|Which One of Us Is the REAL Cop?|
Talking From Both Sides of My Mouth
Advisory Board Member
Volunteer Law Enforcement Officer Alliance
Process Problem Solving Contributor
My first days in uniform were spent in the role of a reserve officer. I keenly felt what it was like there. In more recent times, I have earned my full certification as a police officer. I am now in a role that previously I could only observe and contemplate. Now, I know.
Today, I want to make a plea for cohesiveness, for unity, for compassion and for an attitude of encouragement among and across all law enforcement disciplines. Today, I believe there is no longer room for one segment or another proclaiming themselves to be the REAL cops where all others are somehow in a second-place position.
In order to be clear, I want to define the words reserve and / or auxiliary police officer because they have widely different meanings, depending on where one travels in the U.S. For purposes of this writing, the terms reserve and auxiliary are synonymous and will be used interchangeably.
A reserve officer identifies a person who derives the bulk of their income in a field other than that of being a police officer. It may be a young person who works a day job as a laborer, a professional who practices his/her skill elsewhere, it may be anyone who gets their paycheck elsewhere but donates their time and other resources to law enforcement activities.
Some of these folks see the role of reserve as an entrance point into a law enforcement career. Others simply want to give something back to their community. No matter the motivation, the result is that they usually pay for their own training, their own gear, and donate their time for free. In some places they are fully trained, sworn and empowered while in other places they have varying levels of police powers supported by different levels and intensity of training.
Career officers, on the other hand, are the professionals who have chosen law enforcement as their career. It is how they earn a living to support themselves and their families. In most cases, they have earned a state certification, attended an academy, and have attained all of the accomplishments associated with being a "full time" or career officer.
Enough housekeeping. Now to my point.
WHO IS DOING THE WHINING?
The Career Cops
My former department had a large contingent of reserve officers. Most of the career guys appreciated the help. There were a few career cops, however, who constantly ran their mouths about the reserves:
* Those guys are stealing my overtime.
* They don't know what they are doing and when ever they are on a call with me, I must worry about covering for their stupid mistakes.
* I don't trust them. I just can't count on them being there when I need them and that they will do the right thing.
A few of the career guys seemed to just lay in waiting for one of the reserves to make any small mistake and they would blow it all out of proportion.
As a member of the reserve unit, I was required to attend a weekly meeting/roll call. The list of complaints coming from the reserves regarding the career cops was steady:
* They treat us like second-class citizens.
* We get no respect; they are rude to us.
* Our tactics are better than some of those guys: they are ill-mannered with citizens, lax, and complacent on officer safety.
* They are so arrogant, acting like they are better than us.
FACTS OF LIFE
Cops live by labels: rank, groups, etc. Their minds put a label on everyone they encounter. Members in the department can be a sergeant, a lieutenant, part of the narc squad, a reserve, one of the administration, and so forth. Members of the public whom they don't know are generally put under the heading of "joe public jerk." (Which is unfortunate)
We humans allow labels to affect how we behave. As a reserve cop, if I've been hung with the label of second-class, then I will probably behave in a way that matches the expectation by deferring to anyone who isn't considered second-class.
If I'm a career cop and consider the reserves to be poorly trained or unpredictable, then I will unavoidably filter every interaction with a reserve through that filter. I am likely to be hyper-critical of a reserve so that an action from a reserve would bring my criticism while the very same action from a career cop would not.
If we can successfully get past those labels, we tend to judge one another individually based upon demonstrated performance in areas of honesty, ethics, capabilities, and consistent performance. The best example: the FNG hired in an agency will be judged by the old-timers only after they have seen him in action. It is when the old-timers know, first-hand that the FNG can be counted upon that he will be accepted.
That's understandable and acceptable.
We can no longer afford to discount or diminish entire groups of people because of the label they carry.
I am not suggesting that flaws or deficiencies be ignored - far from it.
I recently finished a book by Kevin Gilmartin entitled, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement. It was awesome and enlightening. It described cops that I've worked with. Gilmartin describes the "Victim Mentality:" bitter, disengaged, angry, constantly complains, and looks for things to be pissed-off about.
Gilmartin must have been describing the union VP in my last agency. It fit him perfectly. And, when it came to reserves, Mr. VP was never at a loss for something to complain about. But then, Mr. VP was never at a loss.
There were many reserves that felt down-trodden by him and resented him in return.
FROM BOTH SIDES
A career officer has worked very hard to earn his place. He has attended an academy, and passed a state exam. He has been scrutinized by many and gone through the arduous application process. He puts his life on the line at least 40 hours each week - and usually more. His personal life has often been sacrificed for the job.
Everything he does is under microscopic examination. A serious mistake can end his career - in fact, it can end his identity as he knows it. That's a level of performance pressure that few people feel in their careers, yet a career officer lives with it every day.
Are there a few bad applies in the lot? A guy who slipped through the selection process, who curries favoritism with the chief, hides from calls in his area, behaves like a slug, kisses the right butts, and who will stab a fellow officer in the back without hesitation is in our midst. But, thankfully, those guys are few in number. Most of us recognize them for what they are and keep a safe distance.
Reserve officers see their lot in life differently. While working a regular job, they have spent the time (and often money) to get the required training to be a reserve cop. In most cases, they have spent a few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand bucks to get geared-up. They genuinely want to help and make a meaningful difference for their community, their agency, and the cops with whom they work.
They arrive to work after they've ended their regular paying work day. They willingly take the BS jobs, i.e. directing traffic, booking prisoners, running errands for the dispatchers, babysitting flares, and the like. They realize that these tasks must be done and because a reserve cop handles them, the career cops can attend to the more important stuff. Depending on the agency, the frequency with which they get into the mix with the career guys on calls varies widely, but the reserves stand at the ready to backup their brothers, when needed. They are putting their lives on the line and they know that reserve cops get killed in the line of duty, too.
Reserve officers have been appropriately termed CITIZEN PATRIOTS. They share a common heritage with the early settlers of our country who fought the good fight and did it for free, because it was the right thing to do. Amen.
Are there problems children here, too? You bet. Some agencies are very lax in the selection process. Those agencies don't realize that a team of volunteers must be managed differently than a team of cops who are paid. There are reserves that are there only so they can carry a gun and badge for bragging rights or other equally wrong motivating reasons. While a reserve may get training at the outset, anything beyond that is unpredictable and usually little more than a laughable waste of time.
SO, WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
Realistically examine what you can directly affect in this mix. The list is pretty short: your attitude, your dedication to the job and doing the right thing, your perseverance, and your demeanor. You can choose to do the best possible job of being a cop, no matter what role you play.
I've taught in reserve academies for many years. I've heard recruits lament about the discord between reserves and career officers. My response has been consistent: If you want to be treated like a cop, act like a cop. Perform dependably and consistently. Adhere to the Code of Ethics. Act like you mean it from your heart. Be there for your brothers and don't ever fail them. Never forget.
WE ARE BEING OVERWHELMED
Today, there are more demands than ever before. There are more bad guys, and they have better weapons and are better practiced than any adversary we've faced in the past. There are terrorists who would do us great harm on a national level. There are active shooters who threaten us at the core - our children in schools.
We have smaller budgets.
Most street crews are running short.
If all that weren't bad enough, jerkface lawyers (some of them) are seeking wild liability awards from our employers. Reacting as expected, decision makers who are above us on the food chain are being guided more by their desire to avoid liability than on choosing the best course of action.
We now need every able-bodied hand on deck. Period.
WHAT CAN I DO?
If you're a career officer, consider becoming engaged in your agency's reserve program. If your agency doesn't have a method for volunteers to help, you might want to suggest starting one.
Some years ago, I drafted a business model that laid out how a department could create a reserve program from scratch. It has been successfully put to use many times over. If you'd like a copy (no charge), send me an email requesting it and I'll send it along to you.
Offer to review and suggest improvements for the selection and training processes for reserves. That will ensure you get the best available talent.
Volunteers are motivated differently that you. They are eager. They are excited. They want to make a viable contribution and they need different kinds of rewards than you.
If you're a reserve officer, make sure that you're tuned-in to the needs of the career guys. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Don't let some dumb administrator put a wedge between you. You will live and die together.
Help to improve the selection and in-service training programs. The best reserve programs are those that train career and reserve officers together, side-by-side. That keeps everyone in lockstep. Maybe you can make that happen where you are.
Realize that for your career brothers, this job is their livelihood. Any threat to it threatens the well-being of their families.
When you are in uniform, take the job as seriously as a heart attack. You are not there for a walk in the park. You are doing the one job where people want to kill you because of the clothes you are wearing. Yes, I said, "kill you." Remember that.
Finally, remember that some of the career officers have become emotional wrecks. They are jerks at home just the same as they are at work. Don't take it personally when they grouse about reserves. These guys grouse about everything. Tune them out.
The debate about who is the REAL cop needs to end. We can spend our time debating Crown Vics vs. Chevy Impalas, or Sigs vs. Glocks.
We are under siege.
Our resources are limited.
We live in a country that was born of volunteers and those volunteers continue to be at the core of its strength. If you doubt that, just look at our military - God bless them all.
Volunteers need to take the job seriously. Our existence depends upon it.
Career officers need to focus on encouraging, supporting, and assisting in the development of volunteer talent - rather than attacking it.
There is plenty of work to go around. The world is full of bad guys and there is no sign that the supply will grow short anytime soon.
Your comments are always welcome. Just click on my name below to send an email.
Jim Donahue is a native of the Midwest, getting his education at Michigan State University. At mid-life, he has spent most of his life working in his own business and has been an elected official.
Jim has worked with police departments across the country on process improvement at the patrol car level, focusing on technology to improve tactics, safety, and productivity. He instructs in a variety of police academies and having taught "Technology and Tactics" to thousands of cops in-service nationally. He is an accomplished grant writer.
Jim has worked as a reserve officer, initially with U.S. Customs & Immigration at the Detroit/Canada border in the year following the attacks of 9/11. He has also worked as a patrolman on the street in a suburban Detroit community.
As a new resident of Florida, Jim anticipates that he will be working (part-time) as a street cop for a local agency.
Jim is married to Paula and they have two children. Jim is a competitive bodybuilder, with six contests to his credit. Jim is active in his community and his church.