Police work is unique since police employment at the entry level requires no prior experience in police work. It's also
unique in the enormous responsibilities you'll undertake immediately after your training. While training like education
for any other field is essential, the amount of experience you'll acquire during training is minuscule.
I can't think of too many careers where I could have had as much fun and adventure, or a career in which my decision
making ability would be tested so many times under stressful and dangerous circumstances. While in the beginning I
thought I had a fair idea about what I was getting into, I soon began shedding all the misconceptions as I looked toward
experienced police officers for guidance through what was, for a beginner, some really complicated situations and
circumstances. It didn't take me long to understand that experience is qualitative as well as quantitative. Here's where
your judgement in choosing mentors is just as important as it will be in responding to the life threatening situations
which you will encounter during your career.
A police career can be rewarding in every positive way you can imagine as long as you never... never – not for one
moment – lose sight of the serious nature of policing.
"Reasonable people make mistakes all the time,
but reasonable people rarely make catastrophic
~ Barry M. Baker
Right from the beginning, you're going to have to use your head. You don't have to have a ton of experience to recognize
good direction from bad direction. Aside from procedural nuances, police work rests solely on reasonable responses from
a reasonable person. You're going to make mistakes. Reasonable people make mistakes all the time, but reasonable
people rarely make catastrophic mistakes.
You'll learn very quickly that your most important asset will be the people who are working with you. No matter how
well trained, and knowledgeable, you think you are, those first months are going to be very difficult. You're going to
experience situations where you'll need guidance from others. From the very beginning, you should identify fellow police
officers who are competent and experienced. Believe me, it's not a hard thing to do; they'll be the quiet ones.
It's just as easy to identify those police officers whose advice you should view with skepticism. They'll be the ones who
respond to your questions with, "Don't worry about it." If you consider your question worth asking, that response
should confirm to you that it's worth your worry. Some police officers are notorious for taking short cuts, and the short
cutter's slogan is, "Don't Worry About It."
There was a time when your inexperience would offer you some protection when acting on bad advice from a senior police
officer. Senior police officers were rightly held accountable for the actions of junior police officers under their
immediate supervision and control. It's not like that anymore; you'll be held fully accountable for your actions when you
follow bad direction, and things turn out badly.
When one spends over 32 years in a police career, it's easy to forget many of the questions and misconceptions about
police work one had at the very beginning. When I go on the Internet, and I read posts by young people asking
questions about a police career, it takes me back to a time when I had some of the same questions and misconceptions.
As one becomes older and – hopefully – wiser, one conveniently forgets the inexperience and stupidity of one's youth.
That's not to say that youthful inexperience equals stupidity. The stupidity part only applies to youth's natural lack of
appreciation for experience. How many times have you said, or heard a young person ask, "How can I get job experience
if I can't get hired for the job?" It's a dilemma and question everyone has faced, but it's just an inconsequential facet of
youth that always works itself out.
There will be times when you're confronting people who may be armed, and they'll fiddle and fuss all over the place. Their hands will be moving in
and around their waists as they turn and twist, and they'll simply cause you enormous frustration as you order them to stop while you intently focus
on those hands.
In one of my experiences with a suspect who was reportedly armed, the suspect simply would not stop his gyrations; until, he successfully removed
the pint of liquor from his back pocket and dropped it to the ground hoping I'd not notice. This guy was afraid I'd arrest him for carrying an open
container of alcohol on the street. Sure...it sounds stupid, and it is stupid, but you'll learn quickly that people act stupidly all the time.
|Politicians and Bureaucrats
Pick a number. Without exception, every opponent of border security repeats the same talking point, “We
can’t deport 12 million people,” or “We can’t deport 20 million people.”
What these self-indulgent pseudo intellectuals don’t understand, and what they will never understand, is the effect of law enforcement on human
behavior. If the government secures the borders, and police officers are allowed to enforce state – and federal immigration – laws, illegal entry into the
United States will, like any other crime, transform from an unmanageable situation into a manageable one.
When you become a police officer, you will see how effective you can be when the politicians and bureaucrats occasionally get on the same page and take
criminal activity seriously. Unfortunately, way too many politicians and bureaucrats have adopted the term “undocumented immigrant” or some other
variation, but every variation contains the word “undocumented” in place of “illegal.” You know it’s really bad when a police chief utters the word
“undocumented;” although, most police chiefs are, first and foremost, just politicians wearing uniforms.
I once attended a meeting with representatives of health departments from Baltimore City and surrounding jurisdictions. The topic was an alarming
number of syphilis cases occurring as a result of men interacting with one particular woman they’d met on a street corner. Almost immediately, I
committed an unforgiveable violation of political correctness by uttering the word, “prostitutes.” I was immediately corrected on my incorrect reference
to women who sell sex for money. “Lieutenant,” remarked one of the attendees, “we don’t use that word; we refer to these women as CSWs.” In case
you’re not familiar with this term, it’s an acronym for “commercial sex workers.”
Of the four men infected by the… CSW in question, two of the men were cooperating with the health departments’ efforts to locate the infected CSW. I
guess this is where I came in; however, when I suggested assigning one of my investigators to identify and locate the prosti… a… CSW, I was met with
silence. Finally, one of those present, a medical doctor, asked, “Ah, isn’t there something legal about that? I had committed my second transgression
during that meeting. I provided a simple and straight forward solution to their problem. You’ll learn that when it comes to problem solving, politicians
and bureaucrats don’t like simple solutions. They prefer to have meetings and talk the problem to death. When a course of action is finally
implemented, it has to be sufficiently complicated and verbose so that the participants can claim individual and collective credit for the implementation.
Implementation is what it’s all about. When you hear the politicians drone on about comprehensive immigration reform, all they’re talking about is
implementation. If the implementation consists only of completing a fence and assigning troops and Border Patrol to police the fence, it simply isn’t
complicated enough. They won’t be able to spend enough money to pursue endless implementation to produce the illusion that they’re actually
accomplishing something. As a police officer, you’re going to see endless implementation of crime fighting initiatives. You’ll rarely see results from
any single initiative, because it will soon be replaced by a new initiative. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is confusing, and it’s designed to be that
Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and The Torture Memos
Magicians are frequently maligned when politicians are described with terms rightfully belonging to magicians. Contrary to the beliefs of some, there’s
nothing magical about magicians or any politician. Politicians do strive to accomplish two goals of the professional magicians… the art of misdirection
and celebrity status. Unlike magicians, however, politicians fail terribly when it comes to guarding the secrets that make their acts successful. While
magicians may be jealous of the competition’s success, revealing the secrets of the tricks is not in their bag of tricks.
When it comes to interrogating terrorists, the Bush Administration developed a bag of tricks called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The
misdirection from the program worked so well that political opponents couldn’t contain themselves with their cries of torture… torture! It evidently
worked pretty well on the terrorists who succumbed to the techniques, and the absence of terrorist attacks within the United States or on American
interests was further evidence of the program’s success.
Then… the Obama Administration comes along and dumps the bag for the world to see all the elements of the misdirection. After exposing the benign
nature of those elements, hilariously dubbed, “the torture memos,” the new political crowd in power launched its own campaign of misdirection through
the Department of Homeland Security. They warned of the dangers of domestic right wing extremism including the dangers posed by returning Iraq and
Afghanistan War veterans.
The new campaign of misdirection was designed to shift focus away from external threats to internal ones defined by political ideologies and speculation
rather than by that pesky detail called evidence. The President further shifted the focus by graciously declaring that CIA officers would not be
prosecuted for their participation in the “torture memos” caper. This position does avoid any debate about with what criminal charges would apply since
the techniques were legal when practiced. It also avoids release of the heavily redacted portions of the “memos;” wherein, the successes of the program
are allegedly contained.
Most people would agree that the maiming or removal of body parts would be acts of torture. Would the threat to maim or remove a body part be an act
of torture? I would maintain that the latter is not torture, but there would be those who would disagree with me. But, herein lays the point. As
methods of interrogation descend from acts of obvious torture all the way down to those exposed in the “torture memos,” definitions of torture will
become ever more subjective as the order descends. In the end, any definition of interrogation methods can pass as torture based solely on any absurd
point of view.
It’s unfortunate that politics has once again transcended a more important issue – in this case, national security. But, let’s not be pessimistic. As
terrorists sit in their hideouts reading the “torture memos,” there’s always the possibility – as remote as that possibility may be – that they'll laugh
themselves to death.
|Interrogations and Second-Hand Smoke
As the President and his Attorney General keep everyone confused over the subject of prosecuting CIA interrogators and others, the media jumped on a
story where two CIA interrogators admitted that they blew cigar smoke in the face of the terrorist who masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole
resulting in the murder of 17 American sailors. I don’t know what to say. I suppose rude behavior rises to the level of torture these days. In addition
to being rude, I’m sure that the terrorist and some misguided Americans found the interrogators’ behavior toward the terrorist as demeaning and
humiliating. Aside from the torturous torture debate, the good news for the Attorney General is that he’s got a slam dunk case against those two
interrogators for lighting up within a federal facility… it’s against the law!
While this CIA torture and interrogation thing could turn on a dime next week, or in the next 24 hours for that matter, keep in mind that all the
confusion has nothing to do with terrorism or any present or future threats posed by terrorists. It’s just a break from the war on terror in favor of a
war on domestic political opponents.
When you become a police officer, you’re also going to become an interrogator. You probably won’t be very good at it in the beginning, but you’ll watch
and learn from others. Some police officers will be poor interrogators in the beginning, and they’ll stay that way throughout their careers while others
will hone their interrogation skills to levels nothing short of impressive. You’ll also learn that there is no one size fits all when it comes to the art of
interrogation. As long as you don’t have the occasion to interrogate a terrorist, you’re ongoing development of effective interrogation techniques
probably won’t place you in a career ending situation.
|Learning Things the Hard Way
It is the nature of people to learn things the hard way. When you become a police officer, there’ll be times when you’ll give a person any number of
chances to walk away from his or her irrational and illegal behavior. In the end, Mr. or Ms. Hardhead will run out all the rope you’ve provided, and you’
ll arrest that person. This is an example where you’ve provided both positive and negative solutions with Hardhead choosing the latter.
When it comes to irrational and illegal behavior on a national or international scale involving special interest groups and nations respectively, a lot of
people get confused, and they endlessly argue about what is irrational or illegal. As a police officer, you’ll practice diplomacy everyday. When you think
about it, a police officer is the ultimate diplomat. When your effort at diplomacy begins to falter or fail, you are the sole decision maker on how and
when to exercise raw power to achieve an acceptable outcome that your diplomatic effort failed to produce. Unlike the generic diplomat, you’ll be the
one to personally exercise power.
As a police officer, you’ll learn sooner than anyone else the limitations of diplomacy. While I didn’t make too many mistakes during my career, one of
those mistakes nearly cost a man his life:
I responded to a call for a domestic disturbance where both the husband and wife were intoxicated. Both were small in stature, and it was clear that the
female was the dominant force in that household. A female officer responded as a back-up, and she stood by as I exercised my diplomatic resolution to
the disturbance. During the session of “conflict resolution,” the wife became frustrated at one point, and she slapped the husband’s face.
Now, remember this, had the husband slapped the wife, I wouldn’t have hesitated for a second in abandoning diplomacy and going straight to power in
the form of handcuffs on the husband. But, hey, this was a little woman, and the guy was so drunk, he probably didn’t even feel any pain from the
assault on him. In the end, both were calmed down, and I turned to leave the house. The female officer stopped me and asked, “Aren’t you going to
lock [her] up?” I replied with some it’s not a big deal response, and the female officer sighed and said, “Okay.”
No more than five minutes after clearing the call, a second call was dispatched to the same address for an assault. I, and the same female officer,
returned. We were met at the front door by the wife who started a rerun of her complaints about her “worthless” husband. When we entered the living
room of the home, we saw the husband sitting in a recliner. He didn’t look any different than when we’d left him expect for one thing; he had half the
blade of a steak knife planted firmly in the top of his head.
As I suffered the “I told you so” looks from the female officer, I was glad she had returned to back me up, for I needed a second pair of handcuffs for
the husband. Dumbo had no idea what had happened to him, and I was afraid he would pull the knife from his head. Fortunately, his injury turned out
to be much like those publicized from time to time where surgeons successfully remove a blade from a person’s brain with no resulting permanent
The lesson I learned from that experience so many years ago was to arrest anyone who had the nerve, drunk or sober, to assault another person right in
front of me.
Okay, I know that you might find it hard to compare or apply the carrot and stick / diplomacy and force boundaries of individual police officers on a
macro level. But, you should understand that diplomacy as a tool to achieve just ends is absolutely useless without the means and willingness to use
force at the right time. In the personal example I just described, my means and willingness were intact. It was the timing of my willingness that really
Force will always be problematic, whether micro or macro, to people who believe that force is never justified. While those people will insist that it is not
their belief, they never seem to be able to identify a situation or circumstance where they would approve of force. They’ll whine that the question is
hypothetical, and use of force is too important on which to hypothesize.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 brought a perpetual reality into clear focus. That reality demonstrated – again – that there are plenty of
people who will use any means to inflict death and destruction on massive scales to achieve their goals. It also brought into focus those nations which
support and protect terror and terrorists.
While 9/ll evoked a strong and forceful response from the United States, time influenced by success does fade the focus. If you do become a police
officer, you’re going to enjoy a special benefit. Your focus will not fade, and it will only sharpen as your career progresses. Your continual use of
diplomacy and force will provide you with a unique appreciation of both. That appreciation will give you the ability to avoid learning things the hard
way… again… and again.
When you become a police officer, you’ll be entering a career that will give you a unique insight on good and evil, government and politics, the
corrupting power of power, and the implementation of irrational solutions to problems complicated by inexperienced problem solvers.
So, what else is new? Well, what’s new in the United States is an unprecedented growth in government with no end in sight. Aside from all the folly
associated with bigger and bigger government, there are two indispensable functions of government that only government can address… the
maintenance of internal civil order and the defense of the nation from external threats of violence… or, more simply put, crime and war.
There’s been a lot of conversation and debate about the “war on terror.” Most of the discourse revolves around whether or not there is a real war and
whether or not that war can be won. When it comes to labels, there’s no question that the word war has been misused and overused… war on poverty;
war on crime; war on drugs.
Stay with me on this. A real war has a beginning and end. Some wars are short in duration while others may last many years. The real measure of war
is the continuation of armed conflict between or among groups of combatants using various levels of organized tactics to achieve political goals through
total victory. War cannot be logically applied to things like poverty, crime, and drugs since these are perpetual social conditions that can only be
suppressed to a level where their adverse effects will not overwhelm normal social progress.
Up until September 11, 2001, the United States treated terrorists and terrorism as a problem to be addressed by law enforcement. Of course, that
position strained logic after the massive loss of life and property which occurred on 9/11. Despite the fact that the current war on terror certainly looks
like war and worthy of the war label, FBI agents have read Miranda Warnings to terrorists captured on battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Let’s just hope that the dangers associated with international state sponsored terrorism are really figments of Americans’ collective imagination, and
the emerging policies of our government are not taking us on a journey into “The Twilight Zone.”
|Evidence is Evidence... but
There are so many reasons why every American should be grateful that he or she is an American. One of those reasons is a criminal justice system that
is fairer to those accused of crimes than any other justice system in the world. In fact, it’s so fair that even if a mountain of evidence exists to convict a
person, a portion of that evidence – or even the entire mountain – may not be admissible in court to be used against a criminal defendant.
One has to wonder when a good thing becomes too much of a good thing. When you become a police officer
you’re going to lose cases simply because of inadmissibility of evidence you’ve seized or collected. The inadmissibility of the evidence need not have
anything to do with the quality or veracity of the evidence. In most instances the inadmissibility will be determined by how, and under what
circumstances, you seized or collected the evidence.
In the beginning, your lack of knowledge and experience may cause you some confusion in understanding why some evidence is excluded from a
prosecution. As time goes by and your knowledge and experience expands,
you’ll master the constitutional processes that dictate how you collect and seize evidence. You should, and I emphasis should, also come to appreciate
the rights guaranteed under the 4th, 5th, and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution.
However… as you become grounded in the rational applications of evidence collection and admissibility, you will experience some frustration when you
see how some lawyers and judges apply their own theories and interpretations to admissibility issues. Politics has everything to do with every aspect of
the criminal justice system, and it’s always been that way. When I began my police career in the early 1970’s, everything was subject to hyper-technical
interpretations. As the years passed and crime rates dictated a more rational application of criminal justice, things got a lot better.
However… everything is cyclical, and I fear that you’ll be facing a repeat of the hyper-technical interpretations of the past. When I began my career,
the debilitating debate was rehabilitation versus punishment. Today, political correctness is the monster in the room where everything is what it is, but
it’s something different. An illegal alien has become an undocumented immigrant, and the term “enemy combatant” has been ceremoniously removed
from the lexicon. It won’t be long before the television pundits will be identifying terrorists and terrorism as the “T Word.”
When it comes to the terrorists… er… detainees still in custody, the problem of admissibility of evidence really
won't be a problem. You see, the War on Terror ended on January 20th, 2009, and nobody even noticed.
It’s not fair, but you, as a police officer, will be the face of a police state to the elitist intellectual – and others who think they’re intellectual – at one end
of the social scale and to those along various levels on the scale who will always resist conforming to polite social behavior. The career criminal will give
little, if any, thought to the issue of a police state, because he’ll be putting all of his intellectual power into avoiding you. The terrorist will either avoid
you or kill you depending upon strategic and tactical considerations and his current desired target for destruction.
The good news is that most Americans have a favorable view of the police officers in their communities. The single most important reason why
Americans have favorable views toward their police is because there are over 18,000 police departments in the United States. The majority of law
enforcement agencies in the United States are controlled by state and local governments – not an all powerful central government.
America looked a lot different over two centuries ago when a group of men came together to form a new nation. While times may have been different
then, the people weren’t any different than they are today. Some of the Founding Fathers argued for a strong central government; however, the
majority opted for limited powers for the central government. The majority of that time would be appalled to see how the clear, simple meanings of their
words in their new nation’s Constitution would, over time, be twisted or ignored to create some of the most absurd interpretations by politicians and
judges to expand the powers of the Federal [central] government.
While no one can foresee the future, America’s Founding Fathers knew that time and progress would change a lot of things. However, they knew what
wouldn’t change… some people’s addiction to power. Why do you think the Constitution’s First Amendment ensures free speech? Why do you think
they paid so much attention to a framework for separation of powers among co-equal branches of the Federal government? They created the best
system they could to ensure that no one or group of ideologues could simultaneously be in control of speech and all branches of the central government.
They knew that America could never become a police state as long as power existed to check power.
Now, let’s look at the issue of Islamist terrorism. Don’t you just love the view “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter?” I suppose if
you take the view that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are fighting to deny others their freedom, you could in some perverted way argue that simplistic view.
The truth is that America is the target of Islamist terrorism precisely because America projects the human benefits of freedom. The last thing Al
Qaeda, the Taliban, and any dictator wants is any impediments to their pursuit of totalitarianism. The Islamist part to today’s foremost terrorists is
simply a cloak of religion to obfuscate their criminality and pure political power motives.
Aside from the obvious physical dangers from terrorism are the dangers resulting from how a free society responds to acts of terrorism. The Patriot Act
is a good example of actions resulting in unintended consequences… or… at least I hope are unintended. I’m sure many of the Founding Fathers would
be scratching their heads and asking, “Why?” After all, they already made it pretty clear that the executive branch of government is responsible for
protecting the country from foreign attack. Why should the legislative branch corrupt their clear language regarding something as important as search
and seizure by codifying into law actions that clearly violate the Constitution? But… wait a minute – silly me and those silly Founding Fathers. Today’s
Constitutional revisionists have decided that terrorist attacks planned, financed and implemented by foreign terrorists are not acts of war but simply
criminal acts to be addressed by law enforcement. So, it should be obvious to anyone that some freedoms for Americans need be altered in order to
combat terrorism. The truth is that the Patriot Act was a result of one branch of government encroaching on the power of another branch with
American citizens paying the price for power and influence with freedoms.
Americans don’t understand the true nature of a police state, because they’ve not yet had to live in one. The beginning of the 21st Century is turning
out to be a true test for the Republic. There’s no question that the Federal government’s quest for more power began long ago even before the ink was
dry on the Constitution. The big question is when that quest will be checked.
If the American police officer ever does become the true face of a police state, you’ll know that all has been lost, because America’s police will be the
last building block put in place to complete an all powerful central government.
You should note that the frustration expressed by this investigator is the same kind of frustration you'll be faced with on a daily basis. As a group,
police officers are the most closely scrutinized and criticized people on the planet. Scrutiny and criticism are not bad things; unless, they become
disruptive, excessive or simply unfounded. You'll soon learn that becoming a police officer will bring you plenty of disruptive, excessive and unfounded
scrutiny and criticism.
While there's absolutely nothing you can due to assuage those who simply dislike, or even hate, police officers for any number of reasons, it only takes a
few lazy, incompetent, or corrupt police officers to allow normally unfounded criticisms from hitting their marks from time to time.
While unfair and unfounded criticism will always be a part of your job, your best response is the same as Detective Baltz, the author of the above
e-mail. No... I'm not referring to the detective's criticism of me. I'm referring to this detective's obvious dedication to his/her job. In this case, it
involves the investigation of sex crimes, but the same dedication applies to every aspect of police work.
When you become a police officer, you'll probably be young, and you will be impressionable. Peer pressure, good or bad, is a tremendous force. If you
join a police department where the leadership is demanding high levels of performance through well managed policies and procedures (note that
Detective Baltz articulated some of those policies), supervisory and peer influences will be on a positive and parallel course. When those policies and
procedures deteriorate, you'll see police officers around you succumb to the lower expectations for performance.
Just remember that you'll always have the ability to recognize the proper way of doing things. While Detective Baltz is currently working in an
environment of high expectations, that environment could change. However, I have the feeling that the crowd for lower expectations would have... a hard
time dealing with Detective Baltz.
|A police officer's career can end before it
gets started . . . When young men and
women begin their law enforcement
careers as police officers, they have no idea
just how many pitfalls lay before them. Too
many new police officers listen to bad
advice, and they develop bad working
habits. Those bad habits can result in
career ending consequences, sooner than
later, for a new police officer.
|A no holds barred discussion of
issues which will most affect
a new police officer's career