It is the last day of a four-day training in Tactical Communication at the Muskogee Police Department in Oklahoma, and the final members of the department are coming through now. At the start of the training I put out 80 Tactical Communication books provided through the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.

At this point, I am all out of the books, but I didn’t hand them out. There was a rule, not so hidden:

“I brought this book for you to read and use. It is free. If you don’t want to read the book, if you aren’t going to take the book home and read it, don’t take it. If you don’t want to read the book, I’ll give it to someone in another class who will. Don’t take one and then walk out the door and never open it again.”

I tell them they can get a book at the first break. First break comes, and half the class takes a book. Second break, a few more disappear. By the time the class is over, every attendee has a book in their hands and leaves with one. By the end of the four days I am out of books and know that the vast majority of the officers will read the book, consider it, and hopefully use the information contained in it. Why? Because I didn’t force them to take one.

Cops are a challenging audience. If they feel forced to attend training they are not predisposed to desire, they balk, hesitate, and object. Once they sit, they cross their arms and dare you to teach them. “Better people than you have tried to move me, Rudick. Take your best shot!” Yes, it is true. You can lead a horse to water, etc.

So rather than assign the book as homework on the first night, I try to start by making the training applicable in a way that is important to the audience. We start with what this class is not:

  1. We don’t make excuses for criminal behavior. We won’t be sitting around the table holding hands and singing “We Are the World.”
  2. This is not a class about the racial tensions between law enforcement and citizens. If you came expecting to argue issues of race and the police, you will be disappointed.
  3. The training today does not apply universally to every person in poverty, middle class, or wealth. It is based on patterns, and all patterns have exceptions. The training should not be used to stereotype or profile anyone.
  4. If you use this training as intended, you will be safer, you will be more effective, you will receive fewer complaints from the citizens you serve, and you won’t be so stressed and anguished over why people repeat the process of poor decision making over and over. Don’t take these things personally. Surprise … it’s not all about you.

That is how we start. We finish the day as we finish all days, and I deliver a message like the following:

“You are working in one of the most challenging professions during one of the most difficult times in history. But police work is cyclical, and times change. The Bible says it best when so many verses start with the phrase ‘And it came to pass.’ Life passes. Society changes. Don’t be afraid of the changes. They will be difficult but not impossible. Remember why you got into this profession in the first place. It was to protect. To serve. And know this: There are thousands of people out there who support your cause and who believe in you. All races, all colors, all denominations, all economic classes. They want you to be successful because you represent the best of what society is all about. Stay strong. Stay safe. Be role models. Be leaders. Do the right thing. Remain proud.”

The bridge is taking shape. They will have to finish their portion on their own merit, at their own pace, and in their own time.

But all the books are gone, so it is a good beginning.

Gary Rudick is a 35-year veteran of law enforcement in Oklahoma, serving the citizens of the state as a patrol officer, supervisor and chief of police. He has a Master’s in Criminal Justice and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, Session 242. He led one police agency to receive the International Association of Chiefs of Police Civil Rights Award, and the same agency was recognized for achieving state accreditation. Read more about Gary.