FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
In my agency there are some older officers who have been the backbone for years. Many are struggling to make their firearms qualifications. Whether they can’t see their sights, didn’t hear the signal or get the shakes after a few shots, they flunk the qualification and have to remediate. With extra training and patience, I can coax a qualifying score out of them. Several of the older officers have tested the agency’s policy on failing qualifications and nearly lost their badges.
Part of me wants to say, “You’re old, you can’t do the job anymore. It’s time to hang it up, old timer.” I then swiftly uncork my head from my rear when I remember who taught me how to do this job and that there’s a heck of a lot more to our job than being good with a gun.
No one wants to admit they’re too old, but when is enough, enough? At what point does this become an issue of safety in the field?
This is an interesting question because half of me wants to say standards are standards and if anyone can’t meet them, it’s time to meet the door. The other half of me understands your loyalty to these old timers along with your desire to help them get through the qualifications in any way possible.
First, here’s some technical advice you’ve probably already tried. Make sure these rusty old dogs are wearing their reading glasses or using the reading part of their regular glasses. I’ve seen a few people get messed up on the range by wearing glasses that allow them to see the target, but don’t help them see the front sight.
That said, it sounds like you’re doing the right thing and your agency is ready to push anyone out the door who can’t eventually qualify. I won’t get into how much time you’re spending with each of them because I’m guessing you would do the same for younger people who are having a hard time qualifying.
If these guys are working the streets with hearing and eyesight issues and getting the shakes on the range, they probably need to look for what’s next in life. Although it’s certainly true that being a good cop is much more than being good with a gun or being able to fight, those are the things—along with seatbelts and body armor—that will bring us home at the end of our shift.
Don’t get into the mindset of, “Well, it’s their own ass on the line…!” That’s insanity. Everyone is affected: their beat partners, victims they can’t get to and the profession they are a part of. If some lowlife sees one of these old timers and decides he’s going to take out a cop, it starts with them. Now add on all the cops who respond and are driving recklessly to the distress call from another cop. They’re all at risk and so are all the citizens they’re screaming past at 120 mph. When someone attacks one of us like that, it empowers others to take their shot and puts us all at even greater risk.
What to Do
Ol’ Bullethead is as tangled as a crook in a hog tie trying to figure out why these old timers are still hanging around. I don’t know if this group is having money or identity issues, or if they just love the job and are afraid to leave because they’ll miss it. But as much as I love this profession, when the time comes, I’m going to pop smoke, disappear like Merlin and enjoy the rest of my life.
To understand why they’re hanging on, you might want to ask a few probing questions next time you see one of them. Unless the answer has to do with money, you won’t get any straight answers. You’ll have to do some investigation, ask a few follow-up questions, drop a few hints and see how they react.
If you determine the things keeping them around are missing the people, the work or their identity as a cop, you have a few options. Find some happy retired guys and invite them out to the range when your old timers are scheduled. Do the same with some department volunteers. At my agency, we have a bunch of retired folks who help out in all sorts of ways and get to keep their contacts and friendships moving forward. This might be all it takes to help these guys figure out that there’s plenty to do after they hang up their guns.
Or: Take them to a golf course, buy them a bucket of balls and a beer, and you’ll probably never see them again.