My father was a Boston Police detective and from the time I was old enough to be able to think for myself, I knew I wanted to grow up to be just like him. I never had another dream or professional goal to do anything but police work. The idea of chasing and locking up bad guys for a living seemed exciting, and I thought, how smart do you really have to be to do that for a living. It seemed like lots of rough and tumble, mostly physical stuff with little requirement for mental aptitude or people skills. School was never important to me, just something I had to get through. It would be safe to say I was a bored, disinterested and a less than mediocre student who happily walked away from college two days after I received my acceptance letter to the police academy.
Over almost five decades in policing, I have seen enormous changes in the laws, cultures and the “melting pot” of our society, and with them, the perceptions, and the expectations people have of the police. There have been significant court decisions that changed policing and some of the guiding policies and procedures overnight. Accountability is now the paramount guiding light. We no longer answer, “Because we always did it that way” when asked about a search or interrogation or eyewitness identification. We must thoroughly document and turn over to the defense councel an explanation and rationale for everything we do, or the judge can dismiss the case. There can be no trial day Perry Mason style surprises. One of the side effects to these changes is the transformation of police thinking, and the resulting, mostly positive, differences in the backgrounds of the people interested in becoming police officers.
The biggest truth I have discovered is that nothing is static, so the teaching and learning never stop.
The biggest truth I have discovered is that nothing is static, so the teaching and learning never stops. The added responsibilities and expectations can be overwhelming to not only rookie officers, but also to thirty-year veterans, and a department’s supervisory and leadership teams. The changes are immediate. There is no learning curve or built in “honeymoon” period. My own perspective of policing from when I was a youth couldn’t have been more erroneous or further from the truth.
When I began my career in the mid-seventies, I was one of the “midnight commandos,” eager to perform, never wanting a shift to end because there was seemingly so much left undone when the sun came up. Most days, I was off to court to prove my case against one defendant or another. Often the finding was guilty, but more than once, I listened while a judge found a defendant not guilty and admonished me for not following the “letter of the law” or strictly adhering to the rules for gathering evidence. I hated losing and the mistakes I made embarrassed me, not out of arrogance, but out of ignorance. It didn’t take long for me to understand the need to continue my education and this time around, I was a bit more attentive and interactive with the instructors and my classmates. I also realized I needed to improve my people skills, listen more, and speak less. I had to understand people’s issues and problems before I could make decisions about how to resolve a situation. There aren’t always cookie cutter solutions to a crisis.
So, I returned to college in the evening program and focused on classes featuring psychology, sociology and the law. I learned with people from differing backgrounds, opinions, and goals. I enjoyed the exchange of ideas and for the first time I could remember, I looked forward to going to school.
My view of life and my job began to modify, and my rigid, “black and white” way of thinking eroded when I allowed discretion to creep into my decision-making. As my confidence grew, I could sense that I was becoming a more complete and professional law enforcement officer. Surprisingly, I wanted to continue with my education. So, with a little guidance and help from a mentor and friend, I applied to the evening program at a Boston law school and was accepted. I graduated and passed the bar exam as I began my tenth year on the Department and my seventh year as a detective.
History has taught me that the most important “schooling” in all walks of life comes from watching, listening, and interacting with peers, supervisors, clients, family and friends, and, most of all, with people from different socio-economic and family backgrounds that often have differing or conflicting points of view from mine. I have learned something from every encounter I have ever had. At times it was to adopt what I witnessed or heard, but just as often I shook my head, determined to never speak or act in that manner to anyone. Most important for me though was to learn to see things from another person’s view and perception of an event or series of events.
Most important for me was to learn to see things from another person’s view and perception of an event or series of events.
I have spent a significant part of my career as an instructor on criminal law, constitutional issues, and related topics. My usual goal is to translate the language in the statute law and related case law decisions while explaining why and where they have to be a significant part of the decision-making during an investigation. I attempt to merge the information into the codified rules guiding courtroom testimony, evidence and the admission of the information into testimony. I approach each topic as if I was explaining the rules of a sport or competition and then flow into a discussion about how to investigate while staying within the clear borders of the playing field, avoiding yellow or red penalty flags that can be game changers. Through the years, I learned that the absolute best method to relate a law or concept is to tie them into real life examples or stories. When I speak with former students, I can almost guarantee that they will comment about something that they learned, and say that the way they remember the point was by connecting it back to the story that I used as an example. So now when teaching, instead of putting a PowerPoint slide crammed with words on the big screen, I find it works better to put up a photo or a couple of words and connect them to an anecdote or set of facts that brings the lesson to life.
That brings me to the reason for starting this webpage and blog, to illustrate the point of a lesson with stories. And, I would like your help in making it work. I need to hear from you about experiences that altered the way you see things, hopefully for the better. Was there an event or conversation that had you see things through a different lens? That changed the way you think or altered your approach to addressing a problem. I will put up some examples from my career and I welcome you to do the same. That way we share and learn from one another. I encourage stories and perspectives from people outside of law enforcement as well. I also want to read about observations or memories of on and off duty encounters that may have changed you for either better or worse, or both.
Please share your accounts of ordinary people who, in a time of crisis, difficulty, or vulnerability, stepped up and answered the call with extraordinary acts of courage or kindness. Write about hidden heroes who unexpectedly emerge as leaders in a crisis, expecting nothing in return.
My intent is to be positive and non-political. Think of sitting by a warm hearth listening to a story with an important lesson versus someone standing on a soapbox spewing political rhetoric. There is a place for political messages, just not on this website.