Sunday, May 24, 2009

the boy scouts

Recently I came across an article about the Boy Scouts of America. They have a new badge that they are offering for the law enforcement exploring program. Scouts are learning about antiterrorism tactics. It seems that these young boys and a few girls here and there are learning how to raid marijuana fields, use weapons to liberate hostages, and even deal with a gunman on a university campus. Is it just me or did the Boy Scouts just take a turn into local, state, and federal law enforcement territory? There is a hierarchy of law enforcement that does not include the Boy Scouts of America. Even two equivalent local agencies have to sign a mutual-aid agreement to act in each other's jurisdictions. The article does mention that these scouts are only supposed to use this training during supervised activities. In fairness, the Learning for Life organization does express it's frustration with the way the Law Enforcement program was portrayed.

There is a place for mentoring or teaching some of the skills of law enforcement. I can see where visiting offices, jails, precincts, and border stations could be useful teaching tools. But have you ever encountered the rent-a-cop who is WAY too serious about his authority? Have you encountered the community crime patrol attempting to arrest and detain someone without the legal right afforded a peace officer? This seems problematic on so many levels. It makes sense that personal safety should be learned. Self defense is good. Self awareness and awareness of one's surroundings is important. Helping people is need is a terrific character attribute for a fine young man. But hostage rescue? Maybe I am missing something, but these are boys as young as 14. Even the high end of the age spectrum is 21 years old. Impulsiveness and the delusion that one will live forever is part of the reason we all pay high car insurance premiums, right? It will never happen to me. I am immune from the gunman's bullets. It's the stuff of comic books. Have you been to a college campus lately? Who are we kidding? Most part-time jobs require the 18-year-old to run the fry maker or the meat slicer. Many of these kids torment their younger siblings in the back seat of the family SUV, but we would start training them for hostage negotiation?

All levels of law enforcement spend years, even decades, training, retraining, certifying, qualifying, and becoming better at their jobs. They train and work every day at great peril and personal risk. They also are entrusted with public safety. At the end of the day, they are authorized to use deadly force if necessary to save the life of an innocent, the lives of fellow officers, or his or her own life. Are those the kinds of powers we want to give to kids who still think that farting is hilarious? Do we really want a room full of independent junior G-men deciding what to do when a gunman enters a classroom?

Every time a student dies in a car crash, our local schools call in the grief counselors. They all talk about things for days. There are tributes, assemblies, and candlelight vigils. What happens when one of the gunmen is the bad guy, but the good kid shoots him? That's a scenario that a child or young adult may not be capable of handling. And it's a dynamic that a school would not want, either in law suit form or in a rash of vigilante copycats.

Most law enforcement would admit that there is a certain amount of the job that is intuitive and instinctual. Similar to the priesthood or rabbinical school, it's a calling. It's not what you do. It's who you are. Those instincts for defensive driving, talking down a jumper, negotiating a hostage release, or knowing when to use deadly force are not really taught. Handling the pressure and stress, managing the emotional toll, and carving out a life in the margins of police work is tough business. I know many boys who tailspin at the mention that they have a zit.

And maybe I am just a little jealous. I am going to pull out the gender card and say that Girl Scouts were NEVER this exciting. We weren't even allowed to weekend camp until 3rd grade. We didn't know what we were missing! I didn't know I could have learned how to guard the Mexican border. I remember as a Girl Scout leader many years ago, we had to have seatbelts, permission slips, all sorts of training. I had to renew my CPR card every four years. I had continual training in safety and first aid. I can't imagine that the Girl Scouts would permit me to train a kid to fight illegal immigration on the Mexican border, permission slip signed or not. Pinewood derby, anyone?

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