Why is it, that something disastrous can have a completely different impact on two people? One falls apart while the other grows stronger from the experience? One has faith that their best days are ahead and a belief that life is a gift, while the other sees life as a constant struggle with one hurdle after another. Their individual mind-set determines how they will deal with the crisis. I have not only seen it, I have lived it.

I asked, “Would you like to repeat that again.”  The dispatcher came across speaking slower and louder, “Danny Williams wants you to meet him at Greenlee and Jefferson Avenue.  He said he is going to kill you.”  Yep, that is exactly what I heard the first time; apparently it wasn’t a joke.  How lucky was I to be on duty when someone called wanting to kill me.  I was afraid because I knew what Danny was capable of doing.

Our previous meeting was for a parole violation arrest stemming from a murder he committed when I was a middle school student.  Danny had shot a man in the back after a bar fight and the plea bargain resulted in a 7 year sentence Soon after being released he violated parole and was once again wanted.  I spotted him walking down the street and called out for backup.  He noticed me and took off running.  I chased him into his apartment and tackled him in the bedroom where I found a sawed-off shotgun.  Not a nice guy!  I took him to jail and assumed that was the last time I would see him but he was released on his own recognizance – go figure.  

It was 3 a.m. when the call came in to dispatch.  I wasn’t a rookie with anything to prove so I took plenty of backup with me to the intersection.  We parked a block away so he couldn’t see our cars, and brought along our patrol rifles for good measure.

Frank, Dan, Doug, and I coordinated our approach on the radio – two officers would approach from the north, the other two from the south.  As we approached the area I expected Danny to be hiding from us, but he was right out in the open – naked!  Danny was standing directly below the streetlight with everything in plain sight.  He was holding a beer in his left hand and a rifle in his right.  I thought, “Great I’m gonna get killed by a naked dude.  That will look good on my tombstone.”  Frank, a cantankerous old veteran, leaned over and said, “You have a funny way of making friends.” 

Once we were all in position, I called out commands to Danny, who called back with a few colorful metaphors of his own.  Frank then yelled back, “We’ll turn you into Swiss cheese you derelict piece of [email protected]#!”  Danny realized he was surrounded and outgunned and threw the rifle down the street towards us, but he kept on drinking the beer.  When we approached, he resisted; we had the satisfaction that only comes from fighting a drunk, sweaty, and nude felon.  What a messed-up night shift.

I left the encounter ready for the next, but one of our new recruits heard about the call and had a different reaction. He told me the idea of a suspect wanting to kill an officer, they had only met once, was shocking to him. He was having second thoughts about his career choice. He wasn’t even there that night and the encounter affected him more than it did me. Our attitudes and mindset were quite different. I did not like being threatened but I found more humor in the situation than anything. Surviving the incident strengthened my faith that someone was looking over me. When I asked the rookie why he was so negative he explained how his academy commander and several instructors warned him how awful our profession was. He had the most negative outlook I ever heard from a rookie. That is not how to successfully prepare the guardians of tomorrow.

It is disappointing to me when I hear a cadet in the academy make a cynical statement about police work. They have not worked one day on the street and they are already complaining about how awful it will be. Where do they get such an attitude? They buy into the crap sold by TV shows depicting all cops as cynical tyrants, and they hear it reinforced by some instructors that complain instead of train.

I feel ill every time I hear a cop tell a new rookie, “Forget everything you learned in the academy,” or “A month in the academy isn’t worth one hour on the street,” or the worst, “The academy is over – now you’ll learn how to be a real cop.”

If done correctly, the academy is crucial to the success of our cadets, and this type of careless statement can cause confusion. Every topic has real-world implications if the instructor puts forth the effort to make it real. Even if you do not like the curriculum, there is always important information you can add. Your personal knowledge and experience is the most valuable teaching resource you have, and those nuggets of wisdom are what your students need the most, and what they look forward to.

Cadets should leave the academy excited to be part of a noble profession, and serving society as a guardian of justice should be a thrill, not an affliction. As police instructors we must understand our duty to act as their trainer, role model, and mentor. We should never forget – we are training our replacements. They will someday protect and serve society, as well as our families when we are gone.

Physical survival tactics are taught throughout the law enforcement community, and that is of great importance, but there is more to teach. Surviving, just to lose their marriage, family, and self-respect is not what cadets have in mind when they join our profession. Help them prepare a positive mindset as their instructor, because there will be those who model the negative.

John C. Maxwell is an internationally recognized leadership expert, former pastor, speaker, coach, and author who has sold over 19 million books. He reminds us of the importance of attitude in his book, Today Matters. “The bottom line on attitude is that a good one helps to increase your possibilities. Pessimists usually get what they expect. So do optimists. Believing in yourself increases your chances of success. Looking for the positive in every situation helps you see opportunities that you would otherwise miss. Being positive with people prompts them to be positive with you – and individuals who interact well with others have a leg up on people who don’t. I can’t think of one legitimate criticism of positive thinking. It’s all good.”

Our success and worth as an instructor is measured by the performance and abilities of our students. If I don’t believe in the importance of our noble profession neither will my students. If I don’t believe in the capabilities of my students they may question themselves when it matters most. Their survival will be enhanced by the mindset and attitude you instill in each one of your students, and that will enable them to make the sacrifices inherent with a career in law enforcement. Why is that so important?

Without sacrifice there can be no justice – without justice there can be no society.

Richard Neil is LET’s Police Training Contributor. He is the author of “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create Engaging Slides, & Increase Active Learning.” He is a retired city cop, and instructs for several of Ohio’s criminal justice training academies. He can be contacted through his website that is dedicated to law enforcement training resources – www.LEOtrainer.com.