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In March of 2014, I wrote the second article in the Connecticut: The Coming Storm series, titled: Who Are The Police?  In light of the events at Uvalde, it’s time to update that article.

THE BASICS:  The biggest stumbling block to excellence in police work is agencies are limited to hiring members of the human race.  This always means 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.

Traditionally, 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 such as domestic violence or DUI are usually 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.

credit: tattoonew2012.blogspotd.com

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 somewhat more formal than a t-shirt and torn jeans.  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, a police supervisor and complete stranger.

Once the basic screening is done–-usually a written test–-an eligibility list is compiled for further testing.  The next step is usually 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 directly related to what officers are actually required to do.  Many are dropped at this level, and some actually pass out or have cardiac events.

Written tests are designed to establish a baseline. Can the candidate read?  Understand what they read?  Write on at least Jr. High level? Do they have any common sense?  Are they apparently sane?  Many fail at this level.

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 physical tests undergo intensive background checks and psychological fitness exams, such as the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2).  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 traditionally, most are embarking on a noble career of public service hoping they’ll be able to make a difference.  Some police agencies now require at least an associate’s degree–-two years of college–-but for most, a high school diploma is sufficient.

One can make a reasonable argument for the proposition 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 others will never be able to do at nearly the same level.  These people stand out–-and are often feared and driven out–-in any law enforcement agency.

At one time, many officers were military veterans, even combat veterans.  As the ranks of veterans have thinned in society at large, so too have 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, if they were under arms—not everyone in the military is–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 a 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 too many contemporary cops have been conditioned to shoot first and always and sort things out later, and there are a disturbing number of incidents that reinforce that fear.

The first year for new officers 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.  Some states, having no state-run academy,  require a completion certificate from a private police academy.

Upon graduation, they return to their host agencies and usually 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 emulating experienced cops and 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 sometimes 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 imposed on policing.

On 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.  Imagine what Dayton—and other cities–is doing now.

THE BEGINNING:

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.  All cops on a given force know who these officers are, and most do their best to avoid them.

The less intelligent the officer, the less responsible, the less personal integrity they have, the more likely they are to be badge heavy, or to use their power for personal advantage.

New officers quickly learn how important it is to keep politics out of their decision-making processes.  Everyone must be subject to arrest.  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.

Officers are expected to make absolutely correct judgments under incredible stresses and to take flawless actions, all of which will be analyzed much later by people with unlimited time in the safety and security of their office chairs.  Amazingly, if they’re sufficiently intelligent, well trained, well supervised and supported, they mostly succeed.

Officers quickly learn at least some of their supervisors were promoted not by merit, but because of who they know, their race or gender, 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 become accepted in the ranks and have 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 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, try and discard 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 achieve that minimal level of pseudo-competence.

They quickly discover 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.  Go here for an article that reveals just how bad with firearms far too many officers are.

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 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 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, human torso-sized 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–maybe.

Imagine how officers below average in intelligence and social skills do with firearms.

More agencies these days are carrying carbines, usually AR-15 variants.  They spend no more time in training and qualifying with those than they do with shotguns.  A rifle left in the trunk of a police car and sighted in for one officer—if any–will not be sighted in for all.  Because rifle ammunition is expensive, the tendency is for even less frequent qualification.

Smart officers quickly learn dealing with the public is among the least difficult things they do.  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.  Some few work hard and excel.  Some 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.

The Bad News:  What?  You don’t think I’ve provided enough already?  Circa 2022, police work is in real trouble.  Leftist lunatics have not only defunded the police, they continue to harass, prosecute and even murder them.  Because their fortunes in the upcoming midterms are bleak and getting bleaker, many leftists are pretending they never wanted to defund the police, and are pretending to be all for suppressing crime.  Obviously, I’m speaking largely of America’s larger, Democrat/Socialist/Communist ruled cities.  However, the Ferguson Effect has spread throughout the country.

Take the standards I’ve explained and imagine dumbing them down.  Imagine hiring people who, even ten years ago, no sane LE agency would consider.  Imagine hiring people without a high school diploma.  Imagine hiring people with criminal records, drug problems, and people with below average IQs.   You don’t have to imagine diversity hiring; that’s been the status quo, particularly in blue states and cities, for a long time, and that has seldom produced quality, reliable police officers.  Imagine police agencies curtailing not only all kinds of training, but dramatically lowering passing grades, because to do otherwise they’d lose too many recruits.  Imagine agencies curtailing firearm qualification and reducing passing scores below 70%, sometimes far below.  Imagine retaining even those officers who can’t meet even those abysmal standards.  Imagine agencies dumbing down physical standards.  Imagine the federal government taking over local police agencies and imposing all manner of woke mandates.  All of this, and more, is happening.  That’s why when you saw photos of Uvalde, you saw officers who looked like they’d have a heart attack if forced to run 20 yards.

As I explained in the first article of this series—the SMM Uvalde archive is here—unrelenting attacks on America’s police have caused many to retire early, to resign to try to find police jobs where they’re actually allowed to enforce the law, and many others to bail out of the job altogether.  Qualified, excellent candidates no longer want anything to do with the job.  Many of those that remain, even in red states, have chosen to do as little as possible to avoid being unfairly disciplined, even prosecuted.  As a result, crime, particularly in the aforementioned cities, is out of control.  Response times are dramatically up, when the police are able, or willing, to respond at all.  In Seattle, for example, due to a lack of detectives, the police have essentially stopped investigating rapes, and throughout Washington, with very few exceptions, police officers can’t pursue criminals, who no longer have to stop for the police, so they don’t.  Officers have to watch felons simply drive away.

A great many big city agencies are having a hell of a time finding anyone willing to do the job, and just to have bodies on the street, they’re accepting people who, not long ago, would never have been considered.  No police agency has ever had an excess of manpower, now they’re grossly understaffed, which requires remaining officers to incur huge amounts of overtime. That’s nice in terms of pay, but the job is stressful under the best of circumstances, and that kind of added stress produces fatigue, illness, hampered judgment, fractured family life, and all manner of additional problems.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I am fully aware, gentle readers, I’m generalizing, and 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 do not know the hiring, retention and other policies of all of the agencies involved at Uvalde.  I do know school district police forces tend to lag behind other agencies in qualifications, training and expectations—they don’t have the resources.  I know federal agencies, particularly the FBI, tend to imagine themselves to be unimaginably elite, far superior to every other police animal.  I know state patrol forces tend to be fanatical about uniforms.  I also know police executives tend to be egocentric and very jealous of their power.

At least, gentle readers, you now have a better idea of the realities of policing, and perhaps, some of the dynamics that were in the atmosphere at Uvalde.  When and if we get a complete and competent report on exactly what happened, we’ll be better capable of figuring out how the very nature of policing affected the outcome.