In the world of consultants and trainers, it is often said that the further one has traveled, the smarter he must be. That may be true.
Sometimes, I feel inadequate and incapable when I am on my home turf. Overwhelmed is a good fit at times, too.
Last week was different. I spent the week at the national conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) in Chicago. Drinking from a distant pond can be good for the mind, body and soul. These kinds of gatherings provide a graphic reminder of the core strength of The Brotherhood.
The point of this article is to encourage those who have not attended a law enforcement function away from their home territory in a while to give it some serious consideration.
Police work provides many opportunities each year to gather with other like-minded individuals. This was my first experience at the ILEETA conference, but it will not be my last. I went to learn. I had also been invited to teach, and I instructed two classes.
With great frequency, I receive email messages inviting me to attend classes that cover a whole range of topics. I can learn about firearms, tactics, computers, terrorism and so forth. With limited budgets and time, one must prioritize.
I have often written about my annual pilgrimage to Washington D.C. for Police Week. The ILEETA conference had some distinct similarities to the Police Week experience. There were lots of opportunities for traditional teacher/student classes where we listened to a lecture of some sort. But there was more. This group of people all had one thing in common: all are trainers of law enforcement officers.
NON SOLEUS (Never Alone)
This gathering was different. There was ample time during many classes for attendees to bring their specific situation to the group and seek collective thoughts from their peers. These sessions were anything but boring.
One officer, I'll call Ralph (not his real name), shared that he had been in an OIS (shooting) a few months ago. In the aftermath, his agency has ostracized him. He feels isolated and very much out of the loop. It has left him doubting himself and feeling pretty negatively about life, in general.
The matter has dragged on for about 3 months and remains open. He has been dangling from that string for what feels like an eternity. His account was truly touching. It was easy to imagine that any one of us could find ourselves in his position. Many of the folks in that room expressed their support, concern and understanding. Ralph knew then and there that he is not alone.
Another class dealt with the stress of the job. A female officer, named Agnes (not real either), talked about her two failed marriages. She finds dating to be difficult and that she judges that she is to blame for her relationship problems. The class was led by a law enforcement peer counselor. He encouraged all of us to talk openly.
Talk we did. Cop work has affected the cop and the spouse. It has noticeably changed attitudes and some behaviors. By its nature, cop work stresses folks deeply and it is very difficult, if not impossible to leave it at work, i.e. to turn it off at home. Some of other attendees talked about what the job had done to their home lives. Ideas and experiences for coping were offered. While there was no magic pill that would quickly fix the problem, Agnes gained some ideas about how other officers were dealing with the same kinds of problems that she faces. Agnes also knew then that she is not alone.
One of the most remarkable classes came as a complete surprise. I sat down next to a new friend that I had just met over lunch. With the others, we waited for the class to begin, but there was no instructor. It seems that he had been unexpectedly delayed and could not be there.
I was then introduced to a most remarkable person: Coach Bob Lindsey from Asheville, NC. Coach told us that he has 45+ years behind him in law enforcement. Today, he is happy and healthy. It wasn't always so.
He told his story. He is married to his third wife. In the past he has struggled with drugs, alcohol, depression and various other demons brought on by the way he chose to handle the stresses of the job. He spoke from the heart. I could look into his eyes and see his soul. He had participants many in tears - or on the verge. He had reached his low point when he concluded back then that he could never win. "There is no point in trying, because nothing will change anyway," he thought.
Now, he knows better. He has a deep and abiding faith in God which he lives out every day. He exudes his faith in his brother cops with every word, glance and action. Before finishing the class, he told us to take our books and get a pen. With everyone ready, he gave us his home phone number, his cell number and his email address. Anytime we needed him 24/7, just call. He will always be there for us. I then heard him say, Non Soleus, which is Greek for never alone. It is part of his life's signature.
THE SAFETY OF ANONYMITY
Getting out of your element has immense value. New surroundings cause us to examine the environment. New people make first impressions. We use all of our sensory receptors in order to adapt to this new place and these new people.
Again, I think of Police Week and now the ILEETA conference.
There is no baggage. Though we may all be cops, we are not weighed down by the trials and tribulations of the past. We are judging and being judged by others only at this moment. For most, it is a liberating experience. It offers a sense of safety because no one really knows you.
The upshot is that we are willing to risk revealing more of ourselves. It is in this kind of exchange that our attitudes and emotions are nurtured. They are allowed to breathe. They can be exposed without the typical fear of ridicule.
Each time I participate at one of these events, I marvel at how relationships between cops are created. It often happens very fast and feels as though it has been there for one's whole life.
The friend I made at lunch spent time with me over a few beers at the hotel bar that evening. Rather quickly, the conversation got meaty. We talked about some of our personal struggles. He is in his mid thirties. Over his life, he has a history of being attracted to women who are just plain bad news.
I told him that my wife and I have been married for about 1,000 years, we have a couple of kids and two awesome grandsons (ages 4 & 2). He too wants the stability of a wife, kids and a home. We talked, shared and all the stuff that guys do when drinking beer. When it was over, he had helped me and I believe that I helped him a little, too.
Bottom line: he is a Brother whom I have just met. Yet, we will be wired together going forward. I feel like I have known him for my whole life. I am confident that God has a hand in bringing people together. I firmly believe I had experienced divine intervention at that moment.
GIVING AND TAKING
The current popular term is, networking. In the old days, we called it something else. These times together are important. In many cop events, this is when we receive the real value of the experience.
We are away from our normal work environment. We are without the demands of daily life, i.e. wife, kids, etc. It is the perfect kind of setting to regain our perspective on the big picture. Mostly, these gatherings are intense experiences that stretch over a few days. It is an immersion with others with whom we share a common bond. When they are over, it can be tough to say goodbye, so we just nod and utter, stay safe.
Each time, my desire is reignited. I am once again truly motivated to be a good cop and a giving person. The belief that I can make a difference - no matter how small or seldom - has returned.
At the conclusion Police Week and the ILEETA conference, I feel a warm glow inside coupled with a strong sense of encouragement and hope.
Being a cop is tough work. You already know why.
Some cops avoid events like these by their own choice. Yet, for those of us who have participated, we know firsthand that these experiences are like chicken soup for the soul. They nourish us in ways that we badly need and seldom receive. If you know someone who would benefit, please: reach out and invite them. It may be all that is needed. You might just be saving a life or a marriage.
It is all about saving just one life.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Just click on my name below to send an email. God bless you all.