Tuesday, March 20, 2012
This month’s question comes from an anonymous writer who ran into some big troubles with the hazing of rookies at his first agency:
“The personnel at the agency I started my career with were ruthless. I had loaded guns and Tasers pointed at my face, and my boots were pepper sprayed. I even had one 18-year veteran tell me (while I was in field training) that I didn’t get comp time until my first year was up. I lost weeks of time off that I could have spent with a family member who was in the process of passing away.”
Folks, is hazing acceptable at this level—or at any level?
To put it simply: Hazing is serious business when it gets to the levels this writer described. In fact, I don’t think what he’s describing is hazing at all—it’s more like felonious acts. But let’s take a look at the whole picture.
The 10x Rule
When Ol’ Bullethead was a young whippersnapper, barely a .22 rimfire, we had a call come in as we were in roll call. Dispatch had said there was a rollover accident in my beat so we broke away from roll call, and I grabbed my gear and made a run for my unit. My practice has always been to fire up my cruiser, then get out and do my inspections, load my gear, check my weapons, etc.
On this hot summer day, I was moving at a warp speed that would have made Capt. Kirk proud, so I didn’t even notice the whole shift had come out of the station to watch me. When I fired up the engine, the air conditioning was on full blast and then came the prank: baby powder had been loaded into the vents and burst into the air—only I was gone! As I jumped out to load my gear and do a quick once around of the unit, the powder had blown right past me and covered the seats. The whole shift was cracking up except for one guy who was frustrated that his trap didn’t work.
Now I had my target. See, Ol’ Bullethead believes in the “10X rule:” If you come at me, I’ll be bringing it back 10 times the misery, so we never have to do this again. This was the case for my target: I bypassed the lock on his locker and filled everything inside his locker with baby powder. He found some of it right away inside his boots and his uniform. Six months later, when he needed his winter coat for the cold and a hat for the rain, he found more.
Was it fun? Hell yeah, but only because I won. That guy never messed with me again and I think dissuaded others from trying. Was it smart? Not even close. A hot call went out on the day I was trying to dodge the flying powder and it took much longer for me to handle the call. My opponent was also delayed repeatedly while he tried to remove powder out of pockets, the rim of his cap, his boots and everything else that was in his locker.
Both Sides of the Spectrum
Truth be told, I’ve been down the hazing road a time or two—both at the giving and receiving end. In the military, we did some crazy doo doo. At times, I get together with a few of the boys and we still talk about the ridiculous stuff we did to others and what others did to us. But we never pointed loaded guns or Tasers at each other. That isn’t hazing—that’s about as stupid as trying to load a .45 into a 9 mm. Anyone who pulls stuff like that should be drummed out of this profession and prosecuted. Things like that stem from a complete lack of professionalism, personal responsibility and supervision.
On the other end of the spectrum, the light-hearted hazing that goes with being the new person is just about everywhere. In police work, most of what we do is amplified because of the nature of our business. However, some of the low-end hazing that might not fly if you were working at a bank is still acceptable for us—as long it doesn’t go too far.
The Bottom Line
Work needs to get done in a timely and efficiently manner. If some light hazing doesn’t interfere with that, I generally ignore it. I do, however, watch the receiver for signs of stress and I’ll even send a few zingers toward the sender to help out a cop on the ropes. Bringing new cops into the fold is positive if it’s done in a meaningful way. Hazing that creates distress and makes cops leave their agencies shouldn’t be tolerated—at any level.