Positive Reinforcement in a Negativistic Anti-Police Era

Positive Reinforcement in a Negativistic Anti-Police Era

By Stephen Owsinski

The anti-police movement is inescapable for everyone, especially America’s law enforcement officers confronting the evils of society while also being hounded by negativistic mouthpieces chanting the abolition of public safety heroes. As antithetical as it gets.

As is customary in law enforcement circles, for good and bad duty days, positive reinforcement is crucial for resetting/recharging before and after each shift. Proverbial Attaboy! and Attagirl! pats on the back, albeit simple, may not always make it to the troops fighting the good fight on America’s beats. Every effort should be made to change that.

I started seeing a burgeon of uplifting narratives lavishing praise for police personnel, mostly written by cops, trying to uplift cohorts in an increasingly declining society. Some psychologists have taken to social media spaces, imploring law enforcement leaders to stand up for and stand with officers, deputies, and troopers operating out in the vast field of chaos, confronting crisis after crisis, with utopia nowhere in sight.

(Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Police Reserve Corps.) 

A post from Truleo Police portrayed Nishant Joshi, former assistant police chief at the Oakland, California PD, and current police chief at the Alameda Police Department, opining on the virtues and values of positive reinforcements for all cops:

“Police officers are resilient but they’re human beings. And if we are not paying attention to their wellness, that’s where the deterioration happens. That way the [body-worn camera] technologies, in my opinion, gets ahead of that…is when it flags when an officer experienced a traumatic incident or something as little as they’re spoken to poorly by a member of our community, when you can call them in and say, ‘Hey, I watched the video. It flagged that last car stop that you did where you were spoken to in a way that I don’t think anyone should be spoken to.

“’But I appreciate your professionalism. I appreciate that you maintained the reputation of this organization.’ And that’s that pick me up.” 

The technology to which Chief Joshi refers is what Truleo calls “Automated Body Camera Review and Analysis,” whereby police executives and/or their designees sit and assess the performances of their patrol officers to ascertain the nuances of beat cops engaging with the community, predominantly how they are solving problems and the potential toll it takes on doing so.

As Chief Joshi noted, cops are resilient…but they are human, and our species can take a lot. But the psyche files it away. It heaps, though. A mature, humanistic pep talk can go a long way to alleviating some of the mental burdens mounded by doing The Job. 

Frankly, some police administrators are better at this than others. As one may suspect, politics have a lot to do with this. However, superb police supervisors help recalibrate officers under their watchful eyes and listening ears, weighing in when it seems obvious to do so (and maybe not so obvious, but intuition compels a chat and a pat).

Any law enforcement agency’s primary ingredient for shaping cops and ensuring their wellness is its cadre of field training officers.

Newly hired cops fresh out of a police academy are automatically assigned to a field training officer (FTO) whose responsibility is to mold newly minted, inexperienced law enforcement officers into crimefighters and wearers of all the other hats for which public safety pros are known to demonstrate proficiency.

(Photo courtesy of the Cobb County Police Department.)

FTOs are usually selected by upper-echelon administrators and graduate police academy courses tailored to optimize the training of new cops, foisting tons of mutual responsibility upon the duo.

When I attended FTO school, a large chunk of time was spent on recognizing officer stress and how to mitigate it as it materializes…and thereafter. After every call, after each shift, both trainee and trainer dissect the calls for service, the people involved, the mechanics of meeting needs, and the lessons learned (both good and bad).

DORs, or Daily Observation Reports, are composed by the FTO, containing areas requiring improvement while also recording accolades for stellar police performance. The last part ordinarily soothes the former part containing some splintery actions. We all learn on the job, in every profession, but police work has very little room for error (hence a mighty stressor requiring positive reinforcement to offset the sting of hard lessons).

So-called rookies do not get to choose their FTOs. Agency mid-managers overseeing the field training program compose the FTO rosters, decide assignments, coordinate everything involved in building up new cops, and maintain records of it all.

FTO ringleaders are charged with instilling requisite leadership skills to pass on to the fresh batch of police officers engaged in building street experience which, before long, will take a toll on the psyche of rookies. That is why a field training officer dons the psychologist hat: to discern the impacts of contentious calls/individuals/suspects and offset the emotional sway inherent in enforcing laws.

The Other Side of the Radio

Anyone who has worked as a public safety dispatcher or knows someone who has filled the hot seat rife with stress, can likely attest to how relieving it is to have a department head walk through, peer over shoulders, and convey gratitude for a thankless job performed behind the scenes.

Top cop Colonel Gary L. Howze leads the many men and women of the Florida Highway Patrol, visiting the state law enforcement agency’s seven operational hubs located in the Sunshine State’s major cities, spending time with civilian dispatchers fielding gobs of calls from motorists throughout its 67-county jurisdiction.

(Photo courtesy of the Florida Highway Patrol.)

“An impromptu visit by Colonel Howze at the Tampa Bay Regional Communications Center, supporting our Communications Staff,” wrote an FHP spokesperson.

Having been one before being sworn in as an LEO, public safety dispatchers amass stress due to the imperative role that many opt out of doing. Burnout is not uncommon and police executives checking in with their troops staffing the mics and answering myriad calls for service offer a motivational boost in between 9-1-1 responses. 

How It’s Done

In public safety circles, sometimes positive reinforcement comes without words, just actions…a display of a seasoned professional whose breadth of lifesaving feats is awe-inspiring.

Our friends of Prepared to Fight Fire: “You’ll never replace years of being into the job and having experience. Learn to listen more than you speak when surrounded by the people who have been around the block. Watch their actions. They move in a manner that fitness nor toughness can replicate.”

(Photo courtesy of Prepared to Fight Fire.)

From the look on that fireman’s face, those eyes have experienced a lot, which equates to a lot to pass on to the newer flock of firefighters joining the battles.

It’s the same in police culture….

Veteran cops assigned to Patrol Divisions have a knack for showing up on calls, sizing up situations, assessing potential danger zones, and battening down the hatches…all for largely inexperienced LEOs to take it all in…for future use.

From a beat cop’s perspective, the icons of police prowess come in rather silently, displayed many years of tried-and-true tactics, strategized and adapted to changing environments, and did the job seemingly effortlessly. To a novice police officer observing, it was akin to a law enforcement textbook on two legs. So much to glean from such legends, tacitly conveying positive reinforcement that it can be done…here’s how.

Gestures Add Positivity After Negative Circumstances

Recently, two deputies in my county were mowed down by a male whose intentions were malicious, not accidental whatsoever. Two of several deputies on the scene were sent careening like bowling pins. Here is a snippet of what transpired a few weeks ago:

With that came the community’s love and respect and a personal brand of medicine for these downed law enforcement heroes. On November 21, 2023, days before we sat and partook in being appreciative on Thanksgiving Day, the life-altered deputies involved in this horrific call for service were granted gratitude by the people they serve.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister revisited the injured deputies and handed each a $20,000 check. That may not completely overcome what each brave LEO experienced but it assuredly conveys positive reinforcement from the community members grateful for their valorous service. 

Per Sheriff Chronister: “[On Tuesday], I visited Corporal Brito and Deputy Santos and presented each with a $20,000.00 check on behalf of the community, whose generosity has been overwhelming. While Team HCSO is covering the medical expenses, these funds will help alleviate the additional financial burdens as they continue to recover from their injuries.”

No matter the circumstances, good will always prevail!

Spontaneous or planned, positive reinforcements for LEOs always have applications, especially nowadays in a climate rife with monstrous behavior and rampant hatred for public safety professionals guarding the gates with their lives…an increasing number making the proverbial ultimate sacrifice.