I read an interesting comment about the Us vs Them mentality that is trained into law enforcement on Linked-in and it struck a chord within me.
Dr. Tim Hampton says;
"During the academy, police recruits are taught to deal exclusively with criminals, victims, and witnesses, which further distorts their view of the real world. Emphasis is placed on gathering evidence at the scene because it is not uncommon for victims, witnesses, and suspects to lie, and only evidence can link the crime to the suspect/s. Because officer safety is a preeminent value to officers (officers' lives are dependent on it), it is strongly integrated into every aspect of police function until it becomes a way of life. Recruits are taught to always be aware of their surroundings and of potential threats, which may erupt during any situation. In effect, the seed of distrust for the community is sown into the fabric of the police recruits soul because training has taught them that any and all people are capable of committing crime and violent acts, and they must be at the ready at all times. Police stories are endless that reinforce this mistrust of people, and unfortunately most are true."
This hit such a chord with me as I three years ago I moved, from police officer to civilian in retired life. I miss those days, sometimes. Most of the time, I am satisfied with a job well done, and surviving with the aches and pains I earned in to many fights and foot chases and surviving my PTSD nightmares. I was sitting at a restaurant a couple of months ago and my wife told me, you know, it would really be nice to see something besides the wall behind you. I looked up and questioned, What? She told me, you always sit, facing the entry to the room and I always get to look at the wall. I hadn't even realized I was doing that, still, and I certainly didn't realize the effect it was having on her time and experience. We talked about it, I explained why I did it and she understood. Now she asks, which side do you want, and many times we find a table where the door is to the side and we both can have a view. This works better with my PTSD and now works better for her. This is ingrained behaviour and as I look back I realize we treat everyone this way. I remember my kids saying, Dad, are we in trouble? You went into COP voice. My shift into COP mode was not realized by me but was apparent and obvious to them. I still ask my wife to walk on my off-hand side, for safety reasons.
Is it any wonder we as police officers and law enforcement are having problems in the world today. Many were taught that the only people to be trusted are other cops. That reinforces the us vs. them mentality but that premise in my life has proved to be false. I trust the majority, but there are some that I would be crazy to trust.
So, how do we change this. One of the first things we can do is get rid of personal judgement.
I remember seeing a mid eighties, primer gray camaro drive by. The driver was a skinny male with shoulder length, greasy hair. My first thought was what a piece of shit, then, I wondered how much dope he had on him. Hmmm, he had done nothing wrong, and as I followed him he did nothing that gave me cause to pull him over, but I sure looked for it.
Get rid of the terms right and wrong. These terms create a judgement as what is right for you, may not be right for me and what is wrong for me, may not be wrong for you. I now use the terms it works or it doesn't work. My action is now predicated on the results of the incident. This was brought home to me one day as I transported a male in his mid thirties to jail. He had been arrested for misdemeanor theft and had warrants. As I drove, I asked him why he had committed the theft and he told me he was trying to get some things to take care of his kids. I had been in detectives and patrol long enough to recognize, this guy was actually being sincere and honest, unlike 90% of the people who end up in the back seat of my patrol car. I asked him why he didn't go to; and listed some other options that were not available in the city but were in the surrounding valley. He responded, "I can do that?" He had no idea. On this day, I realized that lack of education, lack of money, and lack of world experience limit the knowledge and choices that many people have. I felt bad for the guy but he took an action that does not work for the society we live in. I now get to escort him to jail as a result of that action. I felt no angst as I took the action I was required by law to do, without judgement. He was trying to take care of his kids. Now he knows about other options that are not illegal.
Don't judge the person, judge the action. They may not look or act like us but, is what they do working for them? Many successful people ie: Elon Musk were judged as weird. He did not act "normal", meaning like the other kids around him, to the point he was bullied. Look at him now. He was different, and is still different but what he does, works for him. Different is not bad or good. Does it work, or not? That is the question.
Police academies and departments have tended to mold recruits into the image they want. In many cases this was the big, ex military male of the sixties and seventies. Bringing women into the law enforcement world was a big deal a few years back and has turned out to work. Their new perspective is refreshing and they bring a strength and resilience into the workplace. What about others who are judged to be weird. How about the computer geeks, who now work in cyber security and intelligence; hunting and facilitating arrests in human trafficking, fraud, money laundering, and counter terrorism efforts.
It is time to broaden our view. We can be prepared and observant for danger without assuming everyone is out to get us because they aren't. Yes, we deal with bad people, or good people having a really bad day. Don't fall into the trap. Not everyone is out to get us and it is not us vs. them. I have had civilians assist me while I was in a fight on the street with a guy that was 3 inches taller than me and out weighed me by 80 pounds. They helped me hold him down until backup officer's arrived because his shoulders were so big, it took two sets of cuffs to reach both wrists.
Look deep inside yourself. Don't allow who you really are to be covered by the job you work. Don't allow the "job" to take over your life. Give 100% +++ while you are at work but find things to do after work that aren't work related and spend time with your family. Talk about things with your spouse or partner and hold nothing back. There are ways to safely share work experiences without traumatizing your partner. This is one of the things I teach in, Bridging the Gap, an Inside Look at Communications and Relations for Law Enforcement. The things taught in this course can help us open up and reduce the effects of PTSD, and divorce and suicide