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April 18, 2013

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Police officers are required to submit to a rigorous battery of annual seminars and testing to meet state qualifications to remain certified. It’s a compendium of classes assembled to bring us up to date with current laws and trends, to break the rust off of seldom-used skills, and most importantly of all, to meet the requirements set forth in dozens of lawsuits against us over the years in which additional training was mandated.

This training usually exists to excuse the fantastic sums of money people received so as to not make them feel like asshole profiteers, since many of the lawsuits were over someone’s death which mostly was a result of their low skill set in criminal activity, sometimes related to the customer dissatisfaction (aka “unhappiness”), and the 1-in-10 occurrence in which the cop just screwed up. The only requirement of this week of training is to act like it “sucks” to get paid to shoot guns for a whole day and drive cars you don’t own as fast as poop down a chute on another day. Real “torture.”

In the course of such, old (and ranking) officers are put together with junior (read: peon) officers whom in many cases they’ve never met, and the exchange of bullshit begins. Personally, I love it. It’s the only way the new guys can connect with stories from the past; it’s completely tribal in nature. It was through these talks that I now reflected on how policing has greatly matured as a profession. (Relax, “progressive” readers; allow me to explain.)

A few decades ago they issued axe handles out of garbage cans on the back lot of police headquarters to assist in quelling race-riots that plagued Chattanooga. I can safely mention this now because literally all the administrators responsible for that era are deceased.

The participants were holdouts from an ugly time in our nation’s history in which not only did the persecutors have to learn new habits, but the victims as well. If the garbage stank in the summer, it was nothing less than oppression and residents naturally responded by lighting Dumpsters on fire, throwing bottles and shooting rifles and handguns. While good for an occasional prank or birthday party, I think we’d all agree you can’t just go around doing these kinds of things in a Civilized Society.

These pick and axe handles were used to intimidate groups of people who set fire to their own homes, then shot at both the police officers and firefighters who arrived there as a result. Interestingly, I am also not aware of one incident from either side in which said farm implements were actually used for their threatened purpose. While a barbaric tactic to some, it was apparently effective in the end, like the thousands of unused ICBM’s that ended the Cold War. You see, just as a petulant 18-month-old will not listen to the sweet reason and melodic logic of Barney the Dinosaur, some adults won’t listen to soothing words and extended palms of friendship either, no matter how much we want them to. Out of this box unorthodox solutions were born.

(And while we’re talking about it, who the hell shoots at firemen anyway? Why don’t you go around stomping on baby chicks and spitting on babies? People slobber all over themselves loving them because there is no reason not to like them, unless you are the parent of a teenage girl.)

Police now regularly undergo sensitivity training, diversity training, conflict-resolution training, roll-call bulletins on racial profiling, crisis-intervention training, ethics training, use of force training and methods of better ways to train trainers to train. And still more training is recommended when police respond to someone shooting other people by shooting back at them.

I understand, though. Holding “society” accountable is not as easy as mandating training for police, so I can’t blame our system when it is held only to the path of least resistance as opposed to the right moral or ethical one. What can go wrong, anyway?

I leaned back in my chair in the cool darkness of my room, sipping chilled silver tequila through a mixer straw and looking up and over at the ceiling with the hint of a smile, thinking of how I spent the past week on a form of paid vacation doing all the things I thought were exciting a long time ago … and smiling because they still were. I win.

Alex Teach is a police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.

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