Dear Tony Plohetski

Dear Tony Plohetski,

I saw your article in the Austin American Statesman. It’s the one where you question whether Austin Police training is too aggressive. Being a sucker, I clicked on it. Well titled, sir, and well played. Nothing like a controversial story to really generate the clicks needed for that ad revenue. Well done, indeed. You deserve a raise. Kinda like Austin cops.

When I clicked on said article, I read an account of 3 former police cadets who shared their experiences of the Austin Police Academy. I gotta tell ya, I am underwhelmed at your sources.

Question, how are 3 (or even 10) people that didn’t even complete the academy supposed to be taken as credible judges of how to train a police officer? Those 3 sources have never even been police officers. But whatever, right? Ain’t no quarterbacking like arm-chair quarterbacking. But we have to give them a little credit, I guess. I mean they did at least give it the good ole’ college try. So maybe it is more like the Freshman B-team quarterback offering critical commentary on Tom Brady. At least the freshman has a little experience in the role.

I am also a little disappointed at the counter-argument in your story. You only offered the one, sterile quote from an actual cop and, of course, the cherry-picked statement from Chief Manley. But I don’t blame you entirely on that account. You and I know that active-duty police officers can’t speak their mind. They get in trouble for it. So I have a gift for you: I am going to offer you the perspective of someone who has both graduated the academy and was an actual cop. That’s me in case you didn’t guess. And I only very recently resigned so my perspective is very fresh. (You can read all about that on my blog, The Insurgent Capitalist – I gotta get those clicks too, don’t ya know).

Tony, the following is some real-life perspective. It is a story about a time I encountered a theft suspect in a loss prevention office. Picture a small room where a man in basketball shorts and a hoodie sits in a corner with his hands in his pockets. He was subdued and looking down at the ground. He didn’t fight. He didn’t argue. He offered his identification upon request and answered all of my questions. He seemed like a nice guy. My partner continued to speak with the subject while I spoke with the loss prevention employee. The subject had been caught shoplifting several items. I gathered the necessary information to process the case. Shoplifting is, after all, a very routine and ‘sleepy’ sort of call. I then returned to the subject and asked him to stand up and turn around. The man stood, as I requested. Instead of turning, however, he produced a silver .38 caliber revolver from his pocket and pointed it at my face. He pulled the trigger and the hammer clicked home.

You might be wondering how I am still alive and not a footnote in Austin American Statesman history. You see, Tony, the vignette mentioned above occurred as a portion of my training at the Austin Police Academy. The gun was a fake. The suspect was an actor. I was as safe as a steak at a vegetarian conference; except for the tenderizing that I got after the practice scenario was over.

The instructor grading me took me outside the room and chewed my ass. He was mean. It hurt my feelings. But I don’t blame the instructor for the ass-chewing. Hell no. I appreciate it to this day. The reason is because he was driving a very important point home: things are not always what they seem in the profession of policing. You can be damn sure that I frisked every shop-lifting suspect that I encountered from then on. I owed that much to my wife and family. I owed it to my partners as well.

This anecdote should be very sobering in the very bright light of recent events in Dallas. You may have read about it in the news: two Dallas police officers were shot while interacting with a suspect in a Home Depot. You may also recall the name Jaime Padron. Sound familiar?

Tony, what is missing from your story is an in-depth look at ‘why’ the training is conducted in the fashion it is. Maybe you ought to offer the point that the rigor of the academy prevents more incidents. You did not give the efficacy of the academy its due. Maybe you lacked perspective, education, and knowledge. Allow me to educate you.

The Austin Police Academy is designed to prepare Police Officers for real world scenarios. Why do they stand at attention and endure verbal abuse? Here are some real-life examples where the skill of enduring verbal abuse is important (taken from my own experience): enduring a traffic stop with a verbally resistant and insulting individual; being challenged by a suspect to a fight; being called really bad names by the people you arrest. Oh, and let us not forget my personal favorite: getting spit in the eye with bloody spit.

It takes great discipline, tact, patience, knowledge, skill, etc to be a cop. Where most people would verbally or physically react, or conversely, cower in fear, the cop stands. The cop converses. The cop attempts to gain compliance. This happens every damn day and you don’t even know about it (or are too biased to report it). Thousands of calls every day. Tens of thousands of calls a week. Hundreds of thousands of calls a year. And there is not a news worthy item from 99% of them.

Guess what, Tony. Austin Police Officers do a great job every day because the Austin Police Academy does a phenomenal job of instilling the attributes of patience, tact, and discipline in its officers. Yes, the instructors are mean and say mean things. Guess what, there are people that police officers will encounter that are much worse.

Oh, and as far as injuries are concerned. I recommend you speak to the men and women who were injured at the Academy and eventually graduated to become police officers anyway. Some of those had to repeat an entire academy to get it done. But prevail they did. That, Tony, takes guts. It takes grit and perseverance. Aren’t those the kinds of officers that you and the people of Austin want – the kind that will prevail through a difficult situation.

You’re welcome, Tony, for balancing your story. It needed it badly. Feel free to reach out for more.

Best,

Dustin

2 Comments

  1. Biff Henderson on April 28, 2018 at 12:05 am

    For nine years I was an adjunct instructor at a state law enforcement academy where I taught medical and street survival skills during those portions of the academy. Like many academies, it had a “Hogan’s Alley”.
    Like many before me, I played the bad actor in a scenario which the recruit had to pass multiple doors; and progress downrange to a large “disturbance” about 100 feet in front of my hiding spot behind one of those doors.
    Armed with a rubber knife, I would emerge from behind one the doors which the recruit had bypassed without checking. I would shadow the recruit footstep for footstep and close the distance undetected until I was within arms reach and “attack” the recruit with the rubber knife. The lesson obviously was to keep your head on a swivel and not get tunnel vision.
    I did this for years with the full knowledge of the fulltime instructors and Commandant who would occasionally come watch. The lesson was learned by many until one person of smaller stature wigged out and complained to staff.
    I was instructed not to perform that instructional technique again but was supposed to “announce” my presence behind the recruit before I “attacked” them. That was a very disappointing conversation, to say the least. The other recruits learned from it and moved on.
    As most of us know, the academy is supposed to teach hard lessons, so hopefully one doesn’t make the same mistake in real life.



  2. Roy Baldridge on April 30, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    You are not doing a recruit any favors if you fail to introduce them to the dangers that they may face while performing their duties. They may, and do, change their minds and withdraw or they will learn what can happen and how to handle it.