Sunday, March 14, 2010

Betas and Alphas and Teams, oh My!

It wasn't my intention to write a police thing twice this weekend. But you know, that's what comes up.

A lot of building a team is teaching a mystique for that team, and separating them out to the admiration of others. I do it myself when building teams for commercial pursuits. So it’s not unexpected when a blog I follow about Tactical Teams talks about the difference between SWAT and everybody Other. I found this article enormously interesting. It does echo many of the comments I read on police blogs, where one kind of cop is dissed by another (“hair-gels”, ‘On the Soft”, old-timer v. new timer, affirmative action, clout, et cetera). So I appreciated his attempt at laying it out.

You must get first that civilians are sheep, crooks are wolves, and cops are sheepdogs. They keep the wolf away. This paradigm runs through law-enforcement literature. It is useful but limited.

The premise of the article is that the alpha males of the law enforcement community go into SWAT. They are the true sheepdogs. The rest of law enforcement is

a. young and trying to get into SWAT, or should be recruited for SWAT,

b. bitching moaning middle-aged beta males on the beat

c. old gagers who are just hanging in and doing time for retirement post-SWAT,

d. old gagers who made rank and are miffed they didn’t have the cojones for SWAT, or know they couldn’t make SWAT, or tried to SWAT and failed;

e. educated jerks who understand book learning but don’t understand the street. There are two subsets:

          i. those there because they are manipulate-able and clueless, or

          ii. the product of a bent hiring process (nepotism or clout, for instance).

f. the occasional hybrid cop, who could have been SWAT but wasn’t. I guess we need to round those sixteen hybrids up and find out where they came from. I guess these are the sixteen warriors of the traffic stop. Nobody else non-SWAT does shit. Apparently any non-SWAT cops reading his article are supposed to buy into the token hybrid label, and be comforted.

I’m going to list what’s wrong with this article: I could go all day, but I’ll stick to the high points.

Under this rubric, the author explains why nobody likes SWAT except SWAT. That’s why group d. (the cojones-less) is cutting funding for tac teams all over the nation. I don’t doubt, if all of SWAT is showing this kind of snobbery to the non-SWAT, that the dislike is mutual.

If these are alphas, how did they let it get so bad that the betas can cut them off at the knees? (Because the world is just not made up of alphas. Only SWAT teams are, and they are outnumbered.) If nothing else, this view shows that the alpha SWATS are deficient in strategy. They’ve sidelined themselves from the decision-making cadres of their agencies. Oops.

Tactical Sets and Subsets
On another reading, I don’t know why we have beat cops at all, or why some of us sheep arm ourselves, or try to pay attention to prevailing conditions in our neighborhood, schools, or living rooms. We apparently need to wait until things get bad enough for SWAT. Aren’t prevention and early response also important? Wouldn't a tac team understand that there are infinite tactics, some of which they aren’t built for?

Maybe you can't turn a beta into an alpha. But if education is such a beta indicator, then why do you train all the time? Why would a college degree make someone automatically beta? This post makes alpha sound somehow stupid, or that educated people can't be educated. But really two kinds of characteristics are conflated here.

Group sets and subsets
Even on alpha teams, there’s rank and pecking order. There will be a group dynamic within a tac team too. It’s a team, not a set of psychopaths.

Since I’m obviously educated, un-SWAT, and a sheep, this disqualifies my opinion from the get. That won't stop me from saying, in my alpha-scholar way, that this blog writer is full of shit. By priming his team to disrespect non-SWAT colleagues, non-SWAT tactics, the people they serve, and those that procure the funding, he’s just popped himself off the human map.

Bud, if your team can’t work with my team, then I don’t think you know team.


Christopher said...

The sheepdog analogy is, like you said, limited. But it bears mentioning that the original analogy, from Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, does not suggest that all civilians are sheep. It instead implies that people of all ranks fall into all of the categories. Yes, plenty of sheep cops. And plenty of sheepdog civilians (as in UA Flight 93).

That said, I don't know what article you are referring to, but just based on what you wrote, I would tend to believe the author is using his contempt for non-swat officers to cover his own insecurities (uneducated, not really promotable, etc.) When I had The Warrior Poets up, the whole title was a tribute to the opposite character... the educated, always learning, tactically minded and completely devoted operator. The best officers embody both.

Bob G. said...


Well stated...and humorous to boot.
(tac boot, that is...LOL)

Good post.

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
The post is over at Trigger Pull Tactical. I'll add the link. I guess it didn't take the first time.

It's partly the memory of your blog title and some of your posts that gave me the confidence to write this here.

I read "On Killing" about a decade ago and again last year. It is a good opening book. Over at Things Worth Believing In blog, tgace discusses it and I learned that someone besides me found it was a little faulty in logic. Tgace went further, finding fault with its sources too.

The sheepdog analogy in it is a quote from an unnamed staff sergeant and is the best part of the book, in my opinion. I wish I knew that staff sergeant. Fortunately I have run into other people of good sense. :-)

Anyway, I do find that TPT's descriptor is powerful. Mostly because it does account for dissension in the ranks. I agree that it's insecure. But the call of the insecure to other insecure can pervert an organization's ability to move.

Sometimes I read these things and wonder
what an agency can do,
what an unacknowledged leader can do, or even
what a spectator can do to break the cycle.

I could say "civic duty" or some such, but the real reason is that I see the people caught in it are so miserable. From the outside, it looks like the misery could be lessened by not getting stuck in that world view.

Anyway, thanks for commenting. I had forgotten the sheepdogs were everywhere too.

May there be plenty of warrior poets and warrior scholars, strategic doers everywhere!

Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
I'm glad you found it a good read! Thanks for writing in!

I wonder what kind of tac boot a scholar should own,

Ann T.

Raindog said...

There's a great deal of bunkum and bravado in the writer's concept.

I have a feeling he is talking about an agency of a smaller size with 120 officers or less.

In a large agency, a department needs all types of officers: talkers, hand holders, mediators, call takers, beat creepers, brush beaters, and chasers.

My weakness is usually my wingman's strength.


Ann T. said...

Dear RD,
Thanks for
"My weakness is usually my wingman's strength."

I have seen that in my own teams, and tried to work it so that everybody's best skill was used--and then relied on their strength every day. In fact, once they had that popping, my job was usually to get the heck out of the way!

However, my teams did not have the same stress that a law enforcement agency has, so it's great to hear it still applies.

THANKS for writing in!
Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T

Good work! And isn't it funny how some of our blog posts all feed each other?

Specialties do attract personalities: Many ICU nurses, tho clinically competent and emergency hardened have trouble if they are floated to the ER. The unplanned nature and controlled chaos of the ER overwhelms their coping mechanisms (often ICU nurses are almost OCD in their desire for order) and they struggle.

However, that does not make them lesser, only different.

Thanks for the post

The Observer

Word verification: proto--a good one

Trigger Pull Tactical said...

I love your dissection of my post. In fact when I wrote it, I couldn't have imagined the negative e-mails and comments I was going to get. Clearly most have misunderstood why I wrote the article. In order to understand you have to go back and read the first two paragraphs.

I was not stating my own opinion, but rather the opinion of many of the men I work with and the other tactical officers I train with from outside agencies. There is contention, and the fact is most command is a bunch of paper pushing pansies, that do nothing but shine there boots. That's a sad thing.

As well I'm not writing this about a department that is small. My agency is one of the largest in the country.

I'm glad you found my article egotistical, overbearing, and stupid. I knew very few would understand what I was trying to say, and that's the point. My blog is not for the masses, but more for the Alpha males out there who believe they are here to do good things to bad people.

Keep on doing what you do best, and again thanks for the chuckle and the publicity.
Trigger Pull

Ann T. said...

Dear TPT,
I'm glad you got some publicity from this, because I think it might make you feel more accountable to your audience. Perhaps not.

I feel impelled to inform you that I am neither an alpha male nor one of the masses. Some of my readers may be alpha males, but none of them are mass material.

If tac teams are as 'egotistical, overbearing, and stupid' as this, perhaps you will have to explain the satire a little more clearly. I am not sure they will see this portrait in the way you say you intended, especially in the context of other TPT posts or even this letter. You do tend to leave a lot of "other" people out in your assessments.

The first paragraph of your post may start to set the tone for satire, but the second paragraph and third tend to mitigate the satiric effect. You might end the post with a sentence that says, 'but this isn't high school'.

Anyway, I thank you for writing in. As for those 'paper-pushing pansies' you refer to above, they do appear to have funded your team in the past. I still don't know why they'd want to do anything for a team whose leader holds them in such open contempt.

Good luck with that,
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Your comment was certainly to the point! Thank you for the addition. It is exactly a point I have missed.

Ann T.

Christopher said...

Well, Ann...

I went and read his article once it was linked. Being an Alpha male myself, and a veteran SWAT officer, tactical officer, and narcotics officer, I can tell you I find his article even more off base than you took him to task for.

I'm still active in my state's SWAT organization. His attitude IS reflected in the tactical community... but it's a minority viewpoint.

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
Thanks for going over to check it out. I am sorry the link didn't go in the first time, and you had to work at this.

I am very relieved to hear that it's a minority view. I suspected it, however. Most posts I read from police blogs have writers of different temperament and varying philosophy, but all of them seem to be active alpha and all of them seem Way more tolerant than this, however frustrated they get.

I really appreciate this.

Ann T.

Bob G. said...

A COMFORTABLE one (with a non-skid sole)...LOL
(at least that's what I own)

Steel toes optional...LOL!


Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
I may need that steel toe if I ever run into that condescending ass.

I might lose, being a lowly girl with a grammar book, but it would be a hell of a fight!

I'm laughing, thank You,
Ann T.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post on an interesting topic. What makes it most interesting is that the TPT article has a bit of truth in it, and not just from the SWAT vs Patrol/Administration angle. There are elements of this sort of behavior in LE orginizations in general.

How many times have you LEO's heard the old standbys about promotions going to "the test takers"..

"The best cops stay in patrol, the real leaders stay in Patrol"...

"He got promoted because he has political juice"...

"He went into the detective bureau because he couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag on the street"...and on and on.

Personally I have seen the same sort of thing in the military and in civillian business too. Enlisted v Officers, Labor v Management, Female (soldiers/cops/employees) v Males, etc.

People like to bitch, they like to justify their career decisions, excuse their shortcomings, project their insecurities on others and they like to paint their group as being better.

It's human nature and to be honest it really doesn't concern me too much as long as the job is getting done and when push comes to shove everybody looks out for each other and the locker-room griping takes a back seat to professional/organizational pride.

In the end I guess I will say that these attitudes can't always be taken at face value. Sometimes they are harmless rivalry- talk and sometimes they can be toxic. It falls on the leadership to foster an esprit de corps within each of the divisions (Patrol, SWAT, Detectives, etc) while maintaining an overall pride in the department/profession.

Ann T. said...

Dear tgace,
I do get that a lot of griping goes on to relieve stress. It's the potentially-toxic or overly exclusionary part that gets to me.

In particular, I see that it can be used against an agency as a whole--as a divide and conquer tactic at union bargaining time or during budgetary pressures. In such a case leadership brought in by for instance a mayor, will toe the administrative line rather than the agency or esprit-de-corps line.

It might not start toxic, but it can get there fast enough. It's an old knowledge, that people rarely stomp on their oppressors--they stomp on their neighbors.

You relieve me somewhat, though, and I am glad you wrote in.

Ann T.