“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.” - Margaret Thatcher
I train thousands of female police officers and civilian employees every year, and the other day as I watched people enter my classroom I noticed that one of the major differences immediately visible in each student is their level of “confidence.” Some walk in and immediately “own” the room; they are comfortable, curious, and interactive with strangers. Others enter the room with hunched shoulders, eyes down or darting nervously, and they usually make a beeline for the back row. Some look angry, some seem defeated, others absolutely bubble over with optimism. What is it that determines this behavior?
I once read that “confidence is learned, not inherited.” I believe that to be true. How confident are you? What kind of impression do you make when you walk into a training class, into the roll call room, into a domestic dispute? Does confidence matter in this profession? Absolutely! It can be essential to your very survival.
I was supremely confident when I started the police academy on a cold Monday morning in early 1981. I was in great shape, I had a good education, and I possessed the youthfully naïve view that if I worked hard and did what I was told, I’d be rewarded with a great academy experience. That was on Monday. By Friday, I was the only women who hadn’t quit, and the extraordinary “hazing” was just beginning. It was going to be a long winter, and for the first time in my life, my confidence started to erode.
Let’s face it; it takes a certain level of confidence to even apply to become a cop. You know right from the beginning that the training is going to be tough, you’re going to spend your career dealing with the dregs of society, and you may quite possibly get hurt or even killed. And women who pursue a career in law enforcement also know that it’s a male-dominated profession, so supreme confidence is a must. So what happens to so many female police officers after they get hired that erodes their belief in themselves and their abilities?
Training, Equipment and Confidence
It’s no secret that men and women are very different physiologically. As police officers, we must be able to perform the same functions, and that includes physical tasks such as subject control and gunfighting. However, there are gender differences in the way we perform some of those tasks, and many trainers are unaware of those differences. Many women (and smaller men) are issued handguns that don’t fit their hands, often because of antiquated policies, a simple lack of knowledge or occasionally as a misguided tool to “weed out the weak.” I’m no firearms expert, but I do know that an ill-fitting handgun affects the shooter’s accuracy. Those poor shooting scores then lead to students who dread training, who are frustrated, and who begin to lack confidence.
Defensive tactics is another area where both men and women must be ready and able to take control of violent subjects quickly and decisively, but too often we’re training officers to perform “moves” or learn a “system” instead of teaching them to win fights. Instructors not only need to know how to perform various control techniques, but they need to know how to teach them to different people. Veteran police trainers like LouAnn Hamblin (the 2009 ILEETA “Iron Cop”) and “Little Joe” Ferrera have taught me (and thousands of others) that size and sex have very little to do with effective subject control. Methods like theirs need to be embraced and adopted universally by academies and police departments. Instead what we often see are “one-size-fits-all” tactics or DT methods designed not to train, but to humiliate the student or show the class just how tough the instructor really is. I’ve also seen too many tactical trainers who coddle female students, and these women end up learning little about defending themselves or others. Poor training methods directly affect the confidence of the officer; if you don’t believe you can win a fight, you probably won’t.