Al Rusche was the best police chief I worked for during my career and I wished more than once that he was still around to give me his honest opinion. It was something I once witnessed him do in his office that let me know I could still count on him for advice. In the mid 90’s I was running (sometimes in seemed as if it ran me) the largest undercover drug operation the department had ever been involved in. Mike, our most proactive road officer, had arrested a perp on a traffic stop in possession of a small amount of cocaine. Not a big deal in the Cincinnati area, but Ricky (our new best friend) was on parole, and he was willing to give up his mother to stay out of prison. The intelligence he provided on a possible drug den in the middle of town, if true, was disturbing and a political nightmare waiting to happen.
Ricky told us that the bar he purchased the cocaine from, the Washington Grille, was filled with drug dealers – including the owners, who were a couple in their sixties. The bar was visited by several local politicians and one of our police officers on a regular basis. The owners were close friends with all of their patrons, and now, a drug addict who was scared and on parole said they were running a super secret drug den – under our very noses. This could be a powder keg that I was about to light off and the damage to the police department’s reputation could be catastrophic if we were wrong. I took the information and my plan to infiltrate the bar to Chief Rusche, but we had to act fast or not at all. They were used to seeing Ricky on a regular basis and would become suspicious if we changed his routine. I was happy to pass the buck and leave the decision up to someone much wiser than myself.
Chief Rusche was an honorable man that wasn’t afraid to admit to his mistakes and the poor judgments he had made in his career, because he learned from every single one of them. He instilled confidence in others through his caring and noble leadership. As I laid out the intelligence and my plan of action, the chief leaned back in his chair and chewed on a stir stick from his coffee cup. He asked me several questions about the risks of the investigation, and then he repeated them to a few other people in the room – sort of. He looked at a black and white picture of a man on his desk and asked “what would you do?” He then looked to several other pictures hanging on the wall next to his desk and asked “what is the worst thing that could happen?” and “if we don’t act, are we doing what is right or what is safe?” I don’t even know who any of the people were in the pictures but he valued their perspectives and combined wisdom. He created a Brain Trust that he could count on when no one else was around. I decided that I would do the same thing.
A Brain Trust Available to Anyone
We all need advice and inspiration from time to time but we don’t always have the people around us that we would like. The term Brain trust is used to describe a group of close advisors who offer their expertise to solve problems or promote creative thinking. The term was used to describe a group of advisors to President Franklin Roosevelt during his administration. His speechwriter, Samuel Rosenman, suggested having an academic team to advise Roosevelt in March of 1932. The group became known as the president’s Brain Trust, and later played a key role in developing the policies of the New Deal. The model of openly accepting the experience and wisdom of others has proved to be a benefit to me, and hopefully it will do the same for you.
After retiring from law enforcement with 4 spinal implants holding me down, I decided (with constant urgings from my wife, Gloria) to train cadets in Ohio’s peace officer academies. During that time I was developing interactive techniques and experiential activities that would become part of the Police Instructor handbook, but I was stuck working in solitude while I recovered from 4 new spinal implants from the Cleveland Clinic. I didn’t have other police officers or trainers to bounce ideas off of, and I was biased – I thought all my ideas were great! Gloria, once again stepped in and assured me they were not.
I would need the perspective that others could bring at the initial stages, to ensure I wouldn’t continue working on a failed concept. I needed to assemble a team with integrity that would provide me with their experience and wisdom and stand their ground when in opposition of my ideas. And I wanted them to work with me at my home office (which also happens to be our family room). I’m sure I would’ve had many volunteers but another idea came to mind.
Choose Your Brain Trust Wisely
Back in 1989 the importance of choosing wisely was displayed at the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Some Nazi lover named Donovan, shot Henry Jones Sr. (played by Sean Connery), and Indiana Jones had to recover the lost cup of Christ to save him. Once he overcame several deadly obstacles, he made it to the cave where the Holy Grail was still guarded by a noble Knight – who had been kept alive for 700 years by the power of the cup. The cave was filled with cups, but only one could provide healing and life. Donovan was chosen to go first (mostly because he had a gun). A jewel encrusted chalice, fit for the King of Kings, was chosen by his evil female sidekick – Elsa. He drank from the ornate cup to gain ever lasting life, but his face began melting away as he decayed into dust – sucked to be him. The Knight declared “He chose poorly.”
Indiana Jones stopped to think before choosing the correct divine cup (motivated mostly by the face melting, but also by the moans of his wounded father). He realized that Jesus was a humble carpenter – not a wealthy king. Indiana picked up the plainest-looking mug that was carved from wood and drank from it. The Knight declared “You have chosen wisely,” and the lifesaving power is able to rescue Indiana’s father. You should also choose wisely when picking your Brain Trust. You don’t want to just throw together a few people who you think are cool. You need people with expertise in relevant areas that can offer you direction and wisdom.
I wanted people who had faced the toughest challenges possible, and continued to strive on, to fill my Brain Trust. People I believed in, not the same group that you or anyone else should count on, but a group of trusted advisors specifically for me and the guardians I serve as a police instructor. I found photos of each member I chose and added a few of their memorable quotes before printing them out and hanging them next to my desk. Whether I am writing an article like this one, designing a training activity, deciding what to teach in my next Police Instructor 201 workshop, or making a risky business decision, I can turn to each of these trusted advisors and count on their honest and reliable input. Here are the people that I chose, and their quotes or creeds that now hang on my wall.
Eddie Rickenbacker – World War I Flying Ace and Congressional Medal of Honor winner.
- The four cornerstones of character on which the structure of this nation was built are: Initiative, Imagination, Individuality and Independence.
- Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.
Helen Keller – American writer, political activist, and teacher who was deaf and blind.
- Life is either a great adventure or nothing.
- Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.
Teddy Roosevelt – President and Rough Rider.
- Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
- Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting, but never hit soft.
Mother Teresa – The inspiring missionary who served the poor, the sick, the orphan, and the dying.
- Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.
The Lone Ranger – A true role-model and the reason why I became a police officer in the first place. He followed a strong moral code that can still be applied by law enforcement officers today.
- I believe that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
- I believe that God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
- I believe in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
- I believe that all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
Regardless of what I am doing, I know that I can look to my Brain Trust and at least one of them will have a perspective to help me make a decision. I still seek out the opinions of other trainers and police officers, but not until I have honed my work by gaining the wisdom of my Brain Trust. You undoubtedly have different challenges and decisions to make in your life than I do, and that is why your Brain Trust will need to be different than mine – although The Lone Ranger should be part of every Cop’s Brian Trust.
I hope you find the method helpful as you make critical decisions as a police officer, educator, or trainer. Remember that if you are reaching for the stars you may not always get one, but you won’t end up with a hand full of dirt either – so keep reaching.
Richard Neil 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 law enforcement educators and trainers – http://www.PhalanxLE.com