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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Patrol

Getting Schooled

Your mind can be the most important tool you carry on the job. But far too often officers act before they think.Your mind can be the most important tool you carry on the job. But far too often officers act before they think.

December 04, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

I hate when I realize that I have been had; worse still, manipulated.

Not that I shouldn't know better. I should. As one has to consider the source, my critical thinking cap should have been stretched taunt over my ears the moment I read of the arrest of a Tennessee man for standing outside a school to pick up his son. Instead, my visceral response was: What the F was the officer thinking?

Whatever else, the more pissed off I find myself getting over a matter, the more I am inclined to obsess about it. So after my first wave of WTFs had subsided and my contemplated "spirit of the law" rants had ebbed, I tried to read between the lines. In dealing with any journalist's filtrate, it's important to consider what isn't being communicated as much as what is. And so I pulled the reins on myself, slowed to a trot, and surveyed the lay of the land. Namely, I watched the video.

The black-and-white aspects of the story appear to be:

1. The school where the arrest took place recently implemented a new-and-improved student pick-up policy, which dictates that parents can only pick up their children after 2 p.m. by waiting in a line of cars until everyone is released at 2:35 p.m.

2. A father had arrived at the school prior to the dismissal time in a bid to wait on foot for his son.

3. A conversation of sorts occurred between the father and officer. (What with all the interrupting taking place—mostly by the officer—I don't think “Robert's Rules of Order” were in play.)

4. The father was arrested for disturbing the peace.

I routinely allow my emotions to undermine me on a variety of fronts. But I draw the line at implicating others into my actions. As much as someone may have pissed me off when I was on duty, I didn't create crap to take them to jail. This is because I believe that the more secure a man is in the sagacity of his logic, the more at peace a man can be and the more tempered his actions will be. But in watching the video I find little in the way of tempered logic, compassion, or professionalism. As any patron of this blog will attest, belaboring the point is not beyond me. But the video speaks for itself.

And all I can do is wonder: WTF was that cop thinking?

Thinking about the cop not thinking got me to thinking about thinking.

Divorced of the emotional aggravations that may cloud it, thinking is what carries us successfully from one day to the next, on duty and off. In some sense, we rely on shortcuts, training, and educating ourselves as to all manner of protocol to deal with a variety of concrete situations. But often we don't know what those situations are until we find ourselves enmeshed in them. In the meantime, we may find ourselves relying upon inferences, speculations, and playing “what if…?” in trying to anticipate just what we might find ourselves dealing with.

Defining these processes has been problematic, particularly to those outside the profession who give little credence to what might otherwise be ascribed to our subjective interpretations, inferences, and intuitions.

But our world—our lab—is dependent upon looking at things through various paradigms and exploring the inductive, the deductive, and the reductive. We do it rolling to the call, making contact, and conducting interviews. It's exercised during the contemplation of what we see, what we're told, and what the rest of our senses are picking up. When this process is presented in the form of fiction such as in the case of a certain Baker Street resident named Holmes, it's the stuff of commercial success. In reality, it may prove too abstract for those incapable of getting themselves out of jury duty, and is rarely given equal time in the press.

It’s sad but true that most people tend to shy away from being conspicuous about their thinking lest they come across as a “know-it-all.” And yet the people they seek not to offend will cut them no slack for that consideration. And in the hierarchy of transgressions, we never pay more than when we pay for the unsatisfactory explanation. Sometimes it’s smart to be smart, act smart, and explain accordingly.

When you watch that video, put yourself in the shoes of the officer involved and ask yourself how comfortable you would feel articulating the thoughts that you were entertaining in taking such actions.

Then ask yourself: What would I have done? And: Why would I have done it?


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