Let's take a quick look at how TOPEKA can be used in a roll call. I'll break it down letter by letter.
Train: You must train consistently to stay on top of your game. This means going above and beyond what your agency offers you. For example, if all you do is train once a year in combatives, I doubt you will have any type of proficiency in this area. The skill sets will not be there when you need them. How you train is how you fight.
Observe: You need to be curious and pay attention. You can't walk around with your head in the clouds. You have to be in the moment. Trust your instincts. If you get a funny feeling, it's because you saw something suspicious but your brain hasn't had time to process it. Rescan and check again. Be aware of your surroundings. You can't just look, you need to see.
Prepare: My service in the Army taught me that it was better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Use forward thinking. For example, carry a change of clothes in your vehicle in case you are exposed or contaminated with something. It will save time and help you stay in the game.
Evaluate: You are always making decisions and plotting out courses of action. Evaluate your decisions and then change them as necessary. What started out as reasonable might be unreasonable once you get to that point. A bad decision doesn't have to stay that way.
Knowledge: No one can help you if you don't know your job. The saying "knowledge is power" is true. If you know what you are doing or can acknowledge when you don't, you will be a much more effective officer.
Adapt: Nothing ever stays the same for very long. Sometimes things seem one way and turn out to be another. You have to adapt or lose. Don't be so entrenched that the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" becomes true. There was a time when the use of computers was a foreign concept and now it's a way of life. Don't get left behind.
Using TOPEKA as an acronym creates a forum to help you address key concepts and drive certain points home. So far, it's worked out pretty well for me at my agency. Other supervisors have asked for the lesson plan and have adopted it for their use.
Some of our officers are also starting to remember it and use it as a guide for developing their own personal training. TOPEKA crosses over well to any law enforcement agency as the basics are common to all.
The TOPEKA acronym worked so well, that I thought it was a good idea to share it with the Topeka Police Department. After all, I did borrow the use of their city's name. For those of you not familiar with this progressive department, it's located in the capital city of Kansas and has 300 sworn officers who service a population of approximately 123,000 people.
I corresponded with Chief Ronald Miller and presented my idea of the TOPEKA acronym. Chief Miller advised he would look at it and get back to me. It turns out he liked what he referred to as the "TOPEKA Initiative" and stated he was forwarding the information to his command staff. He went on to advise that his agency was incorporating it in its next department-wide in-service training block.
"We are always looking for positive ways to reinforce professional conduct by our officers and using TOPEKA is an excellent way to remind our officers and citizens of the importance of professionalism," Chief Miller says.
I couldn't ask for a better endorsement of an acronym's training potential than that.
It's important that we find ways to present our training messages effectively. The use of an acronym is just one way to accomplish this. I created TOPEKA as a way to help officers focus on fundamental principles and professionalism. Feel free to use it and make it your own.
Amaury Murgado is a road patrol lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired Master Sergeant from the Army Reserve, has 23 years of law enforcement experience, and has been involved with martial arts for 37 years.