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I Know Everything... and Only Me

Written by Ed Sanow

“There is only one right way to do it, and only I know it.” We all know instructors and Field Training Officers with that attitude, don’t we? So, which kind of instructor does honorable service to those they teach? The “Listen only to me, everyone else is wrong, those other techniques will get you killed” type? Or the “Listen to everyone, take the good that you find, sort out what works best for you” type?

Put yourself in your student’s shoes. Do you want to be taught by Mr. One Way Only? Or by Mr. Consider These Approaches? “My way or the highway” does a disservice to the next generation of police officer, sheriff’s deputy and state trooper. In fact, today’s generation of police officer is less persuaded by “just do what you are told” and more persuaded by “here is why.”

Even the so-called fundamentals are open to opinion, change, challenge. The Isosceles Stance was once the only way and has given way to some version of the Weaver Stance. “Use a tourniquet only as last resort” has given way to “Use a tourniquet as the first choice.” The passenger’s side approach? Cuff before (or after) search? Every single technique in every aspect of policing has street-wise, veteran-officer proponents for this variation or that subtle change.

Open your mind and actively seek new and different techniques. Give these an honest try for two reasons. First, you may learn a valuable lesson and add an important tool to your patrol or tactical toolbox. Second, you may learn that the way you were doing it was superior to the new/different way.

Instructor confidence is one thing. Unchallengeable arrogance is another. Even national training organizations have collapsed under the weight of instructor. In training circles, we are on high alert for injury from “friendly fire” and somehow miss the fact that one instructor back-stabbing another is also friendly-fire. Get out a bit. Attend national conferences like ILEETA and IACP. Attend regional SWAT conferences. The very essence of “networking,” its entire value, is to listen to other ideas.

Flexibility is one of the greatest assets of a SWAT team, literally defining the team’s effectiveness. The same should be true of the individual instructor. You have heard, “A good SWAT operator always has a Plan B…and a Plan C.” Well, a good instructor or FTO should always teach a Plan B and a Plan C on every patrol tactic.

If you are the type of instructor or FTO who thinks there is only one right way, you are part of the problem. If you are a hammer, every problem you see is a nail. In fact, the very essence of both CompStat-driven patrol and Community Oriented Policing is out of the box, problem-solving thinking. Yes, thinking is hard work.

Our responsibility to the officers and deputies we train is too great to think any one of us has all the answers. Don’t take tools out of the new officer’s tool box. Instead, add more and different ones…then train them how to decide which one to use.  

Look around you. The instructor and FTO is no longer the only source of training. Every police magazine, every police blog, is full of different tactics and techniques. These include heated rhetoric from credible, savvy instructors on what makes this tactic or that technique a valid method. And with that overload of tactical information, you are going to tell your officers that you have the one and only way? Not happening.

Every new officer has already been told that they will hear and see many different—safe and legitimate—ways of doing everything. Many have also been told the real bottom line—that ultimately they are responsible for their own safety. We want them to have more options to finish their shift safely—even if those tactics came from someone else.


Published in Tactical Response, Mar/Apr 2014

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