Why is it, that the same disastrous event can have a different impact on two officers? One falls apart while the other grows stronger from the experience. One has perseverance and faith that their best days are ahead, believing that each day of life is a gift, while the other officer sees life as a constant struggle with hurdle after hurdle. Their individual mind-set determines how they will deal with the crisis. Like all of you who are serving as a guardian of justice, I have not only seen the affects of having a positive or negative mind-set as a warrior – I have lived it.
I asked, “Would you please repeat that again.” The dispatcher came across speaking slower and louder, “Danny Williams wants you to meet him at the intersection of Greenlee and Jefferson. He said he is going to kill you.” Yep, that is exactly what I heard the first time; apparently it wasn’t a joke like I was hoping. How lucky was I, to be on duty when someone called in wanting to kill me? I was worried since I knew this guy was capable of murder – he had done it before.
Our previous meeting was for a parole violation arrest stemming from a murder he committed when I was a kid in middle school. He had shot a man in the back after a bar fight and received 7 years in prison. Shortly after his release he had already managed to make his parole officer mad who issued the warrant. I spotted Danny walking down the sidewalk and called for backup. He noticed me and took off running. I chased him into his apartment and tackled him in his bedroom where I found a sawed-off shotgun under his pillow. Not a nice guy! I took him to jail and assumed that was the first and last time I would ever see him. He made bail a few days later. Go figure.
It was 3 a.m. when he called the dispatcher and let them know he planned on killing me. I took plenty of backup with me to meet him and even considered asking the firefighters on duty if they wanted to go instead. We parked a block away so he couldn’t see our cars, and brought along our patrol rifles for good measure.
Frank, Dan, Doug, and I coordinated our approach on the radio – two officers would approach from the north, the other two from the south. As we entered the area of the intersection I expected Danny to be hiding from us, but he was right out in the open – naked! He was standing directly below a street light where everything was in plain sight. Danny was holding a beer in his left hand and a rifle in his right. I thought, “I’m not gonna get killed by a drunk naked dude. That would not look good on my tombstone.”
Frank, the cantankerous old veteran who was taking cover with me behind a car, leaned over and asked, “Exactly how do you get a nude person to want to kill you?” I told him, “I don’t know. I’m just wandering how to explain meeting a naked guy to my wife?” We both chuckled and then got the call that Dan and Doug were ready. I called out commands to Danny “Drop the gun and take 10 steps toward my voice.” He in turn called out some commands of his own – filled with colorful metaphors. He suggested I do things with my head and rectum that just aren’t physically possible. Frank then yelled back, “We’ll turn you into Swiss cheese you derelict piece of shit.”
Along with commands from the other officer, Danny realized he was surrounded and outgunned and decided to throw the rifle down the street towards us. Knowing where he was headed next he kept on drinking the beer as we approached him. He dropped into a fighting stance, still holding onto the beer, and Frank pepper sprayed him. He of course resisted arrest; giving us the unforgettable experience that only comes from fighting a drunk, sweaty, and nude felon. What a messed-up shift.
The ordeal was a surprising one to say the least, but I was ready for the next call as we joked about it. Our shift ended a few hours later and a new recruit seemed to be in shock. The idea of a suspect so boldly stating they wanted to kill an officer was traumatic for him. It truly bothered him and he was having second thoughts about his career choice. He wasn’t even present during the encounter but it affected him more negatively than it did me. Our attitudes and mindset were quite different, but that did not take place overnight, it had been a lengthy process for both of us.
The young officer explained how his academy commander and several instructors warned his class on a daily basis of how awful our profession was, and how no decent person should want this job. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe that is the best method to prepare the guardians of tomorrow. It’s not what is best for them or the society they are sworn to serve. The rookie climbed out of his harmful mindset but it wasn’t an easy or quick fix. Just like it takes time to develop a bad habit it also takes time to develop a good one.
These are people I refer to as crabs. Not because of their grumpy attitude but because of their harmful actions. You see, when a fisherman places one crab in a basket they must place a lid on top, or it will escape. Once they have at least two crabs in the basket they no longer need to worry about the lid. The interesting thing about crabs; they will pull down any other crab that tries to climb up and out of basket. They don’t team up and try to help each other out – they simply make sure everyone is just as miserable as they are. Individually, the crabs could easily escape, but instead, they drag each other down ensuring the demise of all. We are also surrounded by people who try to diminish the importance of others ambitions by pulling them down at the first sign of success. Sadly, they are not inspired by them – they’re threatened.
Research from Askin in 1993, and Scanff & Taugis in 2002, developed a list of the skills that can aid an officer who wants to perform at a high level in critical situations. They are part of an overall mindset that makes a good cop great.
- Commitment: The officer’s dedication to their law enforcement duties through positive involvement. Great satisfaction comes from serving as police officer but without allowing the role to consume their personal life.
- Confidence: Based on training, experience, and evaluations the officer believes they have what it takes to handle anything the streets throw at them.
- Arousal Control: Adrenaline rush can lead to panicky decision-making and poor performance. The officer learns to temper the emotional energy when calm is necessary and tap into it when helpful.
- Attention Control: The officer scans the environment around them and trusts their intuition when it nags at them. They look for specific indicators of criminality and danger through training and experience.
- Positive Imagery: The officer visualizes themselves winning the fight and performing their duties well. They develop a mastery of policing skills through repeated rehearsals of varied situations.
- Positive Self-Talk: The officer uses their “inner-voice” to guide and motivate themselves during critical and difficult situations.
- Cognitive Restructuring: The officer learns to take negative events and reframe them into positive opportunities for personal growth.
We can work to improve these skills in ourselves while helping young officers develop them early on in their career. Your personal knowledge and experience is the most valuable teaching and mentoring resource you have as a police officer or trainer, and those nuggets of wisdom are what young officers need the most, and what they look forward to. Cadets should leave the academy excited to be part of a noble profession, and every officer should see serving as a guardian of justice as a thrill, not an affliction. Help them develop a positive mindset – there will be those who model the negative. When it is time for them to watch over your family, and mine, you will rest well knowing that you did everything possible to help them become a worthy protector for society.
“The bottom line on attitude is that a good one helps to increase your possibilities. Pessimists usually get what they expect. So do optimists… I can’t think of one legitimate criticism of positive thinking.” ~John C. Maxwell, Today Matters
Richard H. Neil Sr. is the author of “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create Engaging Slides, & Increase Active Learning.” He is a retired city cop, and instructs for several of Ohio’s criminal justice training academies. He can be contacted through his website that is dedicated to free resources for law enforcement educators and trainers – www.LEO-Trainer.com.