The “Tactical Evangelist”: After 30-plus years on the job, Sid Heal continues to find ideas, challenges and issues that are new and refreshing. Photo Courtesy Charles Heal
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Picture this: The First Gulf War. Iraqi prisoners are being herded by their American guards away from the front lines. A Marine officer watches as they pass by. One prisoner catches the officer’s eye. He orders him stopped and moves to look closer. His intuition and observation skills tell him there’s something different about this soldier. One of the small details that first drew the officer’s attention was the prisoner’s uniform. Not only was it better quality but an area on the shoulder had a less faded appearance than the rest of it. In addition, the other prisoners were clearly deferential to the man. A little investigative work revealed that this was a ranking “shot caller” from the Republican Guard who had removed his unit patch to avoid identification.
If this scenario sounds like a scene from the TV show Cops transplanted to Iraq, then you’re right. The Marine warrant officer is my friend, Charles Heal who retired last year as a commander from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD). Known as “Sid” to his fellow professionals and friends, his military and law enforcement career has had a significant impact on individuals in both professions.
Sid is a talented, multifaceted and an excellent trainer. He holds four different college degrees and is also a licensed contractor and master carpenter. Sid has been married for longer than most cops have worked the streets and has five children that he is justly proud of. He spent more than 35 years in the Marine Corps Reserve rising to the rarified rank of Chief Warrant Officer 5 and fought for our country from Vietnam to Baghdad.
He’s taught a lot of us in law enforcement to observe, analyze and resolve tactical problems using basic concepts developed decades, if not centuries, ago. During his time at LASD, he was a member, team leader and later captain of their highly respected SWAT team as well as the agency’s point man on developing technology that could be adapted to law enforcement use. Although Sid has had many assignments over his career, the previous sentence probably gives you a good idea of his versatility. True to the character he is, I also learned from him a rhetorical phrase that helps to emphasize the obvious: “Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?”
One day when we were talking, I asked him what advice he had for law enforcement trainers. He began by talking about relatively new instructors. Having known him for some time, it didn’t come as a surprise that he immediately chose to draw an analogy from his own skill sets: For new trainers to be good—really good—they have to view their work as a “craft.” Even though books are extremely important to the learning process, there are some lessons you just can’t get out of books. Sid pointed out that certain career paths require a hands-on apprenticeships, like a carpenter. Police work requires the same sort of approach. From there, he made the point that the new instructor has to learn from “master craftsmen,” just like a carpenter does. This means that trainers should know the material—I mean really know it—but also experienced it, preferably with the advice and guidance of a very knowledgeable person.
Sid believes there are two ways for a trainer to truly become a subject matter expert. One is to write successfully, knowingly about a topic. The second is the ability to stand in front of a bunch of cops and teach with the same assurance.
As for the veteran instructors out there, Sid thought for a moment and then with a chuckle, shared a phrase he learned from another cop and former Marine: “Never be too cool for school.” By way of illustration, he told me that even after 30-plus years on the job, he continued to find topics, ideas, challenges and issues that were new and refreshing.
Some of you may be thinking “Yah, that’s easy for Commander Heal with all the doors that were opened for him. But I’m here at my agency which is in no way comparable to L.A. Sheriff’s Department. How am I going to do that?” Well, I’m here to tell you—and I’m sure I speak for Sid as well—that rather than being complacent, you can establish your own trainer’s persona. Especially today with all the resources available, there’s no way that you can’t do it—unless of course you don’t want to try. That’s your decision.