Back again with Oscar Olander’s chapter on Police Courtesy.
Olander suggests there are specific main virtues for police that are all interwoven with each other. He includes “courtesy, good manners, confidence and ability.” Shorting yourself on any one undercuts the support for the others. Our behavior, because we are in such a public role, is monitored more closely than the average citizen. Therefore, we should all strive to enhance the image of the law man. Every action reflects not only on you, but on the very image that people hold for law enforcement in general. “Remember always that there area men wearing your same uniform who have walked into death to maintain the honor and good name of the service they represent.”
Show your strength in how you operate under stressful conditions. Your calm is paramount when those around you are losing their composure and become distracted and excited. Calmness breeds confidence. Olander warns against “officiousness.” I like to think of myself as being well read, but I had to look this word up. Dictionary.com gave me this definition:
Officiousness: objectionably aggressive in offering one’s unrequested and unwanted services, help, or advice; meddlesome:
How many times in our careers do we find ourselves intervening in situations that might work themselves out without our intervention but we still step in and try to help. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing to want to help, and to offer to help, but it’s worth it to consider if some of our customers even WANT our help.
“Officiousness,” Olander warns, gains us only ill will. He suggests officers cultivate an ability to meet people with tact and consideration, and to maintain poise. He goes on to affirm that the “gospel of police courtesy is built on respect.” Giving respect invites respect. Make sincere efforts to understand other points of view to better your ability to make good judgments.
Don’t speak definitively on things you are unsure of, and “When in doubt, keep still.” (While this might be recommended in speech, it might be terrible tactical advice. If you’re ever in doubt in a gun fight, move, get off the “X”.)
Don’t talk about religion, politics, or other’s personalities. (Nobody cares.)
“Learn to take constructive criticism without justifying yourself. It is a good way to learn what people think is wrong with you.” If you read my review on The Trident, by Jason Redman, you’ll know how much weight I put on that advice. Lack of interest in conversation is a breach of courtesy. Focus when you’re being spoken to.
Respond to requests for information with “a cheerful willingness and with a desire to be helpful.”
If you have to call or talk to someone while they’re busy, respect their time and be brief.
We come into contact with all sorts of people, with all sorts of weird behaviors. Olander recommends ignoring a lot of these behaviors, unless they amount to insults. (However; he doesn’t recommend, yet, what we do when insulted.
“Be strictly punctual.” I’ll admit punctuality has been a problem for me throughout my career. I was raised by late parents. I’m not sure we ever left on time. I keep a box of my Dad’s old things and one of them was the minutes from a police meeting from 15 years ago. Noted was his late arrival. Recently, I listened to an episode of the Jocko Podcast with Jocko Willink, a Navy SEAL. He talked about the disrespect that comes with tardiness. When I’m late, he says, I’m showing disrespect to everyone who had to wait for me. I’m telling them their time isn’t as important as mine. It’s something I’m striving to fix.
Olander argues you should preface a request for identification with the reason why you are requesting. Some might argue that this has changed over the years. I’ve been trained to obtain the ID prior to explaining the reason for the stop so you don’t wind up arguing over the reason before you have what you need. On a case by case basis, maybe the introduction and explanation first is more diffusing than requiring ID first.
“Never engage in long sidewalk or curbstone conversations.” There you have it folks; when you get cornered in the gas station by the guy asking incessantly if “you know if they ever caught those guys doing that stuff over yonder,” you can say Part 1, Chapter 5 of Elements of Police Science, Section B prohibits me from engaging in this.
Olander warns against leaning or having a loafing attitude while speaking with people.
He cautions against leaning through car windows, or resting a foot on a running board, during a traffic stop. Despite the terrible tactical position this puts you in, it was viewed as a mild form of trespass.
He recommends furthering your knowledge on topics you know will eventually be brought to your attention. It’s difficult to anticipate every question, but being well read and well versed in a variety of things will never be a hindrance to you.
Mind the chain of command. Failing to do so is “a manifestation of disrespect or ignorance.”
Olander phrases this next point carefully. “Policemen are obligating themselves when accepting extended accommodations or costly gifts.” I’ve heard some agencies argue that any discounts, free food, free coffee, or gifts from the public should be forbidden and that accepting any of those is paramount to corruption and bribery. Any officer who has worked the road has probably experienced an offer of coffee or food while in a restaurant. You’ve had your meal anonymously purchased. In smaller Mom and Pop shops, the proprietors are often so grateful we’ve come in they want to offer us a discount. Trying to decline is almost offensive to them. Olander used those words “extended” and “costly” for a reason. I think it’s important to determine just what the motivation behind the gift is and what the benefit is. Is a free coffee enough for you to change your enforcement behavior? Is a free coffee worth your career? Also, ask yourself why the offer is being extended. Is the clerk asking for favors when you get your coffee? The very second you detect an expectation coming with the coffee, you should decide if it’s a clerk or establishment you want to continue patronizing.
Olander calls a pleasant facial expression an asset. Smile, don’t grin. Don’t boast about or inflate your accomplishments.
Hold your fellow officers in the same esteem you hold for yourself. (I might go one step further and argue you should hold your brothers in higher esteem than you hold yourself. These men will fight and die beside you and they deserve that recognition from you. )
Maintain unshakable loyalty to your agency.
Whenever in uniform, whether on or off duty, the public presumes you to be on duty. (The same could be said about driving a take home car.)
“What the future holds for you depends on what you hold for the future. Avail yourself of every opportunity to learn more about your chosen profession.” One of the things I have been most grateful for over the years has been the ability for me to continue my training over the years. When training has been trimmed back a little, I have sought out books, training videos, and speakers who could help me improve on my own.
Don’t interrupt. (Unless you have to)
“It is possible to be pleasant and courteous without any semblance of familiarity.”
The next section is “Conduct at the Desk.” There are some key points for the desk officer that than can apply to the road officer and I’ll summarize and address a lot of those.