Hunter vs. helper: For a satisfying career, cops need to be both

A healthy balance can be struck between these two things

“Helpers or hunters?”

That was the name of a session at the 2016 International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainer’s (ILEETA) Conference in Chicago presented by the wise yet amiable sage, Tom Cline. He is a 47-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department and a long-time trainer. Cline asked the officers in the packed room to:

“Think about a day at work that made you feel satisfied.”

He followed this question up by asking the group to raise their hand if the feeling of satisfaction was the result of an arrest. Upon looking around the room only one person raised his hand. Everyone else’s satisfaction came on a day they helped someone.

Why Did You Get Into LE?
An open discussion following the query revealed most in the room got into law enforcement because they “wanted to help people and make a difference.” These experienced officers agreed that being able to help someone brought them great satisfaction.

Cline explained that this is not unique, since even Abe Lincoln once said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion.”

Cline facilitated a discussion about how officers were evaluated. Officers quickly concluded they were primarily evaluated by “numbers” or “stats.”  One young officer shared, “It’s all about KPI - key performance indicators. They say it’s not a quota, but it sure looks like one.”

These key performance indicators were arrests, citations and warnings. These activities fit squarely into the category Cline described as the “hunter” category.

These arrests and citations often lead to positive recognition, good evaluations, promotions and sometimes even awards.  These required duties - in the early stages of a career - are viewed by officers as “fun” or even “exciting.” However, this excitement inevitably wears out.

Cline described the moment in an officer’s career where the thrill of the hunt is gone as feeling like someone “licked all the red off our candy.”

Although Cline readily agreed that there is a need for the hunter activities, there is also a need for “helper” activities. And yet in most current evaluation systems, the helper activities are not counted. As time passes, this can create impatience in officers when they are engaged as a helper.

The discussion brought forward the fact that the helping calls are often of great importance to the members of the public involved – even if they are not the type of calls that are counted.

It became clear to participants that there is great satisfaction that comes with being the helper, but our communities also need the hunter.

Cline emphasized that a healthy balance can be struck between these two things.

Cline said that officers do not need to be taught to be a helper. They merely need to be reminded that helping is why they chose this profession. Great satisfaction can be found in a career that strikes the balance between the hunter and the helper.

In conclusion, Cline said, Mark Twain once observed, “The two most important days in a man’s life is when he was born and the day he figures out why.”

So are you a hunter or a helper?

The answer for the most effective and yet still satisfied street cop is, “Yes.”

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