Your Skin is in the Game

When policymakers implement ridiculous rules that get people hurt, LEOs are the ones who have to deal with the consequences.

Dave Smith Headshot

Over the last few years many things have gone wrong in this country, and especially in the arena of crime and law enforcement. Policies have come from on high that seem designed to hurt communities rather than help, divide people rather than unite them, and  undermine the public trust in key institutions like criminal justice rather than build it up. How could supposedly rational leaders choose laws, rules, policies, and judicial rulings that seem so unreasonable to those of us who have worn the badge and keep faith with the American Dream?

Dave Smith (Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship)Dave Smith (Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship)

Well I discovered one answer while reading a new book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of the classic, The Black Swan. In Taleb's new book, Skin in the Game, he neatly eviscerates these decision makers by exposing the imbalance of risk in their decision-making. He details how little risk there is for professors, judges, lawmakers, bureaucrats, experts, and politicians who make decisions that impact those who actually have to pay for those decisions, those with skin in the game. Lawmakers that want to criminalize police actions, for instance, will never have to deal with highly ambiguous life-and-death situations unraveling in fractions of seconds, ones that will be analyzed for years by "experts," courts, and administrators.

I read many academic "recommendations" that are borderline asinine—and then I see the authorities adopting those same ideas and actually planning to implement them. Wondering what I missed, I reread the recommendations and find myself hoping someone with practical "street sense" gets a chance to cry out, "The emperor is naked!" It's at times like this that I sometimes think maybe we should adopt a system of "an eye for an eye" in policymaking, and actually fire someone when their patently stupid policies or laws get someone hurt or killed.

Taleb describes how Babylon developed things like a building code. In one of the oldest examples of writing, known as the Code of Hammurabi, the king commanded that if you built a house and it collapsed and killed the owner you would be killed. I am betting the houses in Babylon were dang good structures.

So much of what happens today is driven by ideology, not facts; by politics, not genuine concern; by charlatans rather than scientists. If we would include practitioners as part of law enforcement policy creation, very quickly things would be simplified. If some of these groups guiding today's policies had to, for instance, deal one-on-one with a violent offender, suddenly they would be a lot less sanguine as they created their complicated rules and regulations.

Just imagine if a judge in the bizarre Ninth Circuit, which lords its absurd rulings over those of us unfortunate enough to live in its bailiwick, was fired every time the Supreme Court reversed their ruling by, say, 6-3; I bet their "judicial activism" would be tempered dramatically.

So what are we to do? How can our leaders protect those who truly have skin in the game and keep us safe and free? Well, first we need to learn to recognize bull***t and keep it out of our policies and procedures, and fight it in the legislatures. Science is not consensus or opinion and should never be politicized or confused with opinion; we must always ask ourselves about the validity of a study or paper that advocates anything those of us who have had skin in the game find questionable. Question who wrote it and determine what skin they have in the game, if any; and if they are selling you something just to benefit themselves, be very skeptical. Any expert, including me, that no longer has skin in the game, or never did, should be held at arm's length and fully examined.

Policies and procedures can make our people safer or at greater risk, and every chief, sheriff, administrator, and leader needs to remember that crime fighters need to survive first and foremost, or the mission of the agency is stymied from the get go. If we fail at this, we have failed in our first obligation to our people, something Taleb calls "the Silver Rule," don't do anything to others you wouldn't want done to you.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

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Dave Smith Headshot
Officer (Ret.)
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