If your 2010 model vehicle was having problems, would you take it to a mechanic whose knowledge base was 10 years old? How about if you were having health problems, would you want to go to a surgeon who hadn’t been to any continuing education programs, read any professional journals, gone to any training seminars or taken the time to educate themselves to the current trends and technologies in medicine? No, of course you wouldn’t. Who would want to hear the doctor in the operating room say, “I’ve never seen this machine before, what does it do?”—just before the anesthesia takes effect.
We understand that with the day-to-day changes in mechanics and advancements in medicine, a professional mechanic or physician must constantly maintain the skills they now have, as well as seek to acquire new abilities. But what about law enforcement professionals? Do you constantly strive to maintain or improve the knowledge (including physical skills and abilities) you already have? Do you study trends and threat developments posed by suspects on the street? Do you subscribe to professional journals, read newly published books on police work or watch new training DVD’s? Do you go to training seminars or courses?
The answer is yes.
Knowledge is Power
Our world is ever-changing and the information that you may have received in your basic training academy may have been sound and state of the art at that time, but is it today? In order to keep informed and stay safe, you must have an insatiable appetite and hunger for knowledge. In your career, knowledge acquisition and maintenance will never be a completed task—it will always be a continuing exercise.
Several years ago, my partner and I attended a course on firearms-related legal issues. The instructor gave a hypothetical scenario which begged the question, “When could you use deadly force in the apprehension of a fleeing felon?” Out of a class full of LE personnel (mostly chiefs and other high-law personnel), only the two of us knew Tennessee vs. Garner and when it was appropriate to use deadly force in that scenario.
When I would later instruct a course for the state academy for all new firearms instructors and investigators in use-of-force incidents, I would give my own version of the scenario, oftentimes resulting in students arguing and then go on to teach the legal requirements for use of deadly force. Amazingly, a state firearms instructor who didn’t know the law accused me of improper legal instruction. The only attorney on staff at the academy was quickly dispatched to monitor my class and reported that I was in fact teaching Tennessee vs. Garner correctly.
My buddy John Bostain from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC); retired FBI Agent John Hall; attorneys Mike Stone, Laura Scurry, Randy Means, Mike Brave and others (including Law Officer columnists Curtis J. Cope and I) have been training officers for the Fourth Amendment, Graham v. Conner and the objective reasonableness standard for years. Amazingly, many law enforcement professionals still don’t know the legal parameters of use of force. It’s the supreme law of the land and yet many officers and supervisors have never heard of it. Or, if they did, have forgotten it.
I’ll quote John Hall here from his excellent book "In Defense of Self and Others" (Urey Patrick and John Hall; Carolina Academic Press; 2005), “We find ourselves in the unique situation where those who should know the law really don't. As a consequence, they devise policies and training that deny officers the full protection offered by the law.” By the way, Hall’s book should be in every police supervisor and officer’s library as it truly spells out the "Issues, Facts & Fallacies—the Realities of Law Enforcement’s Use of Deadly Force"—as the book’s cover points out.
Knowledge is power and here are some recommendations for increasing yours.
I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars on all of the above learning opportunities over the years. It’s improved my safety and efficiency, as well as those tactical operators and officers I’ve been fortunate to train. I’ve learned from the best in this way and had the opportunity to meet and train with many of these trainers and authors at ILEETA and other conferences. Benjamin Franklin said, “If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Anything that doesn’t move or evolve becomes stagnant and that includes your brain. Fill it daily with positive knowledge about your work, the threats against you, the physical skills necessary to win the day, developments in law enforcement technology. Increasing your knowledge base, stretching and growing that gray matter between your ears will give you a mental edge.