Previously on officer.com.
Last month in What the Heck Now, Recruit? I mentioned the movie Awakenings in which Robert DeNiro’s character is awakened from a long catatonic state by a miracle drug and must deal with a new life in a new world. Tragically, the effects of the drug don’t last and he slips back into a comatose existence.
We’ve all had days like that at the Academy, as an FTO, or supervisor. A recruit or officer seems catatonic in response to a new scenario or call. Then you guide them to an awakening, only to be left wondering if their enlightened state will last.
I’d like to share another Academy awakening from my experience as an adjunct instructor at the Alaska DPS Academy.
The challenge of the marble.
As a former state and federal prosecutor, I instruct twice during each 14-week Academy on various legal subjects cops need to know. The first morning of my first trip I ask the recruits to introduce themselves and -- in one word -- describe the most important quality for being a great peace officer.
The words have remained similar for nearly 25 years and they have nothing to do with academic test scores, PT test results, range scores or any of the other myriad measures of the recruits’ achievements. They’re words like:
I have a recruit write the words on the board and I tell the class to never forget the standards they’ve set for themselves on the special path they’ve chosen.
Then I invite the recruits to accept the challenge of the marble. Unlike the mandatory demands of the Academy, the challenge of the marble is voluntary. They can opt out right then. But, if they accept, they must stay the challenge to the end.
I have never had a single recruit opt out. This September, ALET (Alaska Law Enforcement Training) Class 11-02 was no exception.
I presented a marble to each recruit and described the challenge. At all times that I was on the island, 24/7, they were to have the marble on their person subject to unannounced inspection by myself or any of the Academy staff.
I answered the inevitable questions – yes, even in the shower; yes, even when sleeping. I further advised that the consequences of getting caught without their marble would make inchworms across the Academy tarmac feel like a stroll in the park.
Lastly, I informed them that, IF, at the end of my final visit I deemed them worthy, I would then tell them the significance of the marble and it would be the most important thing I hoped to impart.
The lesson of the marble.
What’s the point of this, you may ask? The recruits initially wonder the same thing.
“Attention to detail” is one of the lessons. Many of the Academy’s routine rigors are devoted to this. Recruits live at the Alaska DPS Academy, which is on an island accessible only by water or air. They must keep their dorm rooms and the entire building inspection ready at all times. This includes exact spacing of uniforms in lockers, beds made with hospital corners, keyboards and mice in the computer room perfectly aligned when not in use. Their uniforms must be maintained and worn according to strict specification.
Keeping track of their marble is one more detail. But that’s not the main lesson I intend.
After I give each recruit a marble, I tell them my story of The Wall. The Wall is 8 feet high. I explain I use to get up at o’ dark thirty and do morning PT with the recruits before instructing them all day. That was back when I had something to prove. Part of the PT sometimes included going over the wall.
I confess that I never made it over the wall without the help of the recruits. I tell them I’m going to help them over the walls of the topics I will be instructing and they will be tested on, but I expect them to help each other. If one of them is struggling academically, the rest should be helping that recruit. If one of them is falling behind on a run, the rest should be doubling back and helping.