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If you can’t be a professional, leave the profession

This is about more than your pride — it’s about your safety and the safety of the officers and public who depend on you to watch their back

By Mike Wood, C1 Contributor

I recently had the opportunity to spend the day at a law enforcement academy, mingling with cadets and staff. Although I never attended this academy, the sights and sounds brought back many memories of the four years I spent as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy, as well as the numerous military and law enforcement training programs I have attended since.

While the cadets tend to draw the most attention at these places, with their smart marching and loud vocalizations, my eyes were trained more on the instructors and staff. Honestly, I saw a mix of things that left me both impressed and disappointed.

Some of what follows may make you mad — even uncomfortable. So be it. If so, then maybe you need to ask yourself why you feel that way. Are you justifiably mad, or just embarrassed that I called you out for behavior that you know is wrong?

Fitness and Appearance
During my visit, I saw some officers who looked like they were candidates for a recruiting poster—incredibly fit, with impeccable appearance and demeanor. They carried themselves well, and were excellent representatives of the image that this agency would like to present to the public.

On the other hand, I saw some officers who were quite the opposite — obviously unfit, unhealthy and unkempt. These officers did not carry themselves well, and reflected poorly on the capabilities and professionalism of the department.

I’m not saying that every officer has to look like a muscle-bound, 21-year-old, inspection-ready cadet the rest of his or her career, but I am saying that there is a certain level of fitness and appearance that is rightfully expected of an officer, and those who cannot meet that standard need to correct the situation or take the uniform off. There’s a happy medium somewhere between Superman and the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and some officers haven’t found it yet.

It isn’t about just presenting a good example for the rookies or the public. Your appearance and fitness are vital components of your presence and will have a large influence on how you are treated by inmates. If you look like an out of shape slob, your chances of having some inmate decide that he can take you on are much higher than if you look like you have your stuff together and can hold your own. If your duty gear looks like it was deep fried in mud and you couldn’t reach around your belly to get to your baton if your life depended on it, then you had better fix it before some hardened con decides to make an example out of you.

This is about more than your pride — it’s about your safety and the safety of the officers and public who depend on you to watch their back. If you can’t meet your obligations to them, you need to find another line of work.

Duck and Run
During my visit to the academy, a memorial service for the fallen officers from that agency was held. As the start of the ceremony loomed near, I saw several uniformed personnel and staff duck into the nearest building to avoid having to participate in the service and render the appropriate courtesies. In fact, as I was exiting a building for the express purpose of being able to share in the tribute, I was almost run over by two incoming officers who were trying to avoid it.

I occasionally saw this kind of behavior during my 26-plus-year military career and I always deplored it. If you’re too damned lazy, selfish, and unprofessional to stand at attention and salute for Reveillie, Taps, or a ceremony honoring your fallen brothers and sisters, then I have no use for you. Get out of that uniform that you have just insulted.