Throughout our lives, from our parents to our teachers, role models and mentors help us pick the right paths and make the right choices. The same is true in law enforcement. From the first day of the police academy, our mentors are the instructors whose job it is to transform us from raw recruits to qualified police officers.
The entire training process can take as long as two years. Along the way, we might meet any number of role models — mostly good and possibly a few not-so-good.
The formal aspect of the law enforcement training process requires rookies to take and pass any number of specified tests, including academic, laws, fitness, and firearms. After getting certified, LEOs are required to attend regular in-service training throughout the remainder of their careers.
There is also another, often overlooked, side to the LEO training equation — the informal training from role models and mentors. At some point in most officer's careers, the roles are reversed and they become role models and mentors for the next generation of law enforcement.
In recent posts, I've written about two of SWAT's most influential individuals, John Kolman and Ron McCarthy. It's no accident that their respective SWAT units, LASD and LAPD, have been consistently ranked among the best under their command. This is remarkable, considering that LAPD invented SWAT, and LASD organized a team soon afterwards.
I suspect even these pioneers had their role models and mentors in Metro Division and the Special Enforcement Bureau — the umbrella over LAPD's "D" Platoon and LASD's SED (Special Enforcement Detail) tactical units.
SWAT professionals have continually learned from the LAPD and LASD through training, experience, and education. They continue to learn and apply the lessons of what does and doesn't work.
The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and the many regional and state SWAT associations have become SWAT's networking and information superhighway. Within these tactical associations are a great number of outstanding, professional SWAT teams and personnel, who willingly share their expertise with others.
Isn't that what role models and mentors are really about? Passing along and sharing their knowledge, expertise, and experience with the rest of the SWAT community.
There's a saying in SWAT that no two call-ups or call-outs are exactly the same. There's always something different, whether substantial or slight.
Yet we also know that call-ups and call-outs are often very similar in nature. And the lessons learned from one often apply to another — making adjustments to fit specific circumstances.
In order for mentors to be effective, the relationship with the mentee needs to be a two-way street. Those with knowledge and experience need to be open to sharing what they know and those on the receiving end must be willing to listen and learn.
Since its establishment, SWAT teams have continually proven their willingness to share knowledge, expertise, and experience not only within the department, but also with all of law enforcement. The Columbine High School massacre was a prime example. NTOA took the lead role in dramatically changing how law enforcement responds to active shooters. As a result, all of law enforcement is far more effective in preventing loss of innocent lives.
And isn't that what SWAT is really all about?