Monday, May 9, 2016

The Law Enforcement Hiring Process (Hint: You might not be cut out for this job)

I originally was intending to target this blog towards recruits who are in the academy. Since receiving countless emails from people seeking a career in law enforcement, I decided to write a post answering the most common question I receive - What is the hiring process like? Not only do I want to describe a basic hiring process, but I'd also like to take the opportunity to help the overwhelmed background investigators by convincing those who really aren't cut out for this job that they should not apply. Sound harsh? Maybe... but this isn't the type of job that we should allow people to have just because they have the desire and put an application in.

Listen, we have all heard the stereotypical theories as to why someone chose to become a cop. "They were all bullied in high school and became cops so they could feel the power trip." Or how about, "They couldn't get a job doing anything else so they became cops." When people hear either of these assumptions or ones like it, it starts to put in the minds of people that becoming a cop is an easy, fallback career. This could not be farther from the truth. If you aren't familiar with what an average law enforcement agency puts an applicant through to earn their badge, let me give you a glimpse into the process and let you decide if it's a career for idiots with low self-esteem.

Let's start with the basic of basics. If you have been convicted of a felony, snorted coke or smoked meth recently, have beaten your ex-girlfriend or a small child to a bloody pulp, or been a part of any similar everyone a favor and don't apply. It's a waste of your time, the police agency's time, and tax-payer's money. You're not going to get hired. I'm serious. If you're thinking to yourself that the agency might change their minds once you get a chance to tell your story, they're not going to change their minds. You are too much of a liability for a government agency to hand a gun and a badge to and send out to the streets of your city in a patrol car. I congratulate you if you feel like you have turned your life around, but you can't take back the bad decisions you have made. They are a part of your history. Put yourself in the shoes of the police agency you wish to apply for. If an agency hired a guy who committed a violent assault on his ex-girlfriend, and later is the subject of an excessive force complaint by a female, it's going to be a tough and expensive road for that agency when it is discovered they didn't screen him out of the application process for such a violent offense. Besides that, cops are being crucified in the media these days if you haven't noticed. They put a microscope onto any bad decision they can get their hands on and we all suffer from the undeserved bad image. We really don't want a partner who we have to worry about bringing more dirt into our house.

Now onto the application process. Check with the agency you want to apply for and find out what their education requirements are. Most agencies these days require at least some college units and prefer four-year degrees. There are some agencies that only require a high school diploma, but not many. Even if an agency only requires a high school degree and that's the extent of your education, you will still have college educated competition that will make you a tough sell. For many agencies, you can simply submit an application online. This initial application is your ticket into the hiring process. Remember, you will constantly be evaluated and can be disqualified at any step in the process, especially if you're caught lying about anything.

If you're application is accepted, you can expect to be invited to take a written exam and/or a physical agility test, and not necessarily in that order. The written exam will test your reading and writing ability. It is typically a multiple choice test. I'd like to say it's a basic exam, but it has been severely underestimated by many people. I've personally had conversations with college educated applicants whom I have told they wouldn't have to worry about the written exam. I have stopped telling people this after receiving a few phone calls from these college educated applicants telling me they failed and would not be moving on to the next stage of the process. On top of this, some agencies require a writing sample. This will be hand written, so if you've relied on spell-check your whole life, this will be magnified in this portion.

The physical agility exam is generally not a challenging portion, but agencies have the prerogative to raise the bar and make it tougher. If they stick to the basic state requirements, it is basically going to weed out those applicants who thought they could put down the bag of Doritos, turn the TV off, and show up for a few simple obstacles. The basic test is in no way indicative of what kind of physical shape you are in. Physical agility tests commonly consist of a simple obstacle course, wall climb, dummy drag, and a short run. As I mentioned earlier, agencies can add more events to this test, the most common being a mile and a half run. All of the events are timed. The faster you complete the event, the higher your score. You can complete every event and still look like an out of shape applicant on paper if you barely complete each event with slow times. Being in good physical shape is an important attribute to being a law enforcement officer, but it is not the most important. I say this because there are many applicants who work very hard to be in great shape and believe that because they are really strong or can fight, that they would make great cops. All cops should work to be in great shape, but it is only one aspect of the job.

After the agency has whittled the applicant pool down a little from those who failed the written or physical agility tests, the agency you're applying with might conduct an oral interview. Not all agencies do this. If the one you want to work for does, you can expect to sit across a table from both law enforcement and civilian representatives and be asked a series of questions. The questions will be designed to assess your life experience, your ability to problem solve, communication skills, level of motivation and interest, interpersonal skills, and your community involvement. It gives the agency the opportunity to get a feel for what type of person you are and how you handle the pressure of an oral panel.

Next, you can expect to be moved on to the backgrounds portion of the process. This part can take a while. Usually the first thing you will be asked to do is fill out a personal history questionnaire (PHQ). What is in a PHQ? Well...everything. If it isn't in the PHQ, it will be in your backgrounds interview. "What is your full name? Where were you born? Give us your job history and contact information for your supervisors from each job. Now give us the names and contact information for all of your ex-girlfriends/boyfriends...all of them. Tell us about crimes you have committed, even if you haven't been caught. Have you ever had sex with an animal?" The questions run the gamut as you can see. Think about how many times you have had a conversation about a cop doing something bad where the question is asked, "How did that guy get through the background process? Don't they screen these people?" Yeah...we do, but as detailed as the background investigation is, a perfect process to weed out every person who could potentially make a bad decision as a cop simply does not exist. SO what do they do with this PHQ? Well, they read it. Then they call your friends, family, former lovers, roommates, coworkers, and landlords and ask them all about you. "What is John like when he gets angry? How many times have you seen him get angry? Is he dependable? How would you describe John? Why did you and John break up? Is he an honest person?" They gather a lot of information about you and then they call you in for an interview because they want to have a chat with you about what they learned. What is the chat like?

"Hi. Tell me about yourself. Where have you worked? Did you quit or were you fired? Why did you quit or why were you fired? Tell me about a time you got angry and how you handled the situation. Have you been in a physical fight before? How many times? When was the last fight? Why did the fight start? What was the outcome? Tell me about the tickets you have on your record. How about drugs? Which drug(s)? When did you take these drugs? How many times? How often? Who did you do these drugs with? Give us their full name and contact information so we can talk to them about your drug use. Why did you start? Why did you stop? When was the first time? When was the last time? Which racial slurs have you uttered in your life for any reason? So you're saying that a racial slur has never been spoken from your lips your entire life? Are you being honest? Because we did speak with all of your former roommates. Hmmm...interesting. Why did you say that racial slur? What about this other racial slur? Ever cheat on a test? Ever stolen anything from an employer? You mentioned in your PHQ that you once stole from a store. Let's talk about that." And it goes on and on and on. I hope you were honest in your PHQ, because when you're getting rapid fire questions, it sure would be difficult to remember which lies you documented in your PHQ.

So now that you have documented your personal history and endured a lengthy interview to find out more about the details of your life, if you weren't disqualified based on an unsavory event in your life, you might move on to the polygraph exam. You sit in a chair and get wired up to a machine that pays attention to your pulse rate, your body movement, and your pace of breathing so they can ask you questions and see how your body reacts. When people are lying, their bodies often tell on them through physiological responses. What questions do they ask? Well, it's different for everyone. They basically find some things in your PHQ and interview that they might not be so sure about and interrogate you about them. They often will tell you on the spot when they believe they have caught you in a lie. If you haven't figured it out by this point, the backgrounds process is much easier if you just don't lie. If you're thinking right now that there are some skeletons in your closet that could disqualify you, but you're pretty sure you could keep that closet door closed tight through the backgrounds process, you're the guy/girl I was talking about in the third paragraph who I said shouldn't apply. We don't want you and we don't need you. You aren't cut out for this job.

Did you pass the background investigation? Yes? Ok, now you will either move on to a medical exam or the psych exam. For the medical exam, they send you to a doctor for an overall health evaluation. Lots of health questions, they draw blood, you have to poop on a stick and give it to them, pee in a cup, run on a treadmill while hooked up to a machine, and then a doctor signs off on you or disqualifies you. Not really a way to study or prepare for the medical exam, and it's the same for the psych exam. If you don't have mental problems, you will feel like you do by the time you finish the test. It is over a thousand questions and you are asked many of the same questions worded slightly different each time. You get a score based off of the results and then you get an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist to talk about the results of the exam. Then the psych doctor either signs off on you or disqualifies you based on your score and their evaluation.

If you pass the medical and psych exams, congratulations, you are done with your part of the application process. Does this mean you're hired? No, my friend it does not. Your application file now gets reviewed by the agency for them to make a subjective decision on whether to hire you. They might decide that while you did pass everything, they just don't feel like you'd be a good fit. That's could potentially pass everything they throw at you and not get the call, and there's nothing you can do about it. Just because you passed, doesn't mean you have the right to the job.

If they do decide to hire you, congratulations! It would be a pretty good feeling right? Well it is, but remember that you weren't hired as a law enforcement officer at this point. You were hired to be a recruit. What does that mean? It means get ready to attend the police academy. Now, I can spend hours writing about what the academy is like, and you can read some of my other posts for more on the subject, but I will give a general overview here. You will spend an average of 6-months, full-time, attending the academy. You will be tested academically, mentally, and physically. You will attend lectures, take written tests, scenario-based performance tests, physical fitness tests, firearms tests, driving tests, complete never ending homework assignments, write memos for messing up, get yelled at by recruit training officers, interview mock victims and suspects, learn agency policies, memorize the code of ethics, learn how to properly and safely apply handcuffs, fight a big guy in a protective suit with a useless foam baton, learn ground fighting, how to verbally de-escalate a tense situation, learn first aid, how to identify illegal drugs, how to deal with mentally ill people, how to identify illegal weapons, learn the laws governing search and seizure, laws of arrest, how to write a ticket, and countless other subjects. Not only that, but you only get two chances to pass any of these tests. If you fail it once, you get one chance at a retest. Fail a second time and your shot at becoming a law enforcement officer has just come to an end. No, there are no exceptions. If you still want to pursue this career after failing out, you will have to go back up to paragraph four and resubmit an application to begin the process again. The academy is not an easy step for most people and many people fail out at average rates of up to 30%. The worst part is, you might pass the academy and still not find yourself with a badge at the end. An agency might pay you for 6-months, and decide at the end that even though you passed, they really didn't like your attitude. Maybe they thought you were late too many times or didn't like that you failed to notify them when you failed a test. Whatever the reason may be, the agency can say, "Thank you for being a recruit for us, but we are not going to hire you as an officer. Good day." It's true that you now have a certificate of completion of the basic police academy, but you don't have a job. Head back up to paragraph four and start by submitting an application somewhere else to begin the process. The good part is if you get through it all again, you shouldn't have to attend the academy again provided your certificate is still valid. Then again, an agency might have the policy that they like to evaluate their applicants in an academy and have you attend again. It happens.

So you got through hiring, passed the academy, and were offered a job as a law enforcement officer. Congratulations! Here's your badge, gun, and a load of responsibility. Free and clear right? Nope... Your next step is a field training program. Now it doesn't sound like much of an obstacle since you're already a cop and it's just training right? That's not exactly true. Depending on the agency, you will now be spending the next 3-5 months under the close observation of multiple training officers who teach you how to apply what you have learned to this point, and provide daily, detailed evaluations of your performance to the agency. Not everyone who passes an academy is cut out for this job. Sometimes the decision is made by the rookie officer and sometimes the agency doesn't like what they see. There is not just one reason someone might fail out of the training program. It could be that your report writing is terrible, your officer safety is poor, you freeze up during contentious situations, you don't know how to read a map and navigate to calls, you're rude to citizens or partners, you don't remember the law well enough and violate people's rights, you fail a test (the tests do not end after the academy), you wreck a patrol car one too many times, you cave under the stress of driving fast with your lights and sirens on, or maybe you get caught lying. In any case, you might not find out that you aren't cut out for this job until you have your badge and are driving in a patrol car responding to calls.

The next step after passing the field training program is getting through your probationary period, which varies from department to department. During a probationary period you can be released at the agency's discretion. You will be under the watchful eye of your sergeant and senior officers as you handle completely unpredictable situations, many of which you just can't prepare yourself for. You will be making split decisions with the life of another human being at stake, deciding whether to arrest someone and strip them of their freedom, be a counselor to little kids and crying victims, comfort the loved ones of deceased people, be yelled at by the citizen who ran a red light because you're writing them a ticket, listen to two sides of a story where neither person is telling the whole truth and try to figure out what happened, respond to traffic accidents and discover dead bodies at the scene, fight with a violent criminal to place them in handcuffs so you can take them to jail, point your gun at people who are posing a threat to you or someone else, search a building you have never been in for a person you have never seen, scour a city trying to find a lost elderly woman with dementia who went missing, deliver the news to a mother that her child was shot and killed, give CPR to a man while his children watch you with tears and hope in their eyes, put a tourniquet on a victim bleeding out from a stab wound, try to convince a suicidal person that putting the knife down and coming with you in handcuffs to the hospital is better than taking their own life, shoot a deer who was struck by a vehicle to put it out of its misery, give stickers to little kids who still think cops are heroes, speak at neighborhood meetings and field questions about how you and your partners are going to stop their residential burglary problem, have dinner with and laugh with your partner and then 30-minutes later respond to their desperate call for help over the radio as they are in a fight for their life, explain to a 5-year-old why taking their mother to jail and sending them to a children's shelter is the best decision for them. Do all that and more and then go home each night and try to forget about the things you have seen and be the best father, mother, wife, or husband that you can be. Don't turn on the TV either. It's better to avoid the anger that builds up when you hear some news reporter who found the one cop in America that night who made a stupid mistake and paint the entire profession with that broad brush of incompetent or racist cops.

Sound like something you want to take on? If so, then by all means give it a go. If you are cut out for this job, you will love every minute of it. If you aren't cut out for this job, don't take it personal. It doesn't mean you aren't a good person or a hard worker. There are plenty of good, smart, hard workers in the world who just wouldn't make great cops. It doesn't mean you are a failure. It just means you found out that being a cop is not the right fit for you. Be grateful for that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Stop Yelling At Me!

Recruits enter the academy with a wide variety of life experience. Some have never held a real job in their life. Some have worked at a fro-yo shop or a movie theater. Some have worked in a jail. Some have extensive military combat experience while others have been law enforcement officers at other agencies and didn't maintain their certification. 

It might not seem like a big deal that people have different life experiences prior to the academy. After all, you all still have to learn the same material, you receive the same instruction, and have to pass the same tests right? True...but can the academy staff just present all the material in the same manner and expect that everyone in the class will understand it enough to pass the tests? 

Let me illustrate my point. If you were to take on the task of teaching algebra to a group of people with all different backgrounds, you can expect that everyone has different skill levels in mathematics. Some probably grew up hating math, did poorly in every math class they had, and were glad when school was over because they knew they would never spend another second of their life on it again. Others didn't like math, but they could do it and put just enough effort into it to pass. Most did well but just didn't care enough to push themselves to excellence. A few (very few) loved math and aced everything related to math. Stick with me on this.

Regardless of their experience, you have this group in your classroom and you are supposed to teach them algebra. Your goal at the end of the block of instruction is for the entire group to pass an algebra test that demonstrates their competency on the subject matter. So there's a decision you have to make at the beginning of the class. You're an expert in algebra so you're capable of teaching at any level. You have four different groups of students if you break them down by skill level. Which level do you present the material at to achieve the greatest success? 

If you present it to the lowest skill level, they will take a long time to grasp the material. The rest of the class will be ready to move much quicker and the class won't progress fast enough to cover all the material by the end. If you teach towards the experts and move at their pace, you will lose the lowest skill level quickly, and the mediocre students will have trouble keeping up. Some may pass the test but you'll lose a lot. Remember your want everyone to pass the test.

Generally the answer is that you teach toward the lower end of the "in between" groups. You teach low enough so there's a chance for success for the lower skill level students, but high enough for the class to cover all the material by the end and keep the interest of the more skilled students. Will you reach your goal? Probably not, but it should get you the highest success rate possible without making the class longer, getting tutors for students, or cheating. But the failures won't be the result of you not doing your job. The failures will be from those not prepared enough, not motivated enough, or just not smart enough in math. 

So you can see the challenges faced by the academy staff. It's a factor in everything they teach. One of the things they have to prepare you for is how to face the adversity that will surely come in this career. Adversity comes in many forms, but right now let's discuss the suspects who are professionals at getting under the skin of law enforcement officers. 

I'm sure everyone reading this has no problem telling themselves that they would never let a suspect get under their skin. Everyone thinks they know how they will react in a given situation. If that's the case, why do we see videos of so many officers losing their cool? Have you seen the video of the officer on the cell phone and a kid comes up to him with a baggie of marijuana and asks the officer if he wants to buy some weed? The officer gets off the phone and goes right toward the kid with every intent of arresting him. What he doesn't know is the kid is a magician and makes the marijuana disappear before the officer could seize it. The officer flips out and pushes the kid against the wall to search him. He can't find the weed, gets incredibly frustrated, and starts yelling at the kid. He finally sends the kid away, but follows him briefly so he can continue barking at him. At one point he tells the kid to "quit talking!" at a moment when the suspect wasn't saying anything. The magician approached the officer with every intent to get under his skin and the officer basically lifts his skin up and lets the magician jump right in with both feet!

It's easy to watch the videos with hindsight and the time to think about them long enough to point out where you think you would've done things different. The truth is, you have no idea until you have experienced it first hand.

The academy needs to do what they can to make sure the recruits are prepared as much as possible to endure those types of suspects. The ramifications of sending law enforcement officers out unprepared are too risky. What happens when an officer loses their cool when a suspect is trying to get under their skin? An unprofessional verbal exchange? Unlawful arrest resulting from "contempt of cop?" Excessive force? Any or all of the above on a YouTube video? It's not an area we can afford to ignore in our training.

So how do we prepare recruits for these situations? Tell them they will happen and to be prepared? That's part of it. Show them videos? Sure. How about try to get under their skin? Yep!

Do you think military vets are going to get a whole lot out of being yelled at and told to go run some hills or do some push-ups when they screw up? They won't flinch or even blink! "Thank you sir! May I have another?!" But how will the 21-year-old recruit who still lives at home, mom makes him dinner every night and has never had a real job react? I can tell you from experience with many of these recruits that some will react well, some will get angry, some won't have any idea what to do, and some will cry. Does crying mean they aren't cut out for this? Not necessarily. Crying means we have training to do! At this point, crying was their reaction to an overwhelming situation they have never experienced before. They've never had someone in their face yelling at them and telling them their performance was completely unacceptable, that they should just quit now, and explaining how unworthy they are of wearing a recruit uniform. 

RTO's face the same challenge in this area as your teacher did in your algebra class. How much stress do we put on them to make sure they are inoculated enough to survive that idiot suspect? If we spend all of our time yelling to make sure those with zero experience with adversity get it, we will neglect other important areas of this career. If we don't do any because we know the military guys don't need it, we underprepare those who do need it. 

"But haven't you read about how to get the most out of the Millennial generation? They don't respond well to negative criticism and yelling." Yeah, I've read all about it. If you want to be in a job where you get a pat on the back when you do well and sugar coated gum drops to chew on while someone is tiptoeing around explaining where you could "perhaps improve a little more," then go purchase your makeup starter kit and hold cosmetics parties at your house. Invite all your friends. I hear they're decent money and a lot of fun! This is not that kind of job. The streets aren't all rainbows and cha chas. Criminals do not give a rat's ass what generation you are a part of or how you best respond to criticism, and it's because of that fact that your academy staff shouldn't give a rat's ass when it comes to this type of training either. 

So will the RTO's yell and scream and call you nasty things? If they're doing their best to prepare you, they will. How will you respond? If you've never experienced it, the correct answer is, "I'm not sure." Admit that, and you're on your way to preparing yourself. Don't admit it and you'll just continue to be scared or angry at your RTO's through the whole academy and you won't learn a thing.

So then what? They yell at me and I love it, or I get pissed, or I freeze up, or I cry. However you react, take the experience and move on. The next time it happens, take the experience and move on. Each time it happens, you will realize it doesn't have the same shock effect to your system. Pretty soon you're actually listening to the words coming out of the RTO's mouth and responding correctly and not really noticing the yelling or the invasion of personal space because they do it often enough that you're used to it. Then you'll start noticing that the RTO's don't yell as much anymore. We watch for those moments when recruits change and are able to operate efficiently under that type of stress. They stop clenching their jaw and turning red-faced when you give them an order that is completely unfair and they just deal with it. That's when I know that training aspect is no longer necessary. I look forward to those moments because it's actually refreshing to speak to recruits in a normal tone. 

It's not because we're trying to turn recruits into a bunch of robots who follow orders no matter what and don't think on their own. There's plenty of training to make sure recruits can think critically on their own. We want recruits to keep a cool head, have their wits about them, and be able to think critically and rationally when a suspect is making comments about your haircut, your ugly face, your wife and kids, your small breasts, your sexual orientation, the color of your skin, your height, that mole on your face and the hair growing out of it that you're self conscious about, or when they are screaming at the top of their lungs and challenging you to a fight. Your first time experiencing that kind of stress simply cannot be on the streets. We owe it to you to give it to you in the academy.

For you military guys and girls who are thinking about your drill sergeants and drill instructors, the academy will not approach that level. You will be introduced to a much different type of stress, don't get me wrong. I have yet to have a military vet tell me that they didn't experience intense stress at the academy in a different way. But unless you get an RTO who was a DS or a DI, the yelling and screaming will just be a milder version of what you've grown accustomed to. It will be your job to help your fellow recruits learn how to deal with it. You're a team. The recruit you help deal with the stress of the RTO's might be the recruit who helps you pass the scenario you are struggling in. That recruit also may be the partner who comes to your aid in an emergency situation someday. It's in your best interest to help train them well. 

So stop screaming at you? I can't do that. I care too much about your safety, my safety, and the safety of all of my partners who are counting on me to prepare you to be their beat partners someday. Thank me for it later.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Train with a Purpose

Remember the scene in the Karate Kid (the original one, not the new one with the little kid), where Daniel-San gets all fired up at Mr. Miyagi because he wanted to learn karate, but Mr. Miyagi kept having him do chores around the house instead? Daniel-San would eventually learn that the chores had been teaching him all the techniques he needed to have a good foundation of karate. Imagine how much better he could've been if he trusted Mr. Miyagi instead of complaining like a little baby the whole time. If he had given 100% of his effort to doing the fence painting and car waxing techniques perfect the entire time, because he trusted Mr. Miyagi, imagine how much more disciplined and expert he could've been with his techniques. Maybe he would have won the last fight without breaking his stupid leg!

In the police academy, you will find yourself in Daniel-San's shoes often. Your RTO's have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to pass on to you. The amount of training that they pass down to you really depends on how quickly you grasp what you've already been taught. Your attitude toward your training is huge in determining how quickly you progress in your training.

I gave every academy class I had the assignment to learn their department policies for use of force and firearms. It was required of them to have a good working knowledge of the policies and memorize some of the most important parts. One of the classes really seemed to be putting up a fight with this assignment and failed the written test on the subject multiple times. I was going blue in the face expressing the importance of learning these policies, but wasn't getting a change in performance from the recruits. One day, a former recruit who was on training stopped by and we allowed the class some face time with him to ask academy related questions. After they talked for a while, that former recruit came back to talk to me and says, "One of the recruits asked me if they really needed to memorize their use of force policy." The former recruit told the new group of recruits how often his training officers had been quizzing him on his policies and the tests he had to take where he had to handwrite the policies. He expressed to them how glad he was that he had been made to know those policies so well in the academy. The scores on the next policy test were much higher and the entire class had passed within the next week.

What was the difference? Attitude toward the training. A lot of past officers and deputies do a great disservice to recruits entering the academy today. They give advice like, "Just fly under the radar," or "It's just a game you need to get through." The problem with this advice is that the academy is a different animal than when they went through, and the more veteran the officer, the farther they are from the realities of today's academy. In many cases, it WAS a game for those old timers and the measure of success was how well you were able to get through an academy without drawing attention to yourself. The RTO's don't give assignments "just to screw with" the recruits anymore. They take pride in producing quality recruits and it makes it that much more difficult when the recruits do the minimum or don't buy into the training program. In the case of the recruits and the policies, the recruits didn't place purpose or importance on learning their policies. They didn't understand the importance of learning them even with their RTO's telling them over and over again. Once they saw exactly how it would benefit them after hearing a recent recruit tell them, all of the sudden they could learn it with ease.

Successful recruits don't resist and push back when they are given assignments by their RTO's, and the most successful recruits go beyond that and are able to see the purposes behind the training assignments. The difference is attitude. You don't have control over what assignments you are given. You don't have control over the consequences as a result of your performance in the academy. You do have control over your attitude toward the training.

The citizens of the jurisdiction where you might someday work are counting on you becoming the best peace officer you can be. Your partners are counting on you being the best partner you can become to protect their lives and share in the work load. Your family and loved ones are counting on you training hard so you can increase the chances of you coming home to them after every shift. Your family is also counting on you doing your best so you can keep your job and support them. People wash out of FTO all the time, and none of them thought it would happen to them.

On the other hand, the burglar is counting on you slacking off during your crimes in progress class. The suspect who wants to kill you is counting on you not working on your defensive tactics outside of your academy class. The drug dealer is counting on you not paying attention in search and seizure so you can't get into his pockets.

Know that there is a purpose to everything you are being assigned in the academy. I'm not saying there might not be an RTO out there who is abusing his or her position and is having their class do things with no training value, but that is a rare situation and they probably won't be in that position very long. The RTO's don't always have time to stop and explain the purpose behind every single thing they have you do. And if a recruit has to be compelled in everything they do or they require everything be explained to them before doing it, they do not belong in this profession.

At our academy, the recruits are required to carry around a water bottle in their support hand everywhere they go. They are required to keep it filled with water and to drink that water. If they are seen holding it in their strong hand, there are consequences. They know they aren't supposed to carry stuff in their strong hand, but the water bottle exercise seems like a nuisance to many of them. They don't realize that as they avoid discipline every day by keeping their strong hand free, they are building muscle memory and becoming disciplined. Eventually they feel uncomfortable with anything in their strong hand without giving it a conscious thought. So while law enforcement officers know that it isn't the end of the world to hold something in your strong hand, it is important that we be conscious of the fact that our strong (gun) hand is occupied so we can unoccupy it or have a plan in case we need to use it quickly. Later in the academy, the recruits are keeping their strong hands free without giving it a thought. They practiced it until they forgot about it.

Train with a purpose! Trust your academy staff and have a good attitude toward the training. Remember who is depending on you to do well and who is depending on you to just get by. Decide now which group you are loyal to and work accordingly.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

This isn't college...

For those who have college courses under their belts, and really the same philosophy applies in high school, we all know you can study and cram for a test and forget all the information the next day. The beauty of it is you can pass the class with an A! I lived on my ability to do that in college and it never steered me wrong. So when I started the academy, it was a rude awakening to learn that technique would either fail me out or leave me toward the bottom of my class ranking at best. I needed to change my study habits quickly.

The academy curriculum is specifically designed to give you knowledge in order. Every class builds upon past blocks of instruction. For example, Laws of Arrest and Search and Seizure are taught early on in the academy. If you don't understand what you can and cannot do to effect an arrest, how will you be able to do well in scenario testing and every other block where you learn about specified crimes where you need to make a decision to arrest or not? You can't learn about search and seizure, pass the test and forget about it. If you do not grasp the concepts from one of these classes, the academy becomes increasingly more confusing and it's hard to play catch up.

Especially beyond the academy, you cannot expect to perform well on field training when you do not grasp the material presented in the academy. What you learn in the academy is the foundation for a great career in law enforcement. So how do you learn the material instead of just retaining the information long enough to pass a test? I'm not going to touch on specific study techniques so to speak. People learn differently and I'm not going to try to proclaim to know the best technique that works for everyone. What I do know is a study pattern that works for the academy and that's what I'm going to cover.

We have been following a pattern for learning our whole lives that we need to break. What's the purpose for taking any class? To learn the subject right? Why waste my time learning the subject beforehand if I just paid good money to have this expert instructor teach me? Even instructors don't expect their students to have a solid foundation of the subject matter before the class starts unless there are prerequisites to the class. This pattern usually works alright since the teacher is there to answer any and all questions along the way and is even there to proctor the test at the end.

The problem in the academy is, the instructor teaches the block of instruction, the recruits go home and study, but the block is done and the instructor in most cases, is not coming back to field questions and have a follow up discussion. When it comes time for the test, the instructor is nowhere to be seen and the academy staff is most likely proctoring the test. While it is true the recruits can ask for clarification from the academy staff, it is always easier for the instructor who was in the class and knows what scenarios and concerns were brought up during instruction.

The quickest change you can make to studying for an LD test to achieve greater success is to change when you study. First of all, do not study exclusively by yourself. If you get confused, you have only yourself to try and clarify the confusion. if you study with only one other person, naturally one person will understand the material better than the other and it just becomes a study session where whatever the one "expert recruit" says is the right answer. Well what if that person doesn't have as much of a clue as they think? Study groups of 3-6 seem to work well. Groups much larger than that will turn into social gatherings rather than a good study session.

So back to the when of studying... Get your study group together and study that LD before the block of instruction! Don't just "glance over the material" or "read over the LD." study that LD as if the LD test was going to be given at the beginning of the block of instruction before the instructor even says a word. This is key to getting the most out of the classes!

Don't rush through your study sessions! Do not move on in an LD until everyone in the group has a solid understanding of the material. This will ensure no recruit is left behind, but by other recruits taking the opportunity to teach that recruit, he/she is solidifying their knowledge of the subject even more.

During your study session(s), write down any questions or areas that need clarification for the group. Take them with you to the class so the instructor can spend more time on it and clear things up for you guys. Also, complete the Workbook Learning Activities at the end of the chapters and discuss your answers with your group. By the time the instructor steps in front of the class, you will all have an excellent foundation to now have an intelligent discussion about the topic instead of sitting there like a bunch of mouth breathers, and then complaining later that the instructor didn't do a good enough job covering the material.

I can promise you this: If you take the time to really study the material before the block of instruction, you will post high test scores every time. It's a habit you need to get into right at the beginning of the academy. The material is going to help you be a great cop! Sometimes it's hard to see the forest through the trees, but keep a wide perspective on it. You're not being taught the material so you can pass the academy. You're being taught the material to train you in your career so you make good decisions and don't end up being sued or in jail yourself!

If the rare situation comes up where you get an instructor who does a subpar job teaching (and studying beforehand will help you see the subpar instructors more easily), make sure to be completely honest in the instructor evaluation. It's hard for an academy to replace or "fix" an instructor when all the recruit's evaluations say, "The instructor did a great job and is really enthusiastic about the subject!" Stop giving cookie cutter evaluations and start being honest and making your academy be even better.

Monday, July 2, 2012


"There wasn't enough time."

"Nobody reminded me."

"My homework got left at home."

"My alarm clock didn't go off."

Each of these excuses has something in common. None of them insinuate that the person who is giving the excuse is actually at fault. The blame all rests on someone or something else. In Spanish, when someone forgets their keys at home, the literal translation would have the person say, "My keys forgot me." As ridiculous as that sounds, people use phrases that give the same message using different words all the time. Most people don't even realize they are doing it, but it makes mistakes easier for people to swallow. The problem is, it feeds attitudes in people that they can do no wrong.

If there is one common issue I see with the majority of recruits entering the academy, it is that they have not been taught to take responsibility for their mistakes. Because of the economy, a lot of young people are living with their parents for much longer. It's not uncommon anymore for someone to live with their parents into their mid to late twenties. The problem is, these young adults don't get out of the mode of being a son or daughter and their parents treat them just like they did when they were 17. The younger generation doesn't spend a lot of time working through hardship and challenges because their parents bail them out.

Does it sound like I'm making unfair generalizations? I am. I realize this isn't the case with everyone and there are plenty of young people who have fought through challenges and experienced plenty of hardship in their lives without the support of parents at all. So where am I coming from? personal experiences with academy classes. In my classes, those recruits who haven't learned personal accountability far outnumber those who have. It's frustrating for both recruit and RTO. The recruit fights it intensely because they don't see what the big deal is and don't think they are in the wrong (go figure). When the recruit finally starts growing up and realizing it's ok to be wrong and they don't die when they can openly admit it, real learning can start taking place.

So my advice? As you expect, I advise you to start owning up to your mistakes. Stop blaming other people. Stop trying to dilute your responsibility by dragging other people into it. Own it! People will start respecting you more and be more willing to help and train you when they know you aren't arrogant and unteachable.

Start leaving behind the phrases I included at the beginning of this post and start changing them to:

"I didn't manage my time well."

"I forgot."

"I am disorganized and left my homework at home when I left the house."

"I didn't pay close enough attention and didn't set my alarm clock correctly."

Notice they all start with "I" and they all own the mistake!

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to spit shine boots!

Spit shining boots seems to be one of the biggest points of frustration for a new recruit. There's not too many things more frustrating than spending hours into the night applying coats of polish, only to show up the next morning to have your R.T.O. tell you how it looks like you polished your boots with a Hershey bar. First, your R.T.O. needs to come up with an original line. Second, there is hope, and once you put in some time to properly put a good base coat on your boots, your shine time will be cut down tremendously for all future maintenance polishings.

There are a lot of online instructions for spit shining, but I've found that even though the instructions are correct, it leaves out important details that will be helpful to the inexperienced shiner. I'm going to include a lot of detail in this post. It's all the things I wish I had known when I started polishing boots.

Selection of the boots is the start point. Some boots are a lot easier than others to shine and some just look better when you finish. I've seen recruits go with the boots that look good polished but aren't very comfortable. I've also seen recruits go with boots that are very comfortable, but are a bear to polish to the standards of a police academy. Most recruits at our academy wear Rocky brand boots with a nice big toe cap. When selecting a good boot to shine, try to get one with a solid and smooth toe on it. I say solid because if you get a boot where the toe is soft and flexes easy, the polish will crack or have creases in it all the time. Smoothness is important because you are going to polish it with the goal of having it as smooth as glass. If you start with a rough and pitted surface, it will be a lot more challenging and take more time to get it how you want it. It's not an absolute necessity to have the toe solid and smooth to start with, but it will sure make your life easier. Some boots have been treated with a silicone coating or other oils or chemicals. Shoe polish will not work on top of these surfaces. If you can't remove whatever chemical is on there, don't get that boot.

Now that you have your boot, let's talk supplies.

1. Polish!

Some say regular black Kiwi. Some say Lincoln. Some say Kiwi Parade Gloss. Some have some off brands that they swear by. I've tried about 5 different brands and types and the differences have been negligible for me. I use Kiwi Parade Gloss because it feels smoother to me and I feel like it's easier to work with.

2. Water.

I've found that room temperature water works best (unless the temperature of your room is freezing). Cold water hardens the polish quicker when you are polishing and you end up with a haze that takes some work to get rid of. So fill up a small bowl or cup with some room temp or slightly warm water and that will work great. This is your "spit." What can be done with spit is accomplished with water all the same. It's just a lubricant while polishing.

3. Polishing cloth.

This is probably the most important part to make sure you don't take short cuts on. If you pick the wrong polishing cloth, you can end up fighting swirls and little scratches the whole time. You will want a soft cotton cloth. Other fabrics just don't get the job done. The cloth must be clean! It seems logical to use some old rag since you're going to just stain the crap out of it, but you cannot use a dirty cloth. A dirty cloth is counterproductive to the shine you're going for. The best cloth I have found is a thick sock. I used tshirts for a couple of years before I used a sock one day because I didn't have a tshirt. It worked great! The thickness helped lighten up the pressure during the polish and it looked great. Some swear by cotton balls. I've tried them and again, it's not that it didn't work, but I prefer working with a soft cloth.

4. Heat source (optional)

Lighter, hair dryer, heat gun... Opinions differ on the use of a heat source. Some feel it compromises the integrity of the leather. I have had excellent results with both a lighter and a hair dryer. I haven't tried a heat gun, but from what I've read online, it's a great option. The process I'm describing here is going to include heating.

5. Edge Dressing

After spending so much time on polishing the tips, a lot of recruits neglect the rest of the boot and still get hammered during inspection despite the great shine. With all the running around you're going to do in these boots, edge dressing is an easy way to keep the edges of the sole looking good. Some edge dressings come in a bottle with an applicator. Some come with a foam applicator tip. Both will get the job done.

6. Brush

Many boots have nooks and crannies where dust gets into and you can't reach it with a rag. A soft nylon brush works great for this.

Alright, now that you have your supplies, clean your boots. Make sure there is no dust or dirt anywhere on the boot. Use that brush to get the hard to reach places. Always do this step first. Cleaning after the polish will mess up your polish job. Leave the edge dressing for the end. If the area to be polished has small particles of dust on it, those particles will be rubbed into the surface and cause scratches. Make sure the boot upper is clean and free of blemishes. Applying some polish to scratches and dull spots will make it look even. If it's more than just a few scuffs, you might have to go with a leather dye to freshen it up. If there are metal eyelets or rivets with black paint chipping off, glossy black nail polish works well to fix that.

Now that your boot is clean, let's get to the polishing. Think of polishing like trying to paint a real grainy piece of wood. If you want it smooth, you have to sand the surface smooth and apply plenty of coats of paint. Most of the coats of polish you will apply will be the "sanding" of your boots so to speak. Once the surface is smooth, then the real spit shining can take place. Don't expect to have good results after three, four, or five coats. This initial polishing takes time.

Step 1.
Take your rag and smear it around the surface of your polish to get a good amount on the rag. Apply a coat onto the surface of the toe of your boot. Don't apply a bunch of pressure. A light touch is key. You want the polish on your boot. This is an area I had questions about when I learned. How thick is too thick if a coat? Well, after applying this coat, you want to set the boot aside and let the coat dry a little so the polish hardens up some. If it's taking longer than just a few minutes to dry, the coat is too thick. The purpose of applying the coat is to start filling in and building up polish in the pits and grooves in the leather, but putting a super thick coat doesn't make it happen quicker.

Step 2.
After the coat has hardened up some, take a clean portion of your cloth and dip it in the water. Get it really wet. Don't wring it out before applying it to your boot either. You want it dripping wet. With very light pressure, rub the wet cloth over the polished surface in small, one inch circles. This is where the "sanding" takes place. As you rub the wet cloth over the surface, you are working on rubbing out the peaks of the polish to try and even it out with the pits and grooves of the leather you are trying to fill in with the polish. With the early coats, don't expect the surface to become perfectly smooth. It's gong to look rough until those pits and grooves really get filled in.

Step 3.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have at least 5 or 6 coats on. You want a good thick base of polish before applying heat. If you apply heat too early, the coat will be too thin and it will just melt it down to the leather.

Step 4.
Apply another medium coat of polish like you have been doing in step one. Now apply your heat source to the polished area. Depending on what you are using, it might be a quick heat application and it might be a little longer. With a lighter, it shouldn't take any longer than a few seconds to melt the entire polished surface. With a hair dryer, it takes a little longer depending on how hot your hair dryer is. Whatever your heat source, apply the heat until the polished surface shows a high gloss shine. That shine means the polish has melted. When it melts, it smooths the surface out. If you're using a lighter, hold your boot upside down so the flame can reach it evenly.

Once it is nice and shiny, remove the source of heat. If you leave it on too long, it will just melt it down closer and closer to the leather surface, which is not what you want. When you remove the heat, the surface will quickly go from shiny to dull and will have several splotchy shades of black and gray. Don't be alarmed. It's supposed to look like that. Set the boot aside and let it cool off for a few minutes before going on to the next step. Never apply heat with any amount of moisture on the polished surface! The heat will cook the water and cause bubbling in your polish.

Step 5.
Repeat Step 2, but apply extremely light pressure and make your circular motions really fast. Light pressure is key! You will start to see that smooth surface forming and for the first time, your efforts will start to seem worth it. Now check the surface for smoothness. If it still has that orange peel texture on the surface, go back and add a couple more coats (Step 1 and 2), and then complete Step 4 again. Keep repeating these steps until the surface has a glassy smooth surface. This does not mean it should reflect and shine like a mirror! The final polishing step is still to come. You are just trying to get all of the texture out of it so you have as smooth a surface to polish as possible.

Step 6.
Once the surface is nice and smooth, get a clean spot on your cloth, apply a SMALL amount of polish on the cloth at your fingertip, and dip that portion of the cloth in the water so it's soaking wet. The amount of polish you want on the cloth is so slight you might wonder if it's going to make any difference at all. Remember, you already smoothed the surface out. This goal here is to apply an very thin coat to make the surface glassy and deep black in color. Rub the polish onto the surface with very light pressure. Water should be running all over the toe because your cloth is that wet. You should barely be able to feel the surface of the boot because you are rubbing that light. When you look at your cloth, you shouldn't see any black on it because the polish was all left on the boot surface. If it's black, you applied too much pressure and the boot pushed the polish back into the cloth instead of staying on the surface. Do small sections at a time. You will have to get more polish and dip your cloth in water multiple times before you have covered the entire toe area.

If it's not even, repeat this step. If you apply 2 or 3 finishing coats and it still looks rough, you might need to repeat steps 4, 5 and 6 a couple more times. You will know when you are done when you can see yourself in your boots and the surface is as smooth as glass.

Depending on your academy staff, you might need to also polish the heel of your boot. It's better to show up on the first day with a high polish on the heel and not need it, than showing up with a dull heel and get yelled at about it.

Now apply the edge dressing. Make sure it gets applied evenly around the entire sole edge around the boot.

You're boots are now good to go!

If your laces start looking like crap...get new laces.

If your boots start looking like crap even with a good polish and clean...go get some new boots. I have had the same boots for three years and they look great, but the day they look less than professional I'm buying some new ones. Don't try to polish a turd.

From this point on, you should only need to clean the toe with water and repeat steps 5 and 6 to keep the surface shiny. This usually works 4 or 5 times for me before I put a medium coat on and melt it to get the surface nice and smooth again. The initial shine will take hours, but each maintenance shine afterwards should take only 5-15 minutes depending on if you need to melt a coat on.

Occasionally you will get a deep gash on the polished surface. This sucks and will require you to work a long time to fill it in with polish. You might even need to strip polish off to get down to the depth of the gash and start with an even surface, but you can get it back to looking good with some work.

Don't be a slacker when it comes to your boots. Who do you shine your boots for? Not the public. Not your R.T.O.'s. Not the suspects. You shine your boots for yourself. If you take pride in how you look, it will show in how you carry yourself. Command presence is very important in this job. Looking good and exuding confidence is a huge part of this.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Luck Favors the Prepared

Like I discussed in my last post in regards to PT, you do not want to wait until you start the first day of the academy to start studying and learning. There are areas you can study and become as much as an expert at as possible while you're preparing.

I don't mean you should get a hold of all of the Learning Domain workbooks and start cramming. You're not going to be able to become an expert on subjects covered in over 40 books in the amount of time you have. These are best studied with your classmates and the instructors teaching them. But what about radio codes? Get a hold of the list of radio codes from your sponsoring agency and start memorizing! If you are a non-affiliate, you should be able to obtain a list of radio codes from the academy you will be attending. If not, be resourceful. Talk to past recruits who attended that academy and see if they can help you get the material. Academies administer radio code quizzes toward the beginning of the academy. If you know them word for word before day one, you will have more time to dedicate to studying other material because you have the radio codes nailed.

What else can you do? Go get your boots and learn how to spit shine! When I started the academy, I had no idea what the standard for boot shining was. I had never been taught how to spit shine and really didn't know how they were supposed to look. It's more of a skill than you think. Learning on the fly can cause extra stress during the academy. Spend the hours learning how to perfect the spit shine now instead of on the nights you could be studying. Avoid getting yelled at by your R.T.O. and make yourself an asset to the rest of your classmates who don't know how.

Learn how to properly press a uniform. Jump on YouTube or hit up your military buddies to start learning the basics of drill. Take a writing class if you're weak in that area. Study grammar! Report writing class will not have time to fix your writing deficiencies. They are supposed to concentrate on teaching you how to write police reports, not helping you play catch up because you didn't pay attention to grammar rules in elementary school.

Get your life in order. You will not, or at least you should not, have the time to take care of major car or home repairs, move to a new apartment, deal with finance issues, have that surgery you've been putting off, the list can go on and on. When you start the academy and have the goal of excellence in mind and not just getting through to graduation, you don't want to have extra stressors in your life that don't need to be there. Some things you just don't have control of, but square away the things you can take care of now.

If you already have been offered a job with an agency or you know which agencies you're going to apply with, start doing ride-alongs with them. This gives you some great exposure to the job and you have the opportunity to pick the brain of an officer or deputy who possibly attended the academy you will be going to. Just keep in mind that academies change. A 25-year veteran can give you invaluable advice about the career, but likely has no idea how to prepare for the academy you're getting ready for. Even those who attended just a few years ago may not be familiar with the most recent changes at their alma mater. So get some good advice, but be ready to make adjustments if things have changed.

Luck favors the prepared. If you have the time now, but choose to put it all off until you have to, you're starting a pattern that will follow you for the rest of your life until you change. Why not make that change now and start a pattern of always being on top of things for the rest of your life?