Police officers are trained specifically to be suspicious of everything. In the legitimate interest of safety they are taught to approach every vehicle and every person as a potential threat. They frequently sit with their backs to the wall in restaurants, even when they are off duty, and they are often required by regulations to carry a weapon everywhere they go. The patrol officer looks at every vehicle and every citizen as a potential violator or criminal.
My wife often accused me of being “swivel necked” as I turned to look at each car and each driver that passed us on the highway, even when we were on vacation. The investigator is trained to question the truthfulness of statements made by criminals, witnesses, and victims alike. Even when preliminary information contains no indication of deception, the officers with well-developed “investigative dispositions” will keep asking themselves what they have missed. Even now in writing this article I recognize that I am predisposed to ferret out the negative aspects of my police experience rather than the positive aspects that were obviously present.
All of this is for good and valid reasons. It quite honestly keeps police officers alive, and it solves cases. Almost every assault on a police officer can be traced, at least partially, to the failure of the officer to follow appropriate safety guidelines, and somewhere in all of the apparently truthful statements in most unsolved criminal cases is a deception that, if discovered by an officer with a more critical investigative disposition, would solve the case.
This idea permeates police training. Trainers set up crime scenes in which the evidence is misleading to see if the trainee can catch it. In classes on interrogation techniques they teach all kinds of devious ways of tripping people up. I was actually in one class on interrogation techniques where an example given by the instructor revolved around how he got his ten-year-old daughter to “confess” to putting a crayon mark on the wall.
I once assisted with a class related to stopping vehicles on the highway. During several days of classes we put the group through every conceivable situation in which they could get hurt or deceived. They were lied to, argued with, threatened, and shot. Each time a trainee was tripped up, their classmates laughed, and we emphasized what the trainee had done wrong. Not one situation involved an honest person that engendered trust or a situation in which the trainee could handle the situation appropriately. In the end they were trained not to trust anyone, and I would argue, not even to trust themselves. When I questioned this I was told that the focus on the risks involved in routine strops was necessary to keep them alive.
But what happens when police officers take this tendency to question everything home with us and apply it in our family relationships? Put quite simply, their spouse and their children become suspects in every family disagreement. The lack of trust permeates even simple family encounters. One day my hairbrush was missing from my dresser where I always keep it. I caught myself going from family member to family member, basically conducting a criminal investigation. I questioned each person critically, and when no one confessed, I went back and questioned them again. The second time the questions were even more pointed. They sounded frightfully like interrogations, complete with accusations and those trick questions designed to trip them up. When my daughter got angry and ran up the steps and slammed her door, my response was, “I was just trying to find my damn brush!”
It was not wrong for me to ask family members what happened to my brush. The problem was in the approach and the underlying attitude of distrust. When they said they did not know where the brush was I did not believe them, and I accused them of lying to me. I responded like a good Trooper, not like a good husband and father. As husband and father I could have asked if anyone had seen my brush, and even if everyone would help me find it. I even had the right to ask them to please leave the brush on my dresser and to hold them accountable for that, but I honestly had no reason to believe that anyone was intentionally lying to me, or that they had intentionally “stolen” the brush. As it turned out my wife had taken the brush in the bathroom to clean it for me and had simply forgotten to put it back.
There is an important point to be made here. This was not a thought out response. It was not the way I wanted to act. It was a “relatively lasting patterned response” that was triggered by the situation. Given the same type of situation when I was a police officer, the response would have been appropriate. In my family it served to create conflict and distance between us.
I think this disposition has been most destructive in relation to the way I handled situations involving my daughters as teenagers. Like most parents, one of my greatest fears was that my kids would get involved in the drug scene. There were very good reasons for trusting my kids in this area, and yet, let one of them come in just a little late and look even a little tired, and that disposition to question was triggered.
On one occasion my youngest daughter came home looking really tired and stressed out. There were really good reasons for that, but I immediately started looking at her eyes, and asking questions which could only indicate that I thought she might have been using drugs. I did not really think so, but I was still asking the questions. She usually responds to such questions with anger, but this time it was different. This time she looked at me and said, “You really think I’ve been using drugs, don’t you.” The pain in her eyes was immense and overshadowed the tiredness. I denied it and tried to explain, but the damage had already been done. We have talked about it, and I think she understands, but the unconscious affects of that encounter, and others like it, on our relationship will never be fully known by either of us.
- In what ways does your job require you to question the motives and actions of others? In what ways does it involve developing trust Are you more likely to trust or distrust others in the work environment? How well is that balanced?
- How do you handle situations involving trust with family and friends? Do you often question people’s motives and actions when there is no reason to doubt them? On the other hand, do you sometimes resist asking reasonable questions to avoid conflict? Why? How well is that balanced?
- Do family and friends trust you with private information, or are they guarded in what they will share with you? Why?