Travis J. Vanden Heuvel
LEP | FIELD TRAINING PROGRAM
By James (JT) Taman
It is now 2019. Ferguson and Baltimore have run their course, but the political discourse surrounding our men and women in blue is very much in full force. From kneeling NFL players to sanctuary cities, from Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter, from the political left to the political right, from “hands up don’t shoot” narratives to Lip-sync and dancing cops on YouTube. To a couple of “old school” cops like Dave and I, it seems as though all of this has to be extremely conflicting for the professional development of our nation’s young officers.
So, what to make of all this and where do we go from here? One thing for certain, both Reed and Malloy of “One Adam Twelve” have reached their end-of-watch and Hill Street Blues brings a blank stare from most rookies. As such, have we really passed the baton to a new high-tech generation of policing? Or have we merely abrogated responsibility of leadership to the “Smart-Phone” age of political correctness?
In 2015, at the age of 58, I decided to once again try my hand back in uniform. The overwhelming response I received from my fellow retirees was “have you lost your mind? Policing is just not the same as when we were on the street and you will be lucky to make it a month.” Being undeterred by these ominous predictions, I completed my third police academy and suited up once again. What I found was that the foundational principles of policing are the same today as they were “back in the day”. The problem it seems is not the validity of these principles, but rather the failure in leadership to pass them down and stand behind them. Leadership that in far too many places throughout our great nation has chosen to follow politicians driven by the ballot rather than by public safety. I did however beat the odds laid down by my colleagues by lasting 18 months. But in the end, it was the politicians not the troops that put me back into retirement.
You are probably by now asking yourself “What exactly are these foundational principles and where can they be found?” so I will give you the dump. They can’t be found in a Google search and there is no Criminal Justice Program, nor Police Academy curriculum for them. It is not so much a doctrine but a socialization process of “Do as I do, not as I say.” A socialization process passed down by true Law Enforcement Professionals. Now for the most part, I am not talking about the seemingly endless parade of Law Enforcement Professionals who are providing us with meaningless insight from the safety of their den or news studio. No indeed. I am talking about the type of Law Enforcement Professionals, or LEPS as they have become known, from our last book “Outside the Wire in Blue.” A group of former COPS who in their fifties and sixties signed up for a little-known Department of Defense Program in which they were embedded with our military forces downrange in the war on terror. They ate, slept, laughed, cried, fought and yes died along side our nations finest young men and women.
So, what do the LEPS have to say about these foundational principles to be passed down and supported through leadership?
Moses carried the 10 Commandments to the people from God and I would never, put any of the LEPS I know in the same category as Moses. In doing so, I would certainly have some explaining to do when I reach the pearly gates. However, the LEPS have chiseled their own 10 Commandments into stone to be carried forth to the young men and women in Blue.
THE LEP FIELD TRAINING OFFICER 10 COMMANDMENTS OF BLUE
1. You can’t fake “Street Cred” – learn to take a punch
2. Weak and ineffective leaders do not define who you are without your consent
3. Political correctness should NEVER trump doing the right thing
4. Shit sandwiches should be eaten in small bites
5. You won’t make retirement without some degree of psychological damage – prepare
6. Your failures will not end you career, but hiding them will
7. It’s not about you, it’s the uniform. So, don’t take it personally – pride can get you killed
8. Stop posting about how heavy the badge is, you chose it
9. Compassion is not exclusive from the Rule of Law
10. Your family won’t be there at the end if they are not with you for the duration
Now it’s time to “Do as I do, not as I say” and strap up for a tour of duty with your LEP Field Training Officer’s (FTO). Their lessons are taken from the mean streets of some of our Nations most dangerous cities to the deserts and mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan. But be forewarned, you will find no lip-syncing or dancing in the LEP FTO Squad. You will however see the LEP FTO 10 Commandments of Blue in action and learn to appreciate why they are so vitally important to the professional development of our nation’s young officers. In each addition of Blue Lives Matter we will attempt to provide you with food for thought on each of the 10 Commandments of Blue. In this issue we will examine the First Commandment, “You can’t fake Street Cred – learn to take a punch”, in a piece simply entitled “The Barber”.
You can’t turn the news on these days without some reference being made to our Veterans Affairs facilities or VA as it is known. All I can say is that it is about time. You see, although I am not a veteran, my wife is and she is also a Nurse Practitioner at one of the largest VA facilities in the country. As such, I have had the opportunity to wonder those halls on numerous occasions. In fact, the VA barber shop is where I had the honor and good fortune to meet “The Barber”.
The Barber is a towering African American man of six foot three with a shaved head and emasculate dress. His pants crisp and creased with shoes shined to a mirror image and black English tam that clearly sets him apart. You see The Barber is himself a veteran of the United States Army and takes great pride in his service to our country. He is a Deacon at his church and claims to be a Democrat in times of peace and a Republican in times of war. He calls everyone “Champ” and a haircut with The Barber is not just a haircut. It is an animated social event of often some forty-five minutes and without a doubt the best damn high and tight I’ve ever gotten anywhere. But what is most striking about The Barber is the way he cares for those old vets. I used to sit there and marvel at the brief few moments of dignity and pride he brought out in those old and often very sick men who had served their country. With each slow and steady pass of the razor he pampered them as if each one of them was his own father. I am not by a nature a religious man but it did occur to me on more than one occasion that God himself had placed The Barber exactly where he was meant to be.
One spring morning as I was being cut, The Barber informed me that he had just recently opened his own barbershop. He was there every night after leaving the VA and on the weekends. It was located about 30 minutes from my house and I told him I would come by for a future cut. As I was getting up, he made a passing comment about it not being like “Super Cuts”. I laughed and told him that I was no stranger to an African American barber shop, a comment that I am sure puzzled him even if he did not say so. As I walked toward the door, he also reminded me that there were no VA prices there, “a man’s gotta make a living”.
Being a man of my word, the next cut was at The Barber’s new shop. When I walked through the door and took a seat it was like being transported back in time when being in blue was my whole world. As a young officer I was quick to learn that the barber shop was like an intelligence fusion center for the goings on in the Section 8 housing, or at the risk of not being politically correct, the “projects”. Not conducted in any covert or Machiavellian nature, but rather by gossip and rumor all intermixed with sports, church and politics. There was always a diamond in the rough to be had but not all young white officers were welcomed to listen. You had to possess “street creds” to be able to pull up a chair and drink your morning coffee in that blue uniform. So, you are probably now asking yourself what the hell is street creds JT and how do you get them? Well, it’s complicated but simple at the same time. Tough but fair.
Red was a young man who grew up in the local projects and had spent the better part of his youth in the juvenile detention center and county jail. I had arrested Red a couple of times and never had a problem with him as I always treated him “like a man”. You see, when you are poor, uneducated and unemployed a high value is placed on the one thing that you have left and that’s your manhood. Out on the street, that manhood is everything.
It was around 2200 hours on a hot Florida night in June when Red rolled by my unit in his brother’s ride. Red had an outstanding burglary warrant so I slid in behind him and lite him up. I quickly buckled up as I expected him to run but to my surprise, he curbed it in front of a local bar. Not the best place for an arrest so I called for a back-up to swing by. As I approached the car several patrons emptied out onto the sidewalk to watch the show. I found Red to be slightly intoxicated and in the company of a rather attractive young lady. Red was aware of the outstanding warrant and as such didn’t buy into my traffic violation ruse to give me some time until my back-up arrived. Red glanced at his girl and smiled then turned to me and in a voice loud enough for the spectators to hear, announced that he was not going to jail today. Red had just played the “man” card and in so doing passed that baton to me. Now if you read our first book “Outside the Wire in Blue” you know that I was not going to retreat to the safety of my unit. That’s not how you develop street cred. Red came out through the driver’s window with a couple of pulls and it was on. If you have ever wrestled or boxed you know just how exhausting it can be to go all out for even a couple minutes. By the time my back-up arrived we were lying in the street rolling around each trying to pin one another to the ground as our last bit of energy waned. This is the point where you would expect my back-up to jump in and help me get Red cuffed right? That’s not how you develop street cred. My back-up, a former Vietnam Special Forces veteran, took his place among the spectators as each side rooted for their man. “Come on JT, flip him over, you can do it.”
After placing Red in the back of unit I asked him if it would be ok to release his car to someone at the bar so that his brother would not have to pay the impoundment fees. During the booking process Red thanked me. Tough but fair.
The Barber who occupied the first chair in front of the window to the parking lot greeted me with the usual “Champ” and let me know that I was next up. It was a packed house and I was the only white guy in the room but after The Barber had acknowledged me everyone went right back to their conversations. The Barber had given me some street cred I thought to myself with a smile.
The Barber announced that I was up and I rose and took a few steps toward chair. Before reaching it, the door swung open and in stepped a young man who was probably in his late twenties. He immediately pushed in front of me and started to sit in the chair. The Barber stepped up and informed him that I was next in line. The young man stood up and walked up to me stopping only inches from my face. He did not ask but rather made a statement, as if to everyone in the shop, that I did not mind if he went first. I could see the muscles in his neck and jaw tighten. Usually the precursor to an attack. I don’t know if that was his intention but one thing became crystal clear. All this young man had going for himself was his manhood and this sixty-one-year old grey-haired man would be no challenge to it. I did the math and quickly decided that the juice was clearly not going to be worth the squeeze signaling my intent by taking a step back towards my chair. Just then The Barber’s large hand appeared over the young man’s shoulder gently moving him to one side while motioning me to have a seat in his chair. It had been settled and everyone in the shop went back to their own conversations.
The Barber went to work. One smooth clipper pass was followed by his departure across the shop to add commentary on the NFL draft picks with a fellow barber. The second pass was followed by a five-minute discourse on turkey legs being smoked for the church barbeque on Sunday. I was about half way done when a teenager on an old school Schwinn, complete with two-inch whitewalls, road up to the shop and put the bike on its kickstand in front of The Barber’s window. The teen entered the shop and took the seat I had vacated right in front of The Barber’s chair. The Barber swung my chair around to face the teen’s bike and with a big smile pronounced to the shop that as a kid he had owned a bike just like that. “It was the best bike in my hood, I even mounted a cassette player between the handlebars” he reminisced. With what appeared to be a sigh of contentment from a fond memory The Barber set in with another pass of the clippers. Half way through the pass, he stopped and stepped back in front of the window. He placed his hand up on his chin and examined the bike again. A look of consternation gripped his face and with that he turned and motioned the teen to join him. The Barber placed his large hand across the teen’s shoulder. Looking down on him, The Barber then demanded to know when the teen had last cleaned the bike’s whitewalls. The teen looked up and shrugged his shoulders. “Boy you got to get you some comet and brillo pads”. It was apparent by the look on the teen’s face that he did not have a clue about what comet and brillo pads were. The Barber placed the clippers on his table and launched into a tutorial on where the items could be secured and the three-step process necessary to get those whitewalls squared away. As the teen retook his seat, The Barber pointed his comb towards him, “boy don’t you come back up to my shop until those whitewalls are clean.”
When I arrived home, I slipped into my retirement lounger, turned on the news and was immediately bombarded by the vile discourse of partisan media hacks and morally bankrupt politicians. All reciting their talking points in lockstep as to why America should not or could not be “Great Again.” I switched off the idiot box and like a diamond bullet to the brain it became clear. What this nation really needs right now are more Barbers.
Find out more about the LEPS at www.outsidethewireinblue.com
James (JT) Taman
JT Taman is a 21-year veteran Supervisory Special Agent with the United States Department of Homeland Security. He started his law enforcement career with the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida where his son Jay is currently an Officer patrolling the same zone that he did 37 years ago.
He holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminology from the University of South Florida, and is a graduate of the U.S Army Counter-insurgency Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He has received numerous commendations, including Special Agent of the Year, U.S. Customs Service Commissioner’s Unit Citation, United States Department of Justice, Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section Commendation, Department of Homeland Security Special Service Award-Iraq, Homeland Security Special Response Team Unit Citation for operations conducted in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and in July of 2015 he received the United States Secretary of Defense’s Defense of Freedom Medal for Valor in Afghanistan.