Michael Mason is a retired Executive Assistant Director of the FBI. His column is in response to a newsletter in which ticklethewire.com Editor Allan Lengel commented on FBI Director James Comey’s theory suggesting society’s intense scrutiny of police is preventing officers from being aggressive about doing their job, which in turn, is causing a spike in crime. Lengel wrote: “I commend (Comey) for bringing up the issue. Still, he’s fallen short here. Instead of coming up with solutions, he’s simply helping reinforce the perception of cops as victims. He needs to push for a comprehensive, national program to train law enforcement officers to do their job, dealing with the challenges of the 21st Century.”
By Michael Mason
The opening comments you made regarding the state of police training in the United States strikes me as painting the problem with an overly broad brush.
As the father of a newly minted Washington State Patrol Trooper, I can assure you he received some of the finest training available in this country today. The days of being handed a used uniform and a gun belt and being told you are now a police officer are long gone.
There are tens of thousands of very fine police officers serving this country in a very difficult job every day of the week. I recently participated in a Commander for a Day program with the New York Police Department. During my tour-of-duty, I met some of the finest young men and women this country has to offer.
They were intelligent, dedicated, focused and perhaps most importantly, universally proud of wearing the uniform of the NYPD. Those I had the opportunity to speak with joined the department to serve the citizens of New York, not to lord over them. I have read and heard many news reports detailing bad acts of representatives from the law enforcement community. However, I know on any given day there are hundreds of stories that could be told about officers going the extra mile to serve the citizens in their communities.
When I was the Assistant Special Agent in Charge in the Buffalo Division, a doctor was shot and killed in his residence for services he provided to women. He was shot through a kitchen window and killed in his kitchen while his children watched television in an adjoining room. The kitchen was a horrific crime scene, with splattered blood everywhere. When the evidence technicians completed their work, police officers, detectives and leadership of the Amherst Police Department, stayed on scene and cleaned that kitchen until virtually no signs of the horrible crime that occurred there were visible any longer.
I could recite you similar stories of officers engaging beyond the call of duty from every place I served across the country. We live in a time in which the respect given to those in authority has been significantly degraded over the past couple of decades. Policing is as difficult a job as it has ever been in our history. Despite this fact, young men and women still desire to serve in the uniform of our state, local and tribal police departments. The vast majority do so with honor and distinction.
Perhaps these times call for additional training in de-escalation procedures and other techniques necessary to de-fuse potentially hostile and dangerous situations. I am a strong proponent of routine and continuous training.
However, I will conclude my note in the same manner I began, to suggest that the law enforcement community needs to training to learn how to “…do their job…” is a gross over-simplification. There are few professions that include the amount of training provided to today’s law enforcement officer. Academies run from 6-10 months, 40 hours per week. You and I both know those academies go far beyond teaching the best way to use a night stick. I suspect training at today’s police academies includes subjects that weren’t even taught a decade ago. I truly believe today’s police are better trained, more educated and just as community-oriented and dedicated to the mission of policing as any time in this country’s history.
The vast majority of police put on their uniforms hoping to do what we all hope to do; go to work, have a reasonably good day and perform their jobs to the best of their ability. I would put virtually all the police officers I met in my career in that category.
I know you are a fair guy, but I really wanted to speak up on behalf of the law enforcement community, a community far better than recent media depictions have portrayed.