June 6 will be the 30th anniversary of the beginning of my career with the LVMPD.
The first day of an academy (mine was 6/6/83) becomes ingrained in our memories forever.There is a high level of anticipation, uncertainty, and stress. We question ourselves and wonder if we can make it,
Available Toolsso we have to reach down deep and and try to find confidence and strength. Many people quit. Many more have thought about quitting at some point. Sometimes, you just don’t know if you can take another day of the ‘syrup’ that you face during the academy.The LVMPD academy makes a deep and permanent imprint on the lives and perso
nalities of all who attend. To all of those who have graduated and all of those who have provided ‘professional’ training, you are to be commended! (This column is NOT intended to be critical of the hundreds and hundreds of quality professionals serving Las Vegas.)
Police officers remember their date of hire because it signifies the beginning of the police academy and we often use it to describe when we joined and what academy we attended. My first academy was known as “2-83” and then the second one was known as “1-04.” We also remember our personnel numbers (also known as P-Number or badge number). Unlike many other police departments, the badges that members of the LVMPD earn after successful completion of the academy do not actually have any ‘badge number’ on them.
In my first academy we were taught about the importance of integrity, ‘coming together as a team’ and supporting each other through thick and thin. Indeed — by completing the process, and listening to the speakers and our training officers, we were also convinced/brainwashed that we would stick together and be willing to face great danger — even die for each other. Later on we learned that there are things such as ‘politics,’ ‘administrators,’ ‘rivalries,’ and a thing called ‘human nature’ that can blast our beliefs and ideals out of the water.
In my second academy I learned about ICARE (the LVMPD Values Statement). I distinctly remember the many times that I wondered why we created a Values Statement if we were not going to live up to it. These thoughts came at various times during my ‘second career,’ which lasted about 8 years.
Many people who had military experience prior to being hired at Metro have compared the academy to basic training/boot camp. There are a couple of common questions yelled during the academy: How bad do you want this job? How bad do you want to wear the LVMPD badge? Officers do ‘earn’ their badges by having the tenacity to make it through a lengthy academy and they keep their badges if they are successful in the field training program. Once they are ‘off-probation,’ they expect to serve through their careers and look forward to a retirement event at some point. Retirement does not always equate to the time when we have reached the age and can earn a pension. Today, many individuals (inside and outside of policing) get hired but don’t stay 20 years (or more) and never intended to stay at one job until retirement.
There are many obstacles and challenges to be faced. There are also many ‘mind games’ and it is quite an achievement to make it to Graduation Day. The mind games are what I call the Metro ‘syrup.’ Sometimes that syrup is so thick that it almost causes us to gag. It is one thing to show how teamwork and discipline can be beneficial, but it is another thing to see things being done for the wrong reasons, to publicly humiliate and to entertain others.
The ‘first inspection’ that was held for the LVMPD for many years was a favorite place to go and watch for ‘entertainment’ purposes. This was somewhat of a rite of passage. Those who had earned their badges from prior academies had the chance to go and watch (even videotape) others facing one of the worst days of their lives. I remember how TAC officers would come up with some extreme statements and phrases and try to ‘one-up’ each other on other actions taken at first inspections in prior academies. What good did this do to build mature, dedicated, and independent police officers?
During the first inspection of my second academy (I was 43 years old), I watched as a jock strap was brought out to the field on the tip of a flagpole. This jockstrap had been found in the academy building and the ‘staff’ wanted to play a little game with it. They wanted to find out who failed to wear this item or at least who left it out in the locker room. We were challenged for the majority of the first inspection because nobody claimed ownership of the jockstrap.
When I say ‘challenged,’ I mean we were forced to do push-ups and other physical exercises as ‘group punishment’ until someone would claim the jockstrap. Eventually, one classmate said it belonged to him — to stop the punishment… but he quickly admitted that it really did not belong to him. We were all told we had NO INTEGRITY and we were humiliated and labeled as a group. It was not a pleasant sight. I later would wonder if this was contrived by the academy staff. Were we supposed to have learned some kind of lesson from this?
Well, I learned one of the greatest lessons of my policing career when the wife of a classmate heard the story of our first inspection at a Family Orientation event. During the event, she realized that she had packed a jockstrap for her husband and that he did not know that it was in his bag. Apparently, this is the jockstrap that became the ‘prop’ used to challenge us all and call us all liars. We had about 115 individuals (police and corrections classmates) going through the academy together for the first five weeks before we split up. I’m wondering what lesson we all learned as a result of having our staff try forcing us to swallow this ‘syrup.’
After the academy, we go in different directions and the close-knit group is spread thin. When I started in 1983 we only had three substations — we now have eight. When I started, we all got gas at the end of the shift at one place (Highland Pumps) and might get a chance to visit academy classmates that we might not otherwise see while on patrol. Today, officers get gas just about anywhere they want. There is not as much of a chance to run into old academy buddies. The point here is that we do not always get to stay in touch with our academy classmates. That ‘team’ thing just does not stay intact forever.
The academy process can be called an ‘indoctrination’ to what we need to know to serve the public and survive on the streets… but is this true and authentic, or just a myth? I’ve learned that we don’t have enough perspective on the situation to know the answer while we are in the academy or during our early years of service.
When we have a chance to reflect later, we learn (or at least I have learned) that we don’t work as a team in the field very often — policing is often done individually; that we don’t always have each other’s BACK — some of our own people achieve rank and then shoot us in the back and others just have old rivalries and ‘snitch’ as soon as they get the chance; that the ideals and values we learned are not applied consistently — there are lots of double standards in an organization. In essence, there are a lot of myths (even lies) that we learn about through actual experience. What we were told and wanted to believe is one thing; what we learn from experience is often another. It takes a unique person to endure, survive, and thrive through an entire career with the LVMPD these days.
Sometimes we face ‘bullets’ fired at us from behind our own lines. This ‘friendly-fire’ concept is what has shaken some of us to the core. Instead of having the pride of reaching a career threshold and getting some recognition and a ‘thank you for your service,’ some of us are ‘damaged goods’ and walk away shamed in a sense. We are left to wonder how we will be remembered and what others are saying about us. More importantly, we are left to wonder how we have been labeled by the organization and how much damage it will cause us as we attempt to move forward with our non-police lives.
I think about officers that I knew who are no longer with the LVMPD. Did we all disgrace our badges, or did we make other types of mistakes? Some members of the LVMPD have disgraced their badges. This is a fact. There needs to be accountability and transparency because we serve the public… but I know of some outstanding members of the LVMPD who are gone, based on unbelievable allegations, poor investigations, poor representation, and the Kangaroo Courts convened by the sheriff. Then there are those who still have their jobs who have brought the LVMPD into public discredit because of their actions. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a reason or a rhyme.
Sheriff Gillespie just said, “We’ve eliminated 426 police officer positions…” His comment was in reference to the budget and staffing issues the LVMPD is facing. Many of us were ‘eliminated’ with extreme prejudice. We didn’t make it to our normal retirement because we were targeted. We are left to be proud of how we performed and to try to withstand the fact that we will be ‘judged’ by those who knew us and who trusted us and we might end up being used as ‘fodder’ for jokes and ‘ethics training’ scenarios by those who pretend to have integrity. I wonder what Sheriff John Moran would think about the state of the LVMPD in 2013? Some of the people that he hired are now running the place. What would he think about the terminations in the past few years that have far exceeded all prior years combined? What would he have to say about morale and the reputation of the LVMPD in the eyes of the community?
There are only two members of my first academy left after 30 years. They are both assistant sheriffs (Ted Moody and Greg McCurdy) and they are high enough to be the people running the LVMPD today. My academy 2-83 classmates can be proud that our ‘class’ has had such an impact on the organization. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have been able to tell our trainers back in 1983 that we would not be ‘losers’ and that we were not the ‘worst academy ever’… that we would contribute to the organization and make it better, that we would serve and protect the community, that we would be courageous and strong in the face of danger and adversity — and show them the future at a time when we were being told we wouldn’t amount to much of anything?
I now have a better understanding of the ‘process’ that we went through. I am as proud (to have been a professional who served Las Vegas)today as I was the days I received my badges at academy graduations. The disappointment is that, in hindsight, I have time to apply a thing called ‘wisdom’ — this can make us skeptical, sarcastic, and bitter — and wonder why we don’t stick to REALITY in the academy and focus on forging our new employees to make them strong like steel as they begin their careers.
We need to build police officers of the future with the TRUTH about the career challenges, the FACTS about internal workings of the organization, and the IMPORTANCE of discipline and pride because there are some positive and rewarding moments that we will have – but there are also times when we won’t get recognition and will not be respected by the public. Earning the trust of the community begins by trusting each other and demanding that we rise above the level of mediocrity! Policing is not an assembly line job where cars or widgets are made. Policing impacts the lives of people… we have to identify areas for improvement and speak out for change and action even if we will suffer individual consequences. Every member of Metro needs to be tempered like steel and to be a leader from the day they attend that first inspection!