From The Cop Side: Command Presence and Confidence
Experience builds confidence which contributes to being an effective police officer.
Law enforcement officers (LEO) often deal with the worst of the worst. These are the dangerous subjects who prey on an opportunity to take advantage of the weak. Likewise, there are times when good people make bad choices who wind up in circumstances unusual to their pattern of behavior. Risk can come from any person at any time depending on the conditions and their mental state at the moment. Peace officers must be prepared to respond to all situations with confidence and assertiveness.
Police enter the unexpected and the unknown even with the dispatch information they receive. How do LEOs keep their composure and emulate a certain command presence when they are acting within their duties? That is a loaded question.
To me, it is simple to answer. At first, I had to fake it. Walk tall. Know the law, the skills, and your authority. It became automatic after I gained a little experience under my belt.
Police calls can escalate into a real mess real fast.
If you were anywhere near Gotham City last night, you would have attended or been a part of Saturday Night Fights. About every hour on the hour, every bar had a fight call. I drove from one end of the town to the next. We had already been notified there were about 40 Sons of Silence bikers at a bar in a nearby suburb. It wasn’t long before we heard a call for assistance from that area over the radio:
“Dispatch. Send multiple units NOW!”
We all answered the request-highway patrol, sheriff’s department, my department, and officers from another suburb. When this happens, you just go.
Anyone listening to the radio could detect the sense of urgency from the radio traffic. We all headed into a potential riot at an emergent level speed, “Mach 70.” It might be a measurement over the speed limit. Our speed was gauged from the voice intonation heard from the officer over the radio.
The Sons of Silence had made it known a few months ago they were moving a chapter into town. We had been keeping a lid on them because we certainly did not need that kind of trouble in our neck of the woods. It was a matter of time before bad things would break out.
Here was our chance for action. Biker gang fights are often huge and chaotic.
Sometimes they hate cops worse than their rival gangs. But for the most part, they fought each other and not the police even though they hated us. Then again, maybe tonight was the night they decided to change their ways. You can never let your guard down.
I slid to a stop at the back of the bar where several people had gathered and two cops were shouting at a very large stature of a man. The suspect was a biker with a bloody nose. I was the first out of town unit on scene.
Upon arrival, relief was felt that at least the cops were not dead nor getting beat up. I expected the Apocalypse. However, sizing up the situation, there were about 20 citizens mixed with 50 bikers and two cops. That is not a good ratio for peace keeping success.
Exiting out of my car, I received a few stares-probably because I was a girl. The crowd did not give me any trouble. They parted the ways and let me walk through, keeping their distance.
Their reaction made me more confident that my command presence meant something and obviously there was a little respect for the badge. This was a good sign.
I strutted into the crowd, watching all sides and taking care to be prepared for the worst. Wielding a stick (police issued baton) in my hand, I was ready for the riot I expected. No one got near me. In fact, they looked at me as if I was the MMA champion of the world. Little did they know I was not, but I had police custody and control skills and arrest powers.
Still, it was odd that they were really backing up. I wondered if I had a booger in my nose. I rubbed my nose but I did not feel anything.
Police officers have a keen sense of awareness and environment conditions. It was shortly after I entered the crowd when I felt someone or something following me. It would not be a favorable situation if the unruly masses had closed a circle around me after parting a path for my arrival.
I turned around. All while doing so, I am very protective of my gun side. There, behind me, was a deputy sheriff with an AR15 strapped around his neck ready for action. Foiled again. The people were not scared of a girl cop. They were frightened of a little black Colt cannon strapped to the deputy. Oh well, Perhaps I should have accessorized better.
Building character and gaining assertiveness happens every day in the criminal justice system no matter your population or organization size.
We often referred to our city as “Gotham City”. It was a term of endearment to explain our locale and along with it was the crime rate, isolation, and need for Batman. Perhaps, we just enjoyed too many DC stories or coined ours after the American fictional comic book metropolis to be humorous.
It really is a nice place to live situated in the middle of the state of Wyoming. Many of us consider it one of the last wild frontiers. However, due to the isolation and distance factors, you need to be able to stand on your own because backup may or may not be close by.
Times have changed and obviously officer safety has always been and always will be paramount. Now more so than ever, police officers need to have heightened awareness as they deal with civil unrest and a violent shift toward law enforcement.
My hopes is this is a temporary change in the tides and our country will get back to peaceful actions and resolutions. Regardless of the state of the nation, police officers must always hone basic skills and personal characteristics. Much of this is not born into us, but made by experience. Having natural talent in areas is a bonus.
How can police train for command presence, situational awareness, and emotional intelligence? Wow. That requires a multi-layered answer.
Over time I matured with the job. Experience really contributed to confidence in both my knowledge and skills. Once I felt like I had a good grasp of things, I became more assertive.
This self-assurance automatically comes out in an officer’s stature, posture, and the way one conducts themselves. I was always suffered a little deficit on the stature side because of my height. As a police trainer, I would talk to recruits about “faking confidence” by adjusting their posture, walking tall, and making sure of their surroundings and assessing the environment. It also helps that you do not trip on your shoe strings.
Occasionally, you will have someone familiar with the law who will glance at your name plate and see the “serving since” date affixed below. If the officer is a rookie, they might push the envelope by testing the new candidate’s knowledge and skills. They expect an officer to fold in embarrassment or puff up with a badge heavy attitude.
The best way to counteract their test is to treat them with respect and do your job. You have the knowledge, training, and skills. Once the citizens see you respond appropriately, they will react in kind. It is then you have passed with a satisfactory grade.
There are things a new cop can give attention to while acquiring experience.
All the components of inner and outer care are important. The personal stuff is pretty easy to figure out, but sometimes difficult to schedule into your police life. Fitness. Mental health. Nutrition. Well-being, especially mental clarity and physical stamina carry throughout everything we pursue and how we respond. These factors fuel internal mechanisms, external strength, and brain function. Cops need that energy for survival and to be fit for duty. This contributes to every ability.
Additionally, the outside matters as well. Press the uniform. Shine the boots. Keep neat and tidy hair selections. Straighten the badge and name plate. Equipment should be properly inspected and situated on the belt where the tools are accessible in the best location for the user. Not only do you look professional on the outside, it internally boosts your pride. People recognize it.
At some point, command presence becomes self-activating.
Building command presence comes with time and experience. Feasibly, veteran officers may take it for granted or even forget to mention it to recruits because they have it hard-wired into their persona. It isn’t really something we even test for or see in a new candidate.
However, recruits must be aware all facets of the profession. If you are contemplating law enforcement, you need to prepare for not only the basic training and skills to undertake, but some of those situations you might encounter. There are people who are gifted with traits and attributes which ease them right into the daily grind of the profession. Many have to gain experience to hone skills if they lack aptitude. Some of these are character and leadership qualities which fall into peripheral matters we do not really train for, but realize may develop.
Police work is filled with danger, adrenaline, excitement, and getting out of your comfort zone as well as those times you are bored, cold, hungry, and exhausted. You will always learn and be updated with training and skills. There are opportunities for advancement.
You need to be healthy and fit. Furthermore, officers must keep apprised of mental health and overall well-being.
Additionally, you have to be aware of the majority of what you are faced with before you make that commitment. The job will surprise you throughout your law enforcement career, but potential officers should realize you cannot just walk into the uniform and expect to work like a pro. It takes time and investment in education and honing skill sets.
Essentially law enforcement manage conflict and keep the peace through a variety of duties. Public service is a calling to something greater than yourself. We all know the police life is a dedication to serving others. If you are suited for the profession, you will be successful. You will thrive in the job and find it is what you were predestined to do.