The Citizen’s Police Academy, Part 2

My first class at the Citizen’s Police Academy was about judgement. While the instructor did not use the term, he was talking about the importance of context in judging events and people. My second class dealt primarily with officer safety, which is largely an issue of awareness.

Being aware is a choice, and it is our most fundamental cognitive choice. While this is a choice that each of us makes every waking moment, it is a particularly crucial choice for law enforcement officers. The failure to be aware can literally cost them their lives. This point was made poignantly clear in two videos that showed police officers being shot to death. In both instances (as well in other videos that we were shown) officers were not aware of what was happening around them. And the results were tragic.

Our instructor told us of seven “deadly sins” that law enforcement officers can commit. One of these was complacency. All of us can be a victim of complacency.

Complacency is essentially mental laziness. It results from making an assessment of an individual or situation and then suspending any further observation and analysis of new information. It is the belief that once we have reached a conclusion, new information is irrelevant. It is a choice to be unaware.

In one video we saw, an officer had been called for a domestic disturbance. When he arrived at the home, the wife said that she and her husband had had an argument, but everything was fine. Her husband was out for a walk. As the officer was leaving the scene, he spotted the husband and stopped to confirm the story. The conversation was filmed on the officer’s body cam. The husband was articulate, lucid, and cooperative. Everything he said seemed to confirm what the wife had said.

It was apparently winter, as the husband had his hands in his coat pockets during the conversation. When the officer asked if could check to make sure the man wasn’t carrying a weapon, the husband took a step back, pulled out a gun, and shot the officer in the face. Because of the husband’s demeanor, the officer was lulled into complacency and didn’t exercise safe practices–ensuring that an individual’s hands are always visible.

The level of awareness that is appropriate is contextual. If I am going to the restroom in my own home, the level of awareness required is minimal. However, if I am in a public park, I should be more aware of my surroundings and what is happening. If I am having a heated discussion with a friend, I’m not going to demand that he keep his hands where I can see them. If I am a police officer, I should demand that anyone I am dealing with in the line of duty¬† keep his hands visible.

During the first class, we were asked to express why we were attending the course. I said that I wanted to better understand how officers deal with the challenges that they face. I didn’t understand it at the time, but those challenges are primarily epistemological–how to make decisions, often under the most difficult of situations. Police officers often have to make life and death decisions, and they get it right the vast majority of the time. The fact that they do so is worthy of our admiration. And it’s also something that we can learn from.

1 comment to The Citizen’s Police Academy, Part 2

  • Steve D

    ‘they get it right the vast majority of the time.’

    Yes they do. They are well trained and (should) have been hired with a demeanor suited to their job.