I grew up in an era when “nerfing” everything and anything that could hurt or destroy you was non-existent.
We had big sharpened steel rods with fins on them that you tossed in the air toward each other. They were called lawn darts. No doubt some kids were impaled, but boy, were they fun. We had steel wheels that slid on asphalt on skateboards, resulting in kids impaling themselves on those big steel fins on the rear of parked Cadillacs.
We set off firecrackers and most of what we ate was either carcinogenic or resulted in deformities and unique maladies that the medical community puzzled over.
In short, we weren’t shielded from the vicissitudes and harshness of life. You got banged up, you learned, and you didn’t do it again. Life was simple and pure.
Police work used to be like this.
We had “240” air conditioning— two windows down and 40 miles an hour. We had revolvers and 18 rounds. We had a straight piece of wood and two handcuffs. Suspects were going to be shot, hit or cuffed, with no inbetweens.
Enter the modern era, and we have sticky foam, Tasers, OC spray, nets, computers, grappling arms, hobbles, phasers, collapsible batons, psychiatric intervention services, emotional coping enablers, stress seminars and, last but not least, “nerfing” anything related to police work.
The latest evolution is the constant recording of any and all things to do with police work. I have recently been informed that a certain unit with which I am somewhat familiar will be recording all activities in just such a manner. Everything you do from start of watch to end of watch will be recorded, notated, filed and collated.
Police vehicles will have a “black box” to record everything that specific vehicle does for the rest of its life. I’m all for technology and modern methods, but they come at a cost. Solid police work requires inventiveness and ingenuity, colored with an adaptive ability that the general public would not understand.
Video captures events on a single focal plane. It renders a one-dimensional view of situations. It can be misleading. It can be both good and bad. Audio recordings disallow street cops from interacting as the situation dictates.
A hardened ex-con gang member from Pelican Bay will not understand the Queen’s English nor the niceties of Emily Post, which some departments now require of their officers. He will assume you are from another planet, promptly kick your butt and be on his merry way. You cannot set the tone for bad guys with ladyfingers and high tea. You can try … but it won’t work.
If you are recorded employing some colorful French vernacular, you will be suspended. Opposing attorneys are now using footage to good effect out there. This falls under the “See, you broke the rules right here” method of attack. I am all for accounting for our actions, yet petty discrepancies are the main focus the opposition is now latching onto.
Not all bad guys play by the rules. This is why they are bad guys. Bad guys do not care for regulations or protocols. Some cannot be negotiated with. Some cannot be bargained with. Some cannot be reasoned with. The nicer you are, the more violent they become. The more you play by the rules, the less they do.
When every aspect of your police work is recorded, it can be problematic. This has nothing to do with “covering up” a situation, but rather the chilling effect attendant with the 24-hour tracking of one’s activities. Any mistake, mis-step or faux-pas you generate will be recorded and consequences forthcoming. With enough small, petty complaints in a personnel file, “smile and wave” policing will come into effect at some point.
In an age where everyone feels they have to share every aspect of their lives with the entire world, it was a foregone conclusion that police work would follow the same pattern. It is already here and will only grow to larger proportions.
When you disallow any and all mistakes or adaptive ability, you create a series of drones. I have seen drone policing. Very nice and very pretty, with all the shiny new police gear—and overall very ineffective.
I’m glad I was in police work when I was. It was an incredible era. We were on the forefront of new policing techniques, but we learned and practiced under old-school tutelage. You could pull off some really solid police work. Bad guys could be dealt with on a level they readily comprehended. Police work was more about the man than the equipment.
Quite a few of the supervisors back then had to have worked the specialized units before they supervised them. This practical policy has been abolished. Want to work SWAT directly from the building? Sure, why not? You’re qualified. Here’s your first hostage situation, along with a box of #2 pencils. Good luck.
When you “nerf” police work, there are consequences. Not all the world can be safe. Not every situation can be dealt with on a talk show host level. Every incident does not have a happy ending.
Everything does not need to be recorded. Recordings have absolved officers of wrongdoing. They have worked to the benefit of the good guys. I am simply suspect of the times when they don’t need to be employed.
“Nerfing” police work may come at a cost. A “nerfed” society is not necessarily a safe society.
Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and director of the highly acclaimed International Tactical Training Seminars. Course nformation and schedules are available at their website at www.internationaltactical. com.