What Does It Take to Excel?
By Wyn Lohner
It is with great honor that I stand before you today. For 16 of the past 19 weeks, you have had the opportunity to train under some excellent instructors at this academy. What they have taught you are the mechanics of police work, the knowledge and skills you will need to function as police officers. During the next 16 weeks, most of you will add to and refine that knowledge and those skills with training officers at your agencies, and, then, you will begin serving your communities. If you carry that training forward, continue to train, work hard, and adhere to policies, you all should have successful careers and meet the standards in each of your agencies.
But, how do you exceed those standards? What does it take to be the best of the best—a “5 percenter”? To be the officer that every other officer wants as backup when things are going south? To be the officer that every citizen wants to show up at their house when they are in need?
Well, through the years, I have read many articles written by experts from around the world regarding what they believe to be the characteristics of officers and deputies who excel. I have yet to find a list that I feel is comprehensive. So, today, I would like to share with you my list, what I feel are the nine characteristics of police officers who rise above others whether they are striving for that or not.
1) Pursue Integrity
If you are not an officer who can be trusted, one that can be counted upon to get the job done, whether it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, 2:00 in the morning, or whether there is a supervisor on duty, you not only will fail to excel but you will not meet standards and most likely will have a short career. Everything in law enforcement works outward and upward from the foundation of integrity. Integrity is much more than just honesty. It is much more than just being a good person who tries to do what is right. Without integrity you never will be able to excel in an operational capacity, in a training situation, or in a service function. Essentially, integrity is crucial in all areas of police service and your life.
2) Remain Mentally Prepared
Chief Lohner of the Baker City, Oregon, Police Department delivered this commencement speech to the 322nd basic police class of the Oregon Public Safety Academy on January 28, 2011.
One thing that I can guarantee you is that you never will receive all the training that you desire, your agency wants you to have, or that you truly need. However, each day will present you with multiple training opportunities. Every situation you handle throughout your career can be dissected in your mind and, with other officers, provide you with an opportunity to learn and do it better next time. Every idle moment that you have can be used to mentally process any situation imaginable, from tactical to investigatory. You mentally can respond to an active shooter at the local high school, a barricaded subject in the courthouse, an assault in progress at a residence, or a silent alarm at a bank. You mentally can process your response to a driver with a gun getting out of a vehicle during a traffic stop or your safe approach to respond to a report of shots fired. Ask the tactical experts in your agencies for the best techniques in these situations and continually prepare for them.
3) Strive to Do the Most
When you arrive at a call for service, whether it is the homicide of the most important person in your community or, simply, a homeless person sleeping in the bushes, you can choose to do either what is minimally required, or you can ask yourself, “What is the most I can do?” If you choose the latter, it means you will take every step possible to resolve the situation and help those in need. Some may call this community policing, some may call this problem-oriented policing, but I just call it doing what is right—providing the service that citizens want and deserve from their police officers. This same attitude also should carry over into training. Whether it is on the mats, at the range, or in a classroom, you will decide how much effort you are going to put into the training. Do not cheat yourself, your department, or your community; you will get the most by giving the most.
4) Do Not Judge Others
The one thing you will learn in life, especially when providing police services, is that everyone has a story. I am not talking about the nonsense many people will try to make you believe, but the story behind what has happened in peoples’ lives that truly defines them. Now, do not confuse this with assessing people because properly assessing people you contact by their actions and your knowledge is an officer safety must. I am talking about making a decision about someone based on looks and lifestyles. Always remember that unless you have walked in their shoes and faced their life trials, you never should judge them. The old saying “Never judge a book by its cover” holds true in law enforcement. In my career, I have found true American heroes hiding inside of shells that many would consider gutter trash. You never will know everyone’s story, but if you treat everyone with the respect and dignity each human being deserves, you will go far.
5) Actively Listen
Listen, listen, and listen some more. Listen to your trainers as they will inform you of the skills necessary to succeed and survive. Listen to your peers as they will tell you what has worked and not worked for them. Listen to your supervisors as they will give you guidance in your careers. Listen to your community as they will tell you what is important to them. Listen to the witnesses, victims, and suspects as there are always, always at least two sides to every issue you will face. And, most important, listen to your family and your non-law enforcement friends as they will tell you when you are going off course in your life and heading for disaster.
6) Set Priorities at Work
“Every single one of you already has received the greatest sanction anyone can receive in any profession.”