Teflon Leadership

Since the Virginia Tech tragedy, I, like most campus law enforcement professionals, have been busy striking while the iron is hot to try to improve safety and security in our respective communities. It was nice to not be seen as an alarmist trying to conjure up unreasonable scenarios that might frighten the community because as we all knew those things will never happen here. Unfortunately that way of thinking got a severe jolt back in April, from which some will not recover for a long time. It was a harsh way for some to learn that those ivory towers in which we work are not effective defenses from real-world problems.

Now having said that I am finding out in the months after the "event" at Virginia Tech that some parts of our communities are starting to have doubts about the steps that need to be taken to help possibly prevent another "event" from happening in the future. They are starting to exhibit the kind of Teflon leadership that all too often has become the standard for doing business. The coulda, shoulda, woulda, groups are out in full force trying to assess blame on a visible easy target such as the police or the administration of a college rather than take a hard look at the real causes of the issue. Happily, it seems that the campus I work for is not afflicted with this Teflon coating and continues to make progress, albeit slower than we would like, in trying to deal with some of the issues that have made their way to the forefront. It is not heartening to hear some of the convoluted thinking processes that I hear from some of my peers about issues they are dealing with in their jurisdictions. For example, one has a campus that has decided it is of the utmost priority to install warning sirens. As a child of the 20th century and the Cold War, I can remember the air raid sirens that dotted the city and were tested every Friday. Maybe we can come up with a Duck and Cover program--yeah, that will work out just great too. Now the same campus will not even consider arming its police force. God forbid there is a gun on campus; they kill people, you know. Yet, after the Virginia Tech shooting, one of the senior administrators at this campus had the audacity to ask a member of the campus police command staff how they thought the department would have done during an incident like that on their campus. His response, while not one he wanted to give or was proud of, was right on point. He told the administrator we would have watched a lot of people die while we waited to point in the direction of the shooting to the responding municipal police agency, whenever they got there.

Sadly, it is not just limited to our own communities. In the days after the shootings, many agencies from local and state government reached out to offer opinions and suggestions on how we could do things better. Naturally, because they were from municipal or state organizations, they were real and given instant creditability. In some cases this was warranted, but in many it was not. I know there is a big difference in the mindset of college police officers and those from outside agencies. Some of us are comfortable with the other, and some are not, but I would never second guess in public like some of these individuals did. To them, my only response is that people who live in glass houses should never throw rocks. This point really comes to a head when it comes to the training issue. For years, our officers have been shut out from training at most municipal training courses, allegedly due to budget constraints. But the underlying tone has been because we are not as good as them for whatever reasons. I could get into them but it would make me digress from the point, and frankly I don't give a hoot anymore (except for one agency's union members filling out jurisdiction violation forms on our officers, but that is another story). Apparently the sun has risen over some peoples' heads that maybe not, allowing the officers into courses such as reactive shooter training and just basic in-service, might just come back on them. From my point it's a ready-made defense if something ever happened were our officers needed the training and did not get it. We could just point back and say that we were not allowed by the powers that be to get the necessary training. Of course, that would be using the Teflon defense.

Is there anything we can do to break the logjam at either end of our spectrum here? I'm not sure, but I have the really bad feeling it's going to take a copycat incident, with someone trying to beat the Virginia Tech body count. Administrators for campuses are some of the brightest people you will ever meet. This is one of the paradoxes of working on a campus--you can go from dealing with a Nobel Prize winner to a crazed shooter all in one day. It's this mindset that sometimes challenges you to do your best or makes you want to beat your head on a wall. One of the things that I hope comes out of the Virginia Tech hearings is the need to communicate amongst ourselves. We often consult with each other, but not communicate. We do have to develop a common language to meet a common goal: the safety of our communities. As to our other problem with our brother and sister departments, I guess we need to develop some common ground also. I guess my best advice for all of us in that respect was driven home to me one day, long, looooong ago in the academy by a Boston PD officer named Arthur Lamb. Arthur had developed a baton use system named the Lamb method. The verse, Swing and Sway the Lamb Chop Way, was a mantra for his classes as we beat the snot out of dummies and each other. One day while we were chopping away, some crusty veteran made a snotty remark about campus cops. Arthur, to his credit, jumped all over him, stating that if they were getting the Shinola beat out of them there was not any campus officer who would not come to his aid, even if it put them in harm's way. He said that when everyone else was driving by saying "Oh, my," we should count on each other and work together. Sound advice then, sound advice now, and maybe if we all work on it can come true.