February 26, 2015

Stop Teaching Cops "Ethics"

This week we were treated to a steady drip of complaints and lousy reviews from New York's finest regarding their newest ethics training in the aftermath of the Eric Garner tragedy.

The New York Post reported several stories from officers sitting (and sleeping) through eight-hour lectures, cultural-sensitivity training, being told to "take a deep breath" and close their eyes during tense situations, and even watching clips from the Patrick Swayze movie "Road House" to teach them to "be nice."

Look, can we please stop teaching cops "ethics?" Please? Teach ethics, by all means. Just stop teaching "ethics" 'cuz it's being done exactly backwards.

Most philosophical ethics are taught from a standpoint of clinical examination, like some forensic autopsy, instead of from the impassioned plea of virtue. God forbid we should actually hold a standard for the moral compass - let alone a universal one - and challenge ourselves to act better than we have. What a scandal!

We need not teach police "how to ethic" - they are all perfectly capable of acting ethically. Don't talk down to them, remind them of all the "sensitivities" that surround their charge, or finger wag in their direction.

Cops study the law, are trained to know what is and is not just under it, and despite what popular internet memes say, most cops do join the force to "serve and protect" their communities. So stop with the morally relative, mumbo jumbo some PhD brainio thinks is dispositive of enlightened authorities.

For cops - or any of us, for that matter - to be able to act more ethically under stress and with the confidence to lead those in conflict, with you or others, means training to have higher competency in one's physical capabilities. Period. Want better cops? Forget the eight-hour lectures and technology to "fix" them - cops don't want to wear body cameras any more than you do where you work and for the same reasons. What's next? Chips in their brains? Train officers in a physical methodology to think, speak, and act with universal convictions and they will be better.

The Marine Corps figured this out - every Marine is both a rifleman and a martial artist, from the recruit to the commandant. Their Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) is a sound strategy for generating the very kind of character and individual confidence required for leadership with the mindset, "No greater friend, no worse enemy."

Large metropolitan police agencies with thousands of officers would do well to model themselves in similar fashion - every cop a policing officer and an expert in conflict mitigation and physical defense. This means training officers consistently (at least twice a week on the job) in the very kind of personal martial tactics that can allow them the physical confidence to be more ethical in their conduct and authority.  

In their (too often short) stint of "Defensive Tactics" training, police officers are taught a bushel of techniques to use when in conflict. But the problem with this was stated eloquently by Mike Tyson, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."

Technical blueprints are not as important as being able to form a plan and then adjust it under the conditions. Martial techniques are too often treated as straight answers to questions that rightfully have none. Sorry, but the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is not 42 no matter who says it. Variable conflict is like that - no straight answers.

Cops require a method to form viable, life-sustaining, tactical habits and must be trained in it consistently in order to achieve its intrinsic benefits. But - and here's the secret - those sound tactical habits must come from deference to universal values (natural law), which when recognized always achieve the one thing everyone - cops, civilians, and criminals - can appreciate: respect for the value of their life. This has to do with exactly how we use our bearing, attitude, and physical confidence, including body language, for they directly impact whether situations worsen or de-escalate due to our presence and actions. A firm knowledge of human nature always provides an edge to those who would deal with its turbulence.

Academics, too often adrift in moral relativism, generally scoff at their existence, but universal values (such as the natural law's value of life) are not the stuff we all agree are "good," or even "good ideas," but the stuff we know we cannot deny without denying our own nature, of what it means to be human. Smarty pants often like to counter that natural law is only a theory of the human condition. But it is only a theory in the same regard gravity is only a theory.

Respect for these universals lead to the ethical (and lawful) tactics that save and defend lives. In other words, a respectful acknowledgment for self-and-others' worth - aside from personal or criminal behavior - leads to the formation and use of tactics to keep cops, civilians, and even criminals safer, whether that's giving out a ticket, assisting those in need, or firing a duty weapon to save, protect, or defend innocent life.

Now, officers that read this piece prior to publication were concerned that the terrible bureaucracy in metro departments would never allow for this kind of substantive training regimen, which they believed was worthwhile. But if the Marine Corps - beset by their own bureaucratic and political structure - could transform themselves then this is not like walking on the sun.    

The work of Resolution Group International (of which I am a member) addresses these training issues. RGI was recently the subject of the New Jersey Trentonian, where they highlighted RGI's work at a recent certification course.

Police forces would be wise to consult with RGI (as many already have) for clarity on the systemic problem of conflict ethics and solutions to (re)empowering our police officers to vitalize their communal sense of "serve and protect" so that their personal behavior serves and protects them just as well.

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