Law Enforcement Is a Profession, Change Is Constant, and People Fear Change

By Tom McGreal, CFI

In January of 1977 this author reported to the Chicago Police Academy as a recruit and in June of 2006 he retired as a Detective. In May of 2008, this same author was hired by the Cook County State Attorney’s Office, spending the next six years as an investigator. Having survived just under thirty-six years in law-enforcement, the author now has the ability to look back and draw the following conclusions: Law Enforcement Is a Profession, Change Is Constant, and People Fear Change.

In March of 2017 this author and partner Scott Pickett, CFI, both representing Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates (WZ), had the honor of presenting information to newly promoted Chicago Police Detectives. The material discussed was based upon the use of non-confrontational interview methods with victims, witnesses, and suspects. The class was overwhelmingly receptive to the presentation including  the treatment of persons as individuals, with dignity and respect, rapport building, showing understanding, and the use of non-confrontational methods when conducting forensic interviews. This observation is totally contradictory to the perception held by those critical of the police. Both verbal and non-verbal positive feedback by the attending detectives rejected the assumption that detectives are motivated by anything but the common good.

Although sometimes disputed by the critics; Yes, being a police officer is a profession! It is a career that requires, but is not limited to, continuing education, respect for the basic rights of the individual, and knowledge of the law, tempered by the understanding of human behavior and common reactions to confrontation.

It is the opinion of the author, through personal experience, that the Chicago Police Department has a dedicated training division that gives newly appointed detectives the required knowledge to begin their new appointments.  Once they receive their assignments, this knowledge is supplemented through on the job training, guidance by existing detectives, and periodic in-service training programs that build upon the knowledge already obtained.

All detectives must constantly be on guard against becoming complacent and seeking short cuts regarding their official duties.  Much police knowledge is anecdotal. Some police techniques are learned by listening and watching veteran detectives respond to their daily assignments. In many cases, detectives repeat techniques that have worked, at least once, in the past, and consistently repeat these techniques believing they will work again in the future. Detectives must ask themselves; Are these techniques legally sound? Are these techniques based upon past experience or education based upon empirical research? To rely upon a past experience as a prediction of future success assumes all person react to life situations in a similar manner.  Detectives must be flexible and have the ability to change methods used, depending upon differences in individual personalities.

Professor Eric Shepherd and Dr. Andy Griffiths explained a form of complacency in the second edition of Investigative Interviewing: The Conversational Approach (2013). Professor Shepherd referred to the phenomenon as a dysfunctional mindset called “defensive avoidance”  Professor Shepherd understands the pressures on detectives in a police environment: heavy work load, manpower shortages, limited time to complete investigations, limited resources, and restricted budgets. To make up for the above mentioned deficiencies, an investigator realizes that more cases may be worked by not being vigilant and avoiding detail in their investigations. According to Professor Shepherd, these investigators seek confirmation bias, searching for information that confirms the investigators current belief and rejects information that does not confirm what is already believed to be true. More cases may be worked using this method, but at the expense of quality evidence and successful prosecutions.

The author has seen many changes during his professional career in Law Enforcement. In many instances, change was forced upon police departments through consent decrees, court rulings, public outrage, and political considerations. Some of these changes may be open to discussion regarding their benefit, although looking  back, the majority of the changes, especially the manner in which officers and detectives deal with the public have changed for the better. Video recording of interrogations and the wearing of body cameras have helped to clarify many allegations of coercion and force that has been a constant matter of public concern.

Many allegations of coercion and force dating back to the 1931 Government Commission Report “The Report on Lawlessness in Law-Enforcement” from President Herbert Hoover’s National Commission of Law Observance and Law Enforcement (The Wickersham Commission) are documented by Richard A Leo (2008) in Police Interrogation and American Justice, pp. 41-77.

Change is constant and often met with resistance by veteran officers who have seen many changes in the past and, in many instances, feel their department is bending to political pressure. Some officers believe the current changes in policies hampers their ability to perform their duties and, in some cases, places their lives in danger.

In 1977, a Chicago Police Officer, by law, was legally allowed to shoot and kill an unarmed burglar resisting arrest by fleeing the scene of the crime. If prior reasonable methods to apprehend the subject had failed, the responding officer could shoot the suspect to prevent the lawful arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape.

In March of 1985, The United State’s Supreme Court decided the case of Tennessee v. Garner, declaring police officers could no longer use deadly force on a fleeing, unarmed, non-dangerous burglary suspect. The author recalls the decision. Police officers believed their lives were going to be unnecessarily placed in danger because of this ruling. A common argument was that a pursuing officer may be shot and killed by a fleeing offender in possession of a concealed weapon. Now, in hindsight, it is difficult to perceive a police officer ever being able to shoot an apparently unarmed suspect merely because he or she was fleeing the scene of a burglary.  In this instance few would argue that this change was for the better.

A career in law enforcement is a profession. Setting career goals and avoiding complacency by seeking continuing education may help with the mental pressures associated with forced behavioral changes. There is no way a detective can avoid change. It will continue to be constant, especially when working in a profession that has as much oversight as law-enforcement. This author has mentally resisted several major changes throughout his career as an officer, detective, and investigator.  In hindsight, the author concluded many of the resisted changes were for the common good.

A professional, ethical, and educated detective often underestimates their worth in a setting other than public law enforcement. The private world places great value upon integrity, ethics, and ability. Employers in the private world of loss prevention would benefit greatly from a former detective with the intelligence to communicate in a professional manner and the ability to document his or her activities effectively. There is a life after retirement. Detectives should constantly update their resume’s, documenting their continuing education and life experience. Capitalize on your professional knowledge.