Instilling Purpose

Why police agencies can’t be scared away from concepts central to who we are

By Jeremy Hooley  |   May 30, 2019
Photo Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Keith

Since my assignment to the training division of our department, I am involved with much of the training conducted, both in-service and new hire. We, like many departments, are hiring at a rate much greater than in the past to fill vacancies. What we have seen, especially in the last three or four years, is a need to increase the amount of training before we release our officers to the FTO program and then academy. 

The state requires a pre-basic program that can be completed in a fairly short time, but anymore it falls far short of preparing the new recruit in a real way for field training. As a result, for some time now we’ve added classes that we thought were necessary to better train and equip our new hires.

“Have you been in a fight before?” More and more the answer to that question is no. We extended our physical tactics training. “Have you shot a firearm before?” Again, more often now the answer is no. So we extended our basic handgun program. The list goes on. It seems that as our hiring pool numbers dwindle, so too does life experience and previous exposure to disappointment in most of those we do hire. Our society appears bent on driving out all traces of healthy assertiveness, and it is showing.    

As a result of feedback from instructors, administration, field training officers, and patrol supervisors, we started to work on a presentation on what we expect in our officers, and why law enforcement isn’t just a job. This brought us back to the thin blue line, what it means to us, the need for law enforcement, and warrior mentality.

The Thin Blue Line

The Thin Blue Line is racist. I honestly don’t remember if I heard it or read it the first time I came across it, but I do remember feeling incredulous quickly followed by anger. How could a symbol of family, respect for the fallen, and the defense of order be so misrepresented? The sentiment still angers me. So we started with the thin blue line and what it really means.

This symbol represents us, as civilian peace officers, standing in the gap, holding the line, protecting those who can’t protect themselves. It honors those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It’s our flag, our family crest, and a badge of honor. It’s a visible source of pride in what we do. It’s all those things, but what it is most definitely not, is racist. 

We then proceed to the need for law enforcement. What seems obvious to those of us in the profession, is anything but to others. Some claim they’d like to see the profession abolished altogether. So we talk about the history of law enforcement, all the way back to ancient Egypt. We cover modern law enforcement, and Sir Robert Peel’s ‘General Instructions.’ We discuss law enforcement as one of the only truly necessary professions in a civilized society. 

With there being a push against warrior mentality from various sources, we wanted our new hires to have an answer for why we teach the necessity of having that warrior mentality. We also saw the absolute necessity of strengthening mental fortitude and character traits needed for this profession. 

What is a warrior? We break down in the class what it means, because even modern dictionaries don’t agree on the definition. So we take the student back in history to some of the greatest warrior cultures and groups that have existed. King David’s mighty men, the Spartans, the Red Branch Knights of Ireland, and the Samurai of Japan. For each of the groups we delved into what was expected of them. What made them stand out? 

Honor, integrity, courage, duty, knowledge, and mastery of martial skills in protection of the innocent and those you are responsible for. The list goes on. We point out that all of these traits are necessary in law enforcement. The refusal to give up, no matter the odds, is stressed, and then reinforced in all our scenario, physical tactics, and firearms training. We rebuke the notion that warrior mentality damages police relations with the community, or that it induces a lack of compassion.

We finish the class with expectations we have of our officers, and a final example of maintaining yourself both physically and mentally.

Throughout the presentation we stress the importance of law enforcement, the fact that it’s a profession, and that it’s a family. We feel we need to reintroduce that sense of pride and accomplishment into the new recruits—the sense of belonging to something bigger and more important than yourself, and also the knowledge that not everyone can do what we do.

Conclusion

We are on the cusp of a potential crisis in our profession in this country. I definitely don’t have all the answers, and those I do have originated with better men and women than I. What I do know is we need warriors in this profession who believe in something greater than themselves, and conduct themselves with honor and integrity. We need those who are willing to stand in the face of adversity. I believe there is no greater calling than ours, and instilling that into new hires is something that will be critical for our profession in the years to come.