Connecticut: The Coming Storm, posted on March 1, 2014 is officially the most-read article I’ve ever put before the public on this scruffy little blog. As one might imagine, it has provoked a great deal of controversy, here and everywhere it has been reblogged, and the number of blogs doing that seem to grow by the day, for which I am honored and grateful. For those of you visiting SMM for the first time, welcome, and I’m glad to have you. I hope my fevered scribblings are worth your time.
The initial response has encouraged me to write this, the second article in this series. We begin with two representative comments:
I read your bio and I’m a bit baffled by your article. Was your SWAT team that inept? I ask because I’m familiar with ours, having been a PA State Trooper for twenty years. They get the job done, efficiently. They’re excellent marksman and highly trained. I’m curious why you’d make the SWAT team in your article sound like something out of a twisted Police Academy movie.
I worry about our brothers and sisters in Connecticut. Many are 100% against the ridiculous law and have said they absolutely will not enforce it. You know as well as I do, the politicos don’t ask us for our input. The brass doesn’t care what we think about the latest foolish law. Then, we have folks such as yourself, using your credentials to legitimize a fanciful depiction of crazed killers with badges.
Don’t you worry that someone that’s half a bubble off will shoot a cop simply because of articles like yours that dehumanize LEOs and make them the enemy? Have you forgotten the men and women you worked with? Nine out of ten that I worked with were good people that were trying to make a difference and do the right thing. And that one out of ten wasn’t a crazed killer. Maybe a power-tripping asshat or a chickenshit coward that should have been working in a nice, safe office somewhere.
A Retired Pennsylvania State Police Trooper
‘Mike, I reposted your story and was interested in your reaction to a couple of comments I received.
In preface let me say that while I agree that the beginning story is fictional and dramatic, I want to know if in YOUR experience you believe them to be an accurate portrayal of what happens in raids today.
The comment that sparked me to write here is this:
‘See, for me, the problem is how the author chooses to paint the situation. As Zack pointed out, the intro is so over-the-top that all of the following information starts to sound like the feverish rants of a conspiracy theorist. If the reader feels that the writer is unreliable, they may choose to ignore or downplay the rest of the message, even if the message is true or pertinent.
I am an intelligent and educated member of society; convince me of your point with facts and proof, not horror stories intended to induce knee-jerk reactions.’
Your thoughts on this Mike? Thanks.
Michael Duke: The Michael Duke Show
I have responded personally to both of these readers, but thought it useful to share what I know of police organization and mentality. Most people know little about the police, and TV and Hollywood depictions are not at all informative or helpful. Some comments suggest that the fictional scenario that began the original article was “over the top,” defamatory to police officers everywhere and entirely too–well–fictional. Unfortunately, it is all too possible, and everything in it has already happened in recent years in one way or another and in one place or another. I’ll begin by explaining, in this and a third article, who the police are, what shapes their thinking and actions and how they respond. I’ll continue and possibly conclude in a third article (we’ll see where this series and the concerns of readers take us) by explaining the realities of SWAT teams, and by answering the questions of the trooper–who I sincerely thanked for his service–and Michael Duke (and his listeners).
In order to be hired as a police officer, one must be at least 21 years of age, in good general health, in good physical shape, and must have no felony arrests or convictions. Some misdemeanor arrests or convictions might also be disqualifying. Initial applicants are subjected to screening designed to detect the minimum level of common sense and basic human skills before more extensive and expensive testing.
The “diversity” of people applying for police positions is amazing–and disquieting. Some have no idea that when applying for a job requiring enormous maturity, responsibility and personal integrity, it would be wise to shave, remove all piercings, bathe, and dress in clean and pressed clothing. I’ve actually dealt with people who arrived apparently unaware of the basics of personal hygiene, and even some smelling strongly of marijuana smoke–and obviously high. Some have tried to borrow money from me.
Once the basic screening is done–usually a written test–an eligibility list is compiled for further testing. The next step is often a physical fitness test designed to identify people obviously incapable of the basic tasks of the job. Such tests must be job-based, and each task must be defendable in terms of what officers are actually required to do. Many are dropped at this level, and some actually pass out or have cardiac events.
Many people try to become police officers because of the romance and authority of the job. Unfortunately, their view of police work is usually drawn from TV and the movies; it has nothing to do with reality.
Those that pass the physical tests undergo intensive background checks and psychological fitness exams, such as the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The next step is usually questioning by a panel of serving officers of various ranks, and perhaps a personal interview with the Chief or Sheriff. A polygraph is also normally done, which can find skeletons in closets an applicant would rather keep closed.
Virtually all new officers begin in the patrol division (or if a Sheriff’s Department, in the jail). He or she is usually in their early 20s–patrol work is a young person’s job–and most are embarking on a noble career of public service hoping they’ll be able to make a difference. Many police agencies now require at least an associate’s degree–two years of college–but for most, a high school education is sufficient. One can make a reasonable argument for the proposition that a college degree has the potential to make one a more informed, well-rounded person, but good cops are born, not made. Some people just have the unique genetic endowment that allows them to think, see, anticipate and do things that others will never be able to do at nearly the same level. These people stand out–and are sometimes feared and driven out–in any law enforcement agency.
At one time, many officers were military veterans, even combat veterans. For about two decades, as the ranks of veterans thinned in society at large, so did the ranks of veterans in police work. Since the early 2000s, however, those proportions have increased to some extent and in some places. This is generally a good development as veterans understand discipline, the necessity of a chain of command, are reliable, capable and steady, and know how to work with a variety of people, all worthy qualities in a police officer. Their tactical knowledge is also valuable.
One recent development that worries many informed observers is the video game warrior. Many of the current crop of police officers have been raised with shoot-‘em-up video games. There is an venerable police aphorism:
Train the way you want to fight, because you’ll fight the way you’ve trained.
I’ve found this to be true enough. When under stress, we fall back on our training, what we’ve been conditioned to do. I fear that too many contemporary cops have been conditioned to shoot first and always, and sort things out later, and there are an amazing and disturbing number of incidents that reinforce that fear.
For new officers, their first year normally consists of a basic academy where they learn the law, general police procedure, first aid, unarmed combat, firearms and emergency driving and tactics for dealing with people. This is, in many ways, the hardest and most vital thing to learn. Such academies normally last from 2-3 months, and are often conducted by the state at a single location.
Upon graduation, they return to their host agencies and often undergo several months of in-house training on the specific rules, regulations, procedures and laws relevant to their jurisdictions. They also usually undergo additional tactical and firearms training and are commonly issued their duty handgun and equipment. Most have never been under arms before–many have no firearm skills–and have no idea how to wear or organize their equipment. They’ll eventually figure it out by trial and error.
Upon graduation from the local academy, they commonly enter a field training program where they work their way through a standard curriculum while rotating between at least three field training officers. During this phase of their training, they ride with those officers, who observe and mentor them and write daily evaluations. This phase normally takes at least three months, and often more. Among the things they must learn and master: driving, thinking, observing everything around them and speaking coherently on the radio while simultaneously making necessary notes and using the computer, all while not crashing into other vehicles or fixed objects. Many people simply can’t do it.
New officers are not usually allowed in a police car on their own for about a year from their date of hire. By then, if they’re properly trained, they’re ready to assume their jobs at a basic level. They have an enormous amount yet to learn, but they’re not an obvious, imminent danger to themselves or others–theoretically.
By this time, agencies have a great deal of money invested in these people and want them to succeed. Even so, some always wash out during the initial training process, if they’re allowed to wash out. Yes, politics is often involved in policing.
One March 17, 2011, PJ Media published my article on the Dayton, Ohio Police Department. I wrote (in part):
It now appears that an even more egregious example of the racial discrimination that has become policy in the Obama/Holder DOJ was already underway.
Due to dozens of retirements, the Dayton, Ohio, Police Department began a hiring cycle. Using an initial test developed by an outside company to eliminate racial bias, a passing score on one part of the test was set at 66% and a second part was set at 72%. However, despite Dayton’s pressing need for police officers, the DOJ forced Dayton to postpone the hiring process for months, and finally demanded that the passing scores be lowered to 58% and 63%.
Under the new lower standards, 258 additional applicants passed the test. The city of Dayton has declined to identify the racial make-up of those passing.
Pity the citizens of Dayton, Ohio and any city forced to hire substandard candidates in the name of racial or gender diversity. Pity any city that has to hire people because they’re friends or relatives of local politicians or of already serving cops.
The biggest stumbling block to excellence in police work is that agencies are limited to hiring members of the human race. This always means that some will be fundamentally unfit for the job. Most will be average, and some few will be excellent. Citizens will never know which of these they’ll meet when they’re pulled over, or when an officer comes to their door to take a report.
New officers have to decide whom they will emulate. Working with others, they quickly learn who is sharp, hard-working and trustworthy, and who is not. They learn who is honorable and dedicated to public service and who is lazy, ill-tempered and self-centered. They also quickly learn who is prone to violate the law and people’s rights, and who is actually dangerous to themselves, their fellow officers, and the public. Remember, officers are hired from the same public with whom you work, with all of the strengths, weaknesses and eccentricities you see every day.
Inevitably, some officers become “badge heavy.” They come to see themselves as the masters of the public, but above all, they take things personally and make decisions in anger. Badge heavy officers are overbearing and take pleasure in exercising their authority over others. They harass and browbeat the public. They often provoke confrontations, and when they do, are quick to use force, often, excessive force. They make arrests where more professional officers would simple employ words. Everyone knows who these officers are, and most do their best to avoid them.
New officers quickly learn how important it is that politics be kept out of their decision-making processes. Everyone must be arrestable. If they work in an agency where certain citizens are immune from arrest, their agency is corrupted. They soon realize how important the support of their superior officers is. Accusations of wrongdoing are easy to make, and true or false, can taint an officer forever. Superiors who make such decisions based on favoritism, politics, or whim are dangerous to the police, the justice system and the public.
Unfortunately, these issues often lead to a blue wall of silence and support for officers in trouble, regardless of whether they have done wrong. If officers cannot reasonably believe that mistakes honestly made will not result in grossly unreasonable punishments, it’s not hard to see how they would tend to circle the wagons in all situations.
Remember that officers are expected to make absolutely correct judgments under incredible stresses and to take flawless actions, all of which will be analyzed months later by people with unlimited time in the safety and security of their office chairs. Amazingly, they mostly succeed.
Officers quickly learn that at least some of their supervisors were promoted not by merit, but because of who they know, or in some cases, because they were so dangerous as patrol officers they were promoted to put them in a job where they could do less damage. Unfortunately, instead of damaging the public, they tend to damage good police officers. A great many are promoted because they are willing to do a Chief’s dirty work in dealing with his subordinates.
It quickly becomes obvious that some supervisors and administrators can be trusted–at least to a point–but some cannot.
AFTER THE SECOND YEAR:
By this time, new officers have made something of a name for themselves and associated themselves with various groups. They are no longer called “rookie”–which pleases them greatly–there is a new class of officers on the street to assume that name.
By now, those officers who take firearms seriously, even enjoy them, have begun to notice that they are very much in the minority. Where they are willing to spend their own time and money to improve their skills, most of their fellow officers are not. Where they read extensively in the gun and tactics press, their fellows do not. Where they always carry off duty, many of their fellows do not. Where they buy their own weapons, trying and discarding various accessories, their fellows own few, if any, weapons apart from their issued handgun. Where they shoot at or near 100% in qualifications, their fellows barely pass, and often have to reshoot multiple times to barely pass.
They quickly discover that handgun qualifications are a joke. Normally held once a year, they consist of 50 rounds of practice ammunition, light-loaded ammo with diminished recoil, muzzle flash and report compared to their duty ammo. The courses of fire are not at all challenging, and are commonly held only in clean, dry, well-lit conditions. Passing scores are normally in the 70% range, which means that about three out of ten rounds fired can nearly miss, or entirely miss. For many officers, reshooting qualification is the only practice they ever do. The only stress involved is that of having to shoot a minimum passing score.
They will also discover that many officers have no idea how to disassemble or clean their handguns, nor do they have cleaning equipment at home. Some will complete a 20-year career having never cleaned their handguns.
Diligent officers will be stunned to discover candy wrappers and other refuse in the barrels of the shotguns in their vehicles. They will be concerned to learn that they never have the chance to shoot those shotguns. On the rare occasions when shotgun “qualification” is held, a few shotguns will be taken from the armory. Officers will commonly fire a few rounds of 00 buckshot at a target 10-15 yards away, and as long as about half of the pellets hit the entire target, that will be sufficient. Smart officers will leave those weapons in their vehicles and rely on their handguns. At least they know where those will hit.
Officers quickly learn that dealing with the public is a piece of cake. In fact, most officers like working with people. Dealing with their own? That’s something else again. Some officers will quickly settle into a routine of doing the minimum necessary. They go along to get along, and avoid any potential political troubles. Some are screw-ups who are always getting into minor troubles, but not quite of sufficient importance to justify firing. Others work hard and excel. Some of these will do their best to ingratiate themselves with supervisors and administrators. They’ll kiss any behind and stroke any ego that can get them promoted, for in police work, the only way to make substantially more money is to enter the supervisory, and then the administrative ranks. Others care primarily about catching real bad guys and doing their jobs as well as possible. They are, as the Japanese say, the nails that stick up, and which get hammered down.
During my police years, I had two separate police chiefs tell me that I was too smart to be a policeman. I sort of appreciated the backhanded compliment, but was fully aware of the irony. They really didn’t appreciate what they were saying about themselves, their police agency, and their fellow officers. Perhaps they were right, and in any case, it was reflective of my experience: most police administrators want their officers to be only smart enough and no smarter. They’re easier to control.
Does this mean that most cops are dumb? Certainly not. In fact, most are brighter than the average bear. Many are very smart indeed, particularly in the pursuit of their jobs and their understanding of human beings. One must know human nature very well to succeed as a police officer. But as with all occupations, what is usually lauded as good is mostly average. What is praised as excellent, is often only good, or at least particularly adept at ass kissing. And what is truly excellent is often attacked.
I am fully aware, gentle readers, that I’m generalizing, and in generalizing, I am certainly painting some underserving of criticism with a broad brush. I trust you know I do this not to unfairly castigate the worthy, but to explain the realities of policing and the relationship of the police to the people most cops honorably serve.
I end this article as I’m reaching the point where most people find it difficult to continue in a single sitting. The third article in this series, which will post on Saturday, March 15, 2014, will deal with the attitudes of the police, the various types of police officers, and how police officers see and tend to apply the Constitution.
I hope you find this series to be informative and I hope to see you there.