I was telling a friend about the presentation Chief Aftanas, Lt. Weiler and Detective O’Connor made two weeks ago at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon about how to respond to an active shooter event, and I started getting emotional.
“What the heck is going on?” I said to my friend. “I’m talking about a presentation made by three cops and my eyes are tearing up.” As we talked about it, I began to figure out why my emotions were getting stirred up. My primary emotion was gratitude.
Competence: As Chief Aftanas talked about how Detective O’Connor’s actions had been instrumental in catching the guys who had robbed the Dunkin’ Donuts the day before, and as Lt. Weiler sounded like a college professor citing research and showing slides of statistics, the impression grew in me that “these guys know what they’re doing.”
It wasn’t a feeling like they could protect me from every evil in the world, but more like our police officers in Forest Park are good at what they do, and that made me feel like I was in good hands. It’s how I feel when I have my six-month exam with my neurologist, Dr. Jacobsen. He can’t prevent my disorder from progressing, but in his gentle, confident way, he always makes me feel like I’m getting the best care possible.
I often feel like a horse pulling a loaded wagon on the road of life. When that road starts to go uphill and my cry for help is answered by someone stepping into the harness with me and pulling well, I feel so grateful. I’m not sure if those three cops will like being compared to horses, but I think they’ll understand.
Non-Defensive Transparency: It started when Jim Ryan was chief and has continued with Tom Aftanas. I’d call asking for an interview regarding one thing or another, and they would not only agree to have me come over, but they would also give straight answers to my questions. It was partly that they trusted me as a reporter, but I think more importantly, they trusted themselves. They might at times say, “This is off the record,” but I never have had the feeling they were hiding something because they had nothing to hide.
I got emotional again because I heard them being transparent at a time when neither candidate for the highest office in the land has been very forthcoming. Mr. Trump still hasn’t released his tax documents, and Mrs. Clinton measures every word before she says it. I suppose I would have a hard time trusting if I were married to Bill, but if I’m going to vote for you, I need to feel like I’m getting a full disclosure of information regarding the work you do.
Professional: In his introduction to the presentation, Chief Aftanas said, “I want you to keep in mind that no plan is foolproof, but these are the best practices.” My definition of professionals is that they are people who rely on their training and education more than on instinct alone to guide their actions while on the job. From my point of view, they have a healthy respect for how fallible uniformed, undisciplined human beings can be.
I can always tell when pastors have had no formal theological training. Without the acquired discipline of rigorous study in church history and doctrine, their spontaneity can easily morph into outrageous, hurtful speech. They behave, in other words, like Donald Trump.
A few days after the active shooter presentation, I heard Damon Gilbert talk on the PBS Newshour about what it’s like to be a black police officer in Oakland, California, to understand where people are coming from and still behave as a professional.
“Many times,” he said, “I have given a direct, lawful order to a person and it’s been met with “F you” or an attitude like “come on, let’s fight. Sometimes, you have to give the people a voice and understand that their anger isn’t necessarily toward you.”
What Officer Gilbert said made me appreciate the model our officers strive for. Our cops are professional. I trust them, because they trust their training.
Humanity: After their presentation, the three officers finally got to eat the lunch that Starship Subs had provided, and a few of us hung around and changed the subject to our personal lives. I would be unprofessional myself if I shared what we talked about, but what I can say is that I always walk away from conversations with Forest Park cops with the impression that they are not ashamed to present themselves as vulnerable human beings — disciplined professionals, to be sure, but also real people.
That cop in Oakland put into words what I hear in one way or another from the officers here whom I’ve gotten to know. Gilbert said, “Anytime you put on a bulletproof vest, you have to know that you may or may not come back home. … And that in itself is scary. And anybody who tells you they haven’t been scared … they’re a total liar. It’s there, and you’re human.”
Motivation: “There’s a difference,” Gilbert said, “between getting into police work for the right reasons and the wrong reasons. The wrong reason would be: It makes me feel bigger and badder and tougher. The right reason is to serve the community, so when I go out there, I have to make sure I’m doing the right thing. And I believe that will help start the process of doing things correctly and building back the public trust.”
I think Officer Gilbert would fit in with our FPPD just fine.