The emergence of the so-called rock house for distributing rock cocaine in the 1980s illustrates an important challenge facing law enforcement officers. Criminals are not static. They innovate new strategies and tactics to frustrate our best efforts to accomplish our mission.
The early rock houses were quite simple. Dealers outfitted a strong, reinforced front door with a slot where buyers could slip in money and receive rock cocaine in return. We responded by using what we called the key to the city a handheld battering ram, requiring the strength of several officers. It worked for a while. Then, some of the dealers began to build steel cages inside the doors. Battering down the doors was futile. The evidence could not be seized and officers became vulnerable to gunfire. So, we began forcing entry by pulling off the steel bars placed over windows with a heavy-duty tow truck. Dealers countered this tactic by reinforcing the bars with steel supports extending over at least six of the wall studs. You can imagine the results of that first encounter. Finally, we obtained a military armored personnel carrier. We outfitted it with a large battering ram that looked like a cannon extending from the turret. We didn t need a door or window. We made our own.
But even this unusual logistical support had its limits. Innovative dope dealers began reinforcing inner rooms where we couldn t use our new ultimate ram. I remember going on a raid where a kitchen with a side door between the houses was heavily reinforced from the rest of the house. We lacked sufficient room between the houses to use our tank. We used a C4-shaped charge to make entry.
My point: To remain effective, we in law enforcement must continue to perform on the cutting edge of change and development. We must keep ahead of the criminal army. Continuing education is one arena where we can compete to maintain that cutting edge.
Continuing education includes the full spectrum of expanding your knowledge and skills. It s everything from roll-call training to formal university education, and all points in between. I realize a gap often exists between what s taught in a theoretical environment and the reality on the streets. In my experience, people in law enforcement have proven uniquely qualified to reconcile these differences and put into practice what works.
Police officers generally welcome in-service training and special seminars organized by and for police officers. For example, a course on pursuit driving and the Pursuit Immobilization Technique (PIT) will enjoy many volunteers and enthusiastic participants. On the other hand, the university campus can reveal an entirely different story. Police officers in that environment may feel alone and even unwelcome. Some of the philosophies and theories may just not match up with what the officer has found to be reality. However, even the academic setting offers several benefits. Law enforcement officers have the real-life experiences that prepare them to discern truth from fantasy. They can accept what s helpful and useful and reject what doesn t match with reality. Also, they can enrich the learning environment for all participants by discreetly presenting their point of view based upon real-life experience.
I reaped the benefits of a continuing education program early in my career. After attending a required in-service course, I had a reinforcing experience. My partner and I made a probable-cause stop of two suspects. Something was wrong. They had the whip-eye syndrome. My recent training included facts about Social Security ID cards. During my field interview of one of the suspects, I was able to determine his identification was false. We later determined they were both escapees from another state prison and wanted for a spree of armed robberies since their escape. From that point on, I ve been a lifelong student.
There have been few times in my life when I wasn t in some continuing education project. When I joined the law enforcement profession, I had completed only two years of college courses. I now have advanced degrees and a package full of diplomas from institutions such as the FBI National Executive Institute.
For a vocation to be classified as a profession, several factors must be present: a body of knowledge peculiar to the responsibilities of the work, standards of qualification and performance, a code of ethics, accountability to some type of review process and, perhaps most commonly, some specific education and/or training requirements, usually involving regular updates. Don t shirk from training and education experiences seek them out. We are a profession on point.
Bob Vernon retired from the Los Angeles Police Department after 37 years on the force. He earned an MBA at Pepperdine University and is a graduate of the University of Southern California s Managerial Policy Institute and the FBI s National Executive Institute. After retirement, Vernon founded The Pointman Leadership Institute (visit www.pointmanleadership.org), which provides principle-based ethics seminars around the world for police agencies, parliament members, military leaders and a variety of other groups.