After attending the NAFTO Conference in Washington State and attending the class “Generational Differences” I not only found out how old I was, but there was a significant generational gap between me and my trainee’s. In an effort to close the gap, not in age, but in knowledge I found myself looking up Twitter, Facebook and Instagram just to see how they worked. In my futile effort to understand it all, I found a lot of people freely expressing themselves. I thought if they were willing to be that expressive on a computer then they would have no problem talking with other human beings; boy was I wrong.
What I found was the complete opposite. While sitting at a small table with my fellow officers and a trainee, I realized how quite the room was. Instead of just enjoying the silence I looked around the table and watched how each officer and trainee had their phones out playing some sort of game or texting their loved ones. Not a peep! Even when I brought up a random topic to get people conversing, the phones were still out and noses were buried in them. Guess they call that multi-tasking these days. Now I like a good game of Solitaire sometimes, but wow, what a reality.
On the same day my trainee and I went to a call where we had to console a loved one during a death investigation. I thought I was going to jump out of my socks and hide my trainee in the patrol car. It was horrid! The only thing my trainee could get out was “I’m sorry for your loss” and then a look to me as if to say “What else can I say or do?” Really? Have we gone so far backwards in our ability to speak to others that we have to have an old dog such as myself think of something comforting to say? Well I took it this incident as a complete fluke, like maybe my trainee was having a bad day, or was just not able to think of something quickly at that time. So I kind of just let it go… sort of.
The next call was an easy theft report. Prior to getting there my trainee does well in letting me know what his/her thought process was such as what forms, what documentation etc. I’m thinking “Yes!” We are golden, high marks for the day!! Well done!!” And then we arrive. The citizen recognized me and wanted to speak with me so I had to direct them towards the trainee. Because of this I took several steps back thinking “My trainee has got this, there aren’t going to be any problems.” Wrong again! I have never watched such a crazed track meet that occurred with my trainee. The citizen would ask them a question that were very much common sense things like “Should I leave my purse/wallet in my vehicle?” or “How do I cancel my credit cards?” Instead of my trainee using verbal skills and answering them, my trainee would run back to me, ask the same question and I would have to go through questions to get them thinking and communicating. The trainee would then run back and provide just the basic information instead of just talking with them. It was crazy to watch and I was tired after just one call on a 12 hour shift.
I know this is a generational thing, and sometimes we use it as a crutch to “stamp off” inappropriate behavior, but I have to put my foot down on this one and say no more. Using my popularity (so to say) throughout my community I have almost forced my trainee’s to stop and talk with people about anything. I have noticed just the thought of talking with someone causes code black, but I don’t feel right as a trainer letting my trainee’s use the excuse “I don’t know how”. This is a big part of our job and communication is key. Since implementing the stop and talk with my trainee’s I have seen an improvement in confidence when speaking with the public. Sometimes things don’t come out right, but hey, at least they are talking.
Corporal Chris White
Mill Creek Police Department, WA.