitating it upon command. But little is ever given in the way of explanation for this need beyond the necessity to do well on examinations. What actual application such knowledge has for their lives, if there is any, is elliptically glossed over.

If the same students are lucky enough—or masochistic enough—to matriculate through some graduate program, they may actually learn to be discriminating in what to focus on; they may by then have gleaned that learning means fixating attentions to those particulars that will allow them to complete a specific goal. But they will be fighting against what has been pounded into them during the preceding 16 years.

In contrast, law-enforcement academies, for the most part, have it right.

Through trial and error, these institutions have refined their own courses of study to accommodate the very real needs of their students. Their recruits are introduced to the laws they are expected to enforce, trained in the tactics that will help them achieve them enforce those laws, and indoctrinated with a variety of codifications that will allow them to streamline communications while simultaneously allowing them to be circumspect in the process. Their memories are not encumbered with extraneous facts such as what date President Taft farted in his bath water.

Still, these academies remain saddled with one conspicuous deficiency, time.

Unlike the aggregate total of 10 years or so indentured academic servitude many of our youth are accommodated from about the age of 14 or so, law enforcement academy training is confined to a few months. Beyond that, the hiree may have a period of apprenticeship under the field training officer for a period of time generally shorter than that of the academy.

And so it is that for many cops much of their on-the-job learning comes down to a series of baptisms by fire. Obligated to investigate a series of identity thefts, the boot officer picks up on the various modus operandi involved; saddled with an influx of gypsy-related thievery, she becomes exposed to a previously foreign culture; tasked with an elder abuse case, he familiarizes himself with the nuances associated with it. That none of these eventualities were anticipated by his or her schooling does not mitigate their realities. He learns what is needed to do the job.

Unlike factoids learned by rote memorization, lessons learned in field conditions tend to register longer in the cerebellum. The officer who has been compelled to initiate a foot pursuit of the man he'd thought he had detained is more apt to better secure him in some manner in the future; the deputy who's been blindsided by some family member learns to be more parsimonious with her presumed compassions; the trooper who finds his unit sideswiped by a passing big rig takes greater pains in positioning his ride roadside thereafter.

In short, there is some practical application to what the police officer commits to learning.

I am not discounting the whole canon of academia. But its relative weights are obvious.

While the application of math formulas for the traffic investigator are obvious, and the importance of writing a coherent narrative plainly evident to the detective, my suspicion is that most cops could probably better profit from a re-run of the now-defunct Fox TV show "Lie to Me" than to any 10 hours devoted to any number of classes.

Of what relative import has geography or biology proven to be for the average street cop? Aside from knowing that meth labs can cause things to go boom, walls to fly outward, roofs to collapse, and skinny, screaming men to go running into the night afire, how much of a role does chemistry play in a cop's life? And all the art classes that are offered, I have rarely happened upon a cop's rendering that rose above the abstract. (Those that did usually garnered days off.)

There are areas that I wish more cops and administrators were routinely exposed to. High on my admittedly biased list would be philosophy and history. It would be nice if more cops understood the Judeo-Christian roots of the laws they enforce, and how these laws evolved and continue to do so. It would be nice if more understood the cautionary parables that history accommodates them, as it relates to certain quixotic pursuits such as prohibition. Their manumitted minds might prove better advocates for Second Amendment freedoms as opposed to espousing political sophistries.

It's been said that the street cop wears many hats: psychologist, sociologist, counselor, arbitrator; electrician, firefighter, judge, jury, and even executioner. But how much formal training has he or she been exposed to in these various capacities? It's ironic that as fedoras and Stetsons retreat in our sartorial memory cops are expected to wear more hats than ever before and our ever-evolving technology and science will only ensure more of the same.

And so we get to the crux of the matter. Just what do you plan to do throughout your career? What areas of specialization do you hope to pursue? What might prove most rewarding as a second career?

The earlier you contemplate your options, the better.

I get to thinking about all this when I hear about the announcements of promotions of men and women whose character I question. The other day my wife asked me what I would have done had been at a station where such a commander was assigned.

"Transfer…or stay and make both the commander’s and my lives miserable"

"Yeah," she laughed. "And mine, too"

Yeah, and hers, too.

Fortunately, I liberated myself from that prospect. How? By educating myself to certain political realities and viable life options.

To be sure I could do better. If my mind was more malleable, I would these days do a better job of acquitting myself on the technological front. This would avail me the additional peace of mind of knowing that my blogs were being adequately pimped so as to ensure their getting enough clicks to ensure my employment for the foreseeable future.

Otherwise, I might end up doing something kinda chickenshit. Like resorting to suspect headlines.

Tags: Training Academies, Higher Education, FTOs, Special Assignments, Officer Psychology


Comments (13)

Displaying 1 - 13 of 13

Laurin Dykstra @ 3/12/2013 2:19 PM

Cartoon art might be a helpful class! I think I just seen an editorial on that somewhere.

jason @ 3/12/2013 4:21 PM

Hey Dean, another home run. As I run the final lap of my Masters I see how misguided many agencies are in their standards. I currently work with a Sgt. who is one of the most intelligent men I have met (barring you of course my friend). He is routinely relied upon by his superiors for advice on many things up to and including who to put into Captain positions. He cannot go higher because he lacks "education" yet can recite tales of history, scientific achievements, mathematics, management and leadership and on and on on. Frankly he is so good he is annoying, it doesn't help he is also a top notch SWAT operator (Team commander) and a good guy. His community is missing a huge opportunity simply because he lacks the piece of paper. Although not always true (in my case especially) those who can operate, do. Those who cannot, get pieces of paper to say they can. Law enforcement needs do'ers, not say'ers. Hope all is well with you,
Jason

Alan Mark @ 3/12/2013 4:34 PM

Dean,
Its always a joy to hear you elucidate on whatever subject strikes your fancy (whimsy??).. Take Care, keep on writing.. LASD's Loss when you retired.. ( Im retired from LACo -OPS/LASD)

Mark Tarte @ 3/12/2013 9:07 PM

Dean, once again, right on the mark. Now however, I must take you to task on one thing. While the academies have it right, they are still having to teach stuff that has absolutely no bearing on the street or in the jail, thanks to the machinations of our elected "representatives" in Sacramento (or any state capital). My academy was 10 weeks when dinosaur poop was still fresh. Nowadays the same academy is 28 weeks long and it does better prepare cadets for the reality of police work, but there are learning domains that frankly could be taught with a 20 minute rollcall training, but the legislature requires these "feel-good, do nothing" classes of all cadets. Cultural Diversity, Discrimination, People with Disabilities. Really? Have not these cadets grown up in our society and have at least heard about these things, if not actually seen disabled people, had a friend (or themselves) discriminated against and only lived among "their kind" all their lives? Especially in Calif? That is my only complaint that some of the stuff is already in their noggins and if we need to ensure they understand it as a cop, do it in FTO, rollcall, someplace, but free up that time for other, important training. Like I said, good article. Now if we can get Sacramento to shut their collective pie-holes and open the wallet.

DaveSAM25G @ 3/12/2013 11:37 PM

And maybe some of this too saw it today-By Steve Hartman
(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - .A. Sheriff's Deputy Elton Simmons-

"The first thing I noticed was that he has this pitch-perfect mix of authority and diplomacy, with none of the attitude that sometimes comes with a cop." "(I'm here with you," said Elton. "I'm not up here)" (motions his arm up towards the sky). (One thing I hate is to be looked down on -- I can't stand it -- so I'm not going to look down at you.)" That's why, in lieu of a lecture, he gives most people the benefit of the doubt instead. Of course they still get the ticket -- just not the guilt trip."

Jim A @ 3/13/2013 1:37 AM

And one more thing. If you can't laugh at yourself ....

LAUGH AT SOMEONE ELSE!

Michael Dillon @ 3/13/2013 4:04 AM

Nicely done Dean. Some of he ghosts of hunches and intuitions ignored still pop into my mind from time to time. That guy in the car heading the opposite direction that caught my attention as I headed to a just-occurred incident. The curious passerby who drove by me during a felony car stop who later was identified as a co-conspirator in the homicide just committed. So much of police work involves he integration of rules with the awareness of community-- and society at large. Law enforcement officers must read and comprehend a plethora of visual, emotional, and empirical inputs to be combined with their knowledge of law, policy, principles, and gut every day. It's what makes the work unique among the many jobs one might take on in life. As was mentioned above, jails become another key ingredient in the law enforcement seasoning mix. I began my career as a jailor and learned so much about the persona of the people who committed crimes. I learned that appearances aside (not all of them were tattooed and vicious-looking thugs), mannerisms, gestures, hands in pockets at the site of a uniform, looking down when spoken to all helped me zero in faster on the culpable when later working in the field. One of my favorite arrest was a GTA incident that occurred three cities away. I spotted a pedestrian walking along Pacific Coast Highway in Seal Beach matching only the description of a male white wearing a Pendleton and called in the possible GTA suspect sighting. Hands went to pockets, and gaze dropped to the ground as I made a u-turn to do the ped check. My back- up located the stolen vehicle in a nearby parking lot within a few minutes of my stop. Cops develop heir own brand to attack the job's demands. Your article is spot-on. If they can survive the threat of complacency, their career ensures that they will have some great stories to tell, and a set of experiences unlike any other business can provide.

Ed @ 3/13/2013 6:15 AM

Mark was spot-on. Our academy has gotten 7 weeks longer since I went through almost two decades ago. Some of that length is good - basic RADAR school, three additional days of officer survival scenarios, but the bulk of the majority is useless additional fluff saddled on just had off some pie-in-the-sky chicken little perceived need or to make some bureaucrat happy.

R Shurtz @ 3/13/2013 7:55 AM

This was a pleasure to read. I think the law enforcement analogy that you use here could be used in just about any field of potential endeavor. After teaching high school for ten years, I came to similar conclusions, and fortunately for awhile, I was able to teach more in a 'practical experience' environment that I mostly had to create. For some students, it really cut through the bullshit of idealism, and put them more at the practical heart of the matter, and they quickly learned whether they wanted this as part of their lives or not. After ten years, however, administration wanted less of that and more of the academic approach. It's funny how we sometimes stumble on things that profoundly impact a student in education, and then how the mind of administration seeks to remove the 'disturbing' part of the equation. Great writing and thinking here, Dean, a pleasure to read and ponder.

Jim Davenport @ 3/13/2013 12:05 PM

I agree that something needs to change. Over a 30 year career I've seen many degree'd officers who were terrible on the street, but tested well to get promoted. They then became terrible supervisors as they lacked the ability and prior street-creds with their fellow officers. I also know good cops who'll be sergeants for quite a few years, as they have not the time and/or interest in obtaining a degree.
Sadly, my career has seen political correctness, affirmative action, egregious ass-kissing and the mis-guided belief by administrators that the golden cops are only those having a college degree, the rest being the expendable grunts. Good luck in trying to change the myth.

DaveSAM5525G @ 3/13/2013 6:38 PM

Jim Davenport - I saw this in my 20 years military service as well...100% concur here! Reminds me ot the Police item the (Beat) in the 85's-86 (Something about Sgt's humor piece by Detective-Dan Milchovich) hit to the point you made! Dean sure has a way with words real life example

Robert G. Hillsman, M.D. @ 3/15/2013 8:45 AM

Re. Jason's reply and the article itself. Background; i started as a jr. in college doing research with the local P.D. and studied the academic aspects of stress and how it affected officers' personal and professional lives. Ended up heading to medical school-3 yrs. later- where i then worked for the state in their University Campus P.D. for my 1st 2 years in medicial school. In professional medical practice one has to complete 40+ hours of continuing medical education yearly w/in one's field of specialization and then every 10 yrs. retest for full (board)recertification thru one's Specialty Board. It would be great if law enforcement would allow for those like the Sgt. Jason referred to, to obtain degree qualifying academic credit for yearly CME's and then couple these with the appropriate course(s) in night or daytime (we work 3 shifts afterall) college to more rapidly earn his degree. As we all know the improved rank not only earns increased pension benefits in the future, but places the most worthy of the 'street-educated' individuals in ranks where their common sense helps to provide good balance to the academicians who tend to test well and find themselves in command positions. It's a concept worth thinking about and pursuing, as every department has individuals that are held back by the more recent changes re. academic requirements for promotion. Dr. Bob Hillsman

John M. Wills @ 3/28/2013 5:21 AM

There is one fly in the ointment, Dean, when it comes to academy instruction. Due to political correctness, the message sometimes never comes through, or is secondary to the overall theme of ensuring everyone feels comfortable. Thus, lower standards become the way to include everyone for diversity sake.

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