Years ago, while working at the Law Enforcement Television Network (LETN), I heard an anecdote from one of the producers who had worked on a corn chip commercial earlier in her career. This event helped her put things in perspective in whatever she did for the rest of her life.
We were having some trouble getting a good angle to show why "slicing the pie" gave an officer an advantage against a potential assailant waiting in ambush. We were arguing about a rather abstract issue in the shot when she decided to tell us her little story.
It seems the day of the corn chip shoot the CEO of the entire company had come to watch his commercial getting made. The shoot was sort of complicated and the chips were doctored up to look just right as the camera moved. Issues of lighting and timing and framing dragged on and on. Arguments were becoming more and more heated, when suddenly the CEO jumped up and started for the door shouting, "For goodness sake, it is just freakin' snack food." Needless to say the commercial shoot was rapidly completed and the chastised production crew forever had a great story to put things in perspective whenever a production was getting bogged down with trivialities.
For the rest of my career with LETN we would often shorten an argument over an issue by looking at each other and agreeing, "It is just freakin' snack food!" Today oftentimes I will be at a conference or meeting and find the participants are spending too much time fighting over trivialities and missing the main points … the meat and potatoes, if you will. How many evaluations get written that spend a huge amount of time on the "snack food" of an officer's performance, without reinforcing the good core attributes we need on the street? How often do budgetary issues get sidetracked by irrelevant or low priority issues? Do our training hours focus on core essentials or trivial "nice to knows?"
Sometimes officers call or write me to complain that policy at their agencies is driven by sideline issues, missing the primary point every decision should be directed by, such as officer safety. Here is a classic example: We were told forever that all officers should carry the same weapon so we can exchange ammo. Regardless of hand size or other sizing issues that truly affected shooting performance, the driving concern was if an officer ran out of ammo that someone could throw him or her a magazine, or maybe slide it across the floor … right.
Frankly, if you are really worried about officers running out of ammo and needing to reload quickly, nothing beats a fully loaded backup gun. Now that is a rib eye steak on the plate when you really need it.
I guess this came back to me as I was watching some "experts" talking about the various issues facing law enforcement today, and what law enforcement needs to do about them. They spent a lot of time on "snacks" and not a lot of time on real issues. Community outreach programs sound great, but after 40 years of watching agencies genuflect to every pseudo-scientific social program Doctors X and Y think up at the local university, I find the one program that really works, the one that pays huge dividends, is a caring professional wearing a badge and gun serving the community. Forget the media, talk to crime victims. Did your deputy start the healing process by listening and giving a damn about them? If yes, then we are taking real steps toward a profession, not empty action that can be erased by one bad segment on "60 Minutes."
We talk about this being a time of crisis and change, and now more than ever we need to pay attention to the signal and forget the noise. Factions are coming at law enforcement from all sides demanding this and that on our already strained budgets and time. Every grievance, real or imagined, is being heightened by the media and, as a result, by many of the powers that be. We need to focus resources where we really need them and ask ourselves, what is the real root of the problems, and what solutions can the police community truly and effectively implement?
In spite of what some commentators would have us believe, laws don't create criminals; unfortunately some people actually do believe that today. Maybe they ate too much snack food when they were younger; I'm not sure. For us, let's focus on the main course which, for most of you reading this, means officer safety. Pay attention to the things that matter and let the kids focus on the snacks.
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.