Modern Police Work – The Unfair Dichotomy

by Christopher Viland

I have often wondered about the position we put our new police recruits into in the modern day and age and whether we have done nothing more than set them up for failure.

As society has changed and become more complicated, more and more social welfare and social care taking duties have been pushed down to the only around-the-clock, first- response system available, the local police officer.  It isn’t that long ago that a police officer’s sole responsibility was the deterrence of crime and apprehension of offenders. Period.  The list has grown exponentially and now includes many of the following non-crime, non-enforcement activities:  handling nuisance animal problems, settling property line disputes, dealing with loud noises or odors from neighbors, caring for the mentally challenged who have fallen through the gaps in the system, stopping to play basketball with neighborhood children, having lunch with local senior citizens, collecting for local charities, helping parents get their non-compliant children to school, etc., etc.

I don’t want to in any way insinuate that those additional duties are not valuable, necessary, or even that many police officers don’t enjoy and volunteer to do many of them.  What I am saying is that the skill set that makes you a tactically proficient and safe officer in confronting crime and violence requires exactly the opposite interpersonal skills than the newer softer more community friendly duties.

We need the tactical officer.  We don’t need him every day and we hope to never need him to actually perform.  But at the very least he is insurance against evil and unfortunately we have seen, even in Solon, that hope is often in vain.  By saddling the tactical officer with a host of new “soft skill” requirements, have we made them less able to do those things which we hope they will never have to do?  I believe that we all like to think not.  But is that rational?  Are we just burying our heads in the sand?

Modern police departments have embraced “community policing” and all that that philosophy entails.  They train to be proficient at all the skills required for both enforcement and outreach.  The perfect officer would excel at both, and be able to switch between them fluidly and reasonably.  They continuously search for and recruit for the perfect officer.  In the meantime, shouldn’t we be open about the difficulty in trying to have officers be both halves of the puzzle at the same time?

Training for the worst

How do you prepare officers for violent encounters?

Over the years, we have utilized a layered approach to training, with everything from live-fire firearms training to force-on-force subject control and self-defense. One of the most important parts of our internal training has been the scenario based “simulation” training.

During simulation training, we put officers in realistic, high-stress scenarios and allow them to navigate the situation based on their training, skill level and experience. To make the training as realistic as possible, we use special marking cartridges and training firearms which operate identically to our duty sidearms.

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Ptl. Mark Ondich, left, and Ptl. Steve Davis prepare to launch a scenario.

Obviously, the marking rounds are non-lethal. Instead of leaving a life-threatening would, they leave a starbust of brightly colored detergent and often minor welts on the skin.

 

After officers, trainers and role-players don head, face, groin and throat protection, students are placed into realistic encounters, carefully scripted by the instructors. Officers will be placed into shoot/don’t shoot situations, and other situations that require sound tactics and problem solving skills. Some of scenarios will solved with patient de-escalation tactics, and a few will require a much more active response. It is a great opportunity for officers to see what might or might not work in a given situation, and to learn to manage stress while functioning under critical conditions.IMG_9002.jpg

The protective equipment is hot and uncomfortable, and the goggles tend to fog up on occasion, making the scenarios even more stressful for the student, challenging their stress-management techniques and decision-making process. While it generates only a fraction of the pressure caused by a real critical incident, it continues to be a vital tool in preparing officers to make the right choices on the street.

 

During training, mistakes only cost a laundry bill, a little pain and some loss of pride, and a hundred mistakes in training are better than one mistake on the street. This style of training gives us what we can’t get in the real world: A do-over.

 

Citizen encounter

Recently, a traffic signal at a major intersection was malfunctioning and I was assigned to manually operate the light to keep traffic flowing. (Due to the shape of the remote switch, it is sometimes known as “running the pickle.”)

A pedestrian on his way to the store stopped and we had a short conversation about traffic and new construction and the weather. It was nothing major, just a pleasant exchange between two people.

The day was windy and warm, and on his way back from the store, that same pedestrian dug into his shopping bag and pulled out an ice-cold bottle of water, handed it to me and said, “Here, you must be sweltering.” I was glad to take it and thanked the man, who went on his way.

My story isn’t so much about his kindness as it was about common ground. It was just a brief chat, but in the exchange, we both saw each other as people, just regular human beings. He remembered that there was a person under that uniform, and I was reminded that not everyone we meet is up to no good.

The water was great.

Police Involvement in Charitable Causes: Ohio Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics

Having recently completed our annual Torch Run for Special Olympics in Solon, I was excited to see the enthusiasm and support for the program.  We had a beautiful day, citizens and coworkers came out to support us, and I was able to raise a fair amount of donations for my participation.  It also became apparent through some of the social media feedback that there are still many who do not know what this program is, or how it works.

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The Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics is a fundraising arm and awareness vehicle specifically for the Special Olympics, that was created and is maintained by police officers.  Every state has an LETR counterpart to their Special Olympics program, as do many countries around the world.  Every year each state has a Torch Run in the days leading up to their Special Olympic Games to raise money and awareness about their program.  These events involve officers and their families and friends, as well as Special Olympic athletes and their family and friends, to create a group of very passionate individuals with a great cause.  The Torch Run culminates at the opening ceremonies where the torch, having been ushered around the state for a week or more, is brought to the ceremony in the “Final Leg Run” and used to light the cauldron, signifying the official beginning of the games.

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The idea of the Torch Run dates back to 1981 in Wichita, Kansas, where five officers approached their then-chief, Richard La Munyon, with an idea to raise money for some of the families in the local Special Olympics.  Chief La Munyon loved the idea and the Law Enforcement Torch Run was born, raising about $300 that first year.  After three successful years, Chief La Munyon approached the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and convinced them to endorse the Torch Run nationally.  Today all 50 states and more than 26 countries participate involving more than 97,000 police officers. Various fundraising platforms have been created under the umbrella of LETR including Polar Bear Plunges, Tip-a-Cop events, and Cop on Rooftop events.  Since its inception, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics has raised over $600 million dollars.

So if you ever find yourself behind a slow moving procession of police officers carrying a torch, know that they are working to provide for the many people with intellectual disabilities.  Together with the athletes, family, and friends, they are making a statement for inclusion the whole world can hear.

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