Thursday, September 01, 2005

Professionals and Amateurs

There are degrees of professionalism. My colleagues and I are paid, and paid well, primarily to deal with violent and dangerous people. The rest of the job could be done better by a decent secretary- but to deal with violence, to judiciously control it or avoid it or prevail as appropriate is a skill and an art.

Not all professionals are the same. We all get paid to deal with violence and all that that means- the injuries, sure, but also the mental after-effects, the social effects and the possibility of infection- but the majority really don't. If we know or suspect that a situation is about to go bad, we call for a handful of select individuals. These are people that maintain their cool and have a reputation: the common reputation is that most of the time the fight doesn't happen, when it does it is over very quickly with minimal injury. I'm one of those people for my agency.

This has an odd effect in that it really concentrates experience in a handful of people- I've been in a room with a dozen senior deputies with perhaps 150 years of experience between them and less than a hundred "uses of force"... I quit counting mine at 300. As much as there is an acknowledged gap in experience and attitudes between the people on "the Job" and "civilians" there is almost as big a gap between the "average officer" and the "meat eater" within the Job. I've trained in advanced first aid, volunteered with Search and Rescue, acted as a peer counselor and crisis debriefer, trained for hostage negotiation, design courses, research and write and been the point sergeant for the mental health team for the last couple of years and I still get told "You're just a tactical guy." or "The idea of you working at headquarters makes people nervous." Meat eaters make sheep nervous.

Sorry about the vent.

Back to the point- Amateurs in violence (think martial artists) do not have the same idea of a fight as a pro does. The amateur thinks 'winning'. The pro thinks 'going home'. To the amateur it is a contest. To the pro, if it ever becomes a contest it's because he didn't cheat enough or early enough. To the amateur, it is a game and to the pro it is a job. Like any other job you do it as quickly and as lazily and as safely as possible. Could you imagine if a factory worker looked at each car as a challenge with a risk of injury? "Whew! It was tough, but we got the new Camaro out today. I may need to get a cast on my wrist but we won!"

There are levels for Pros, too. That's what I learned today. An inmate pretending to be crazy threatened to attack any officer who came into the interview room he was in. The person in charge of the area, a very, very good sergeant had come up with a plan to be sure we would win the fight. It was a good plan. I ignored it completely because I had no intention of there ever being a fight. (Side effect of being considered a go-to guy for trouble is that people don't get their feelings hurt if you have a better plan). The sergeant who came up with the plan was a pro, but he'd let the threat decide that there was going to be a fight and he went with the threat's basic game plan. To my mind, that was absurd- there's only going to be a fight if I say so and on MY terms. Hence no fight.

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