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.

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