In the Midnight Hour

inspire me

In the Midnight Hour…

(with Apologies to Wilson Pickett)

By George Belsky, Jr.

I was working a midnight tour.  I was relatively new to the department having just completed a comparative compliance academy and field training.  It was not my first night on this shift, but I was still very new to the squad, the city, and my patrol zone.  It was 0-Dark-30 and cold, I had the patrol car’s heater going and the windows down trying to stay awake, if not alert.  As I drove down a street, I caught a glance of a subject in the window of a closed business.  White male, 20-25 years old, medium build, medium height, dark running suit, and ball cap.  I did a quick U-turn at the next block, turned off my headlights and pulled up in a good tactical spot to watch.  At the same time as I turned around, I radioed dispatch, “1-0-8, Dispatch.  Burglary in progress. 345 Cave Stone Rd. [not the real address].”  I gave the description.  Dispatch cleared the channel for only emergency radio traffic.  Other cars radioed they were en route for back-up.  I pulled out my grid book and began assigning perimeter locations for responding units.  I asked for a K-9 to respond.  I was wide awake now, doing all the cop stuff I was supposed to do.  I was holding my position waiting for back-up, trying to decide if I should grab the shotgun and how I was going to use it along with my big Streamlight flashlight, since these were the days before weapon-mounted lights.

Then my sergeant came on the radio. “4-0-3, 1-0-8. 345 Cave Stone Rd.?  You sure that’s not the dummy in the big window?”

Wait.  What? I inched closer and confirmed it. The mannequin stood there mocking me from the storefront window. “1-0-8, Dispatch. Disregard the burglary.”  As was department tradition, a bunch of cops hit their push-to-talk buttons on their mics resulting in a cacophony of “click-click” sounds on the air signifying laughter.  Good job, rook.

At end of shift, I quickly tried to park, load my gear, and clear out before anybody saw me. Before I could slink away though a senior cop on the squad (and a cop I really respected) told me that my “burglary” at that store happened more than a couple of times, usually right after folks changed shifts or patrol districts. 

In our Blue Courage ® and Purple Resolve ® module Dignity Through Respect, we introduce the students to an action model modified from the Ladder of Inference that Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross, and Bryan Smith describe in their book The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. The Ladder describes how we take in information, assign the information meaning (filtering it through our belief systems), form assumptions based on the meaning, and then act based on those assumptions. Errors can occur, though, if we don’t take the extra step to validate our assumptions. 

In my burglary story, I had a fleeting glance at a man in a window after midnight, interpreted that information while disregarding other information, made assumptions, and jumped into action before confirming what I assumed to be true. I wouldn’t have lost any real time or tactical advantage had I paused, confirmed what I thought I saw before jumping on the radio. I lived the adage of what happens when we assume.

The Ladder also applies in non-tactical situations as well. How often in interactions do we see or hear something, sometimes without our full attention, then form an assumption and act (or form a new belief) without checking to see if our assumption is valid?  There can be real danger here. Serious damage to relationships, trust, and communication can occur if we are too quick to leap without really looking.  Especially if we make a habit out of it.  It can narrow our perceptions, cause us to misinterpret words or actions, make us more judgmental, and less empathetic. Over time, the people on the receiving end of our actions may feel disrespected and become disengaged. Additionally, such actions interfere with our critical thinking and our decision-making abilities. They can cloud our judgment. 

By taking the extra step of validating our assumptions, confirming what we see, hear, and believe we may arrive at a different conclusion. We might learn something new, and/or possibly form a new belief. That extra step of validating our assumptions often requires humility.  We must have humility (or intellectual courage) to believe the truth may be something other than what we know or believe. Humility indicates we have enough self-confidence to absorb new information, understand new circumstances. Of course, then we must have the courage to actually change our minds and seek greater understanding rather than confirm what we already believe or prove ourselves right.  By truly seeing and not just looking, listening and not just hearing, we show other people we respect them and their input.

Take the second look, go a little deeper. Make sure you’re not looking at the dummy in the window.

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