IS A LAW ENFORCEMENT BACKGROUND A VALUABLE ASSET IN ADOLESCENT TRANSPORTS?
By: Chuck Selent, VP/Director of Operations
Adolescent Escort Services Northwest Inc.
I have heard many of the pros and cons of law enforcement training for adolescent transports throughout my 13 years in the business. I have heard everything from "using law enforcement trained agents is the only way to go when transporting adolescents" to, "I don't think children should be treated as criminals, and cops tend to treat kids coldly and like criminals when they do transports." Of course you can always find an example to back ones view of the above statements, but both statements are false and greatly generalized.
Two things have to be realized. First, who the agents are makes the difference between a successful transport and one that fails miserably. Second, just getting a child from point A to point B, is not the main goal in a successful transport. Getting there and getting there in the best emotional frame of mind are two different things altogether. A child who arrives in the best frame of mind possible is better equipped to accept and deal with what's ahead.
The agents training, background and ability are vital and play an important role from the moment the agents meet the family before the transport, to the child's arrival at the desired destination and orientation into the program or school. Some people are "naturals" at working with "at-risk" adolescents. It takes a special person with understanding and insight to work with adolescents who are experiencing a potentially fearful and/ or traumatic time. It is critical for agents to have the ability to successfully communicate in such a situation. Ninety percent of what it takes to have a smooth transport is effective communication, which includes the ability to "read" a child, the situations at hand and the ever changing surroundings during the transport. The right words said at the right time can turn a transport around and make all the difference, however, the opposite is also true.
Not everyone with law enforcement training is a "natural" at working with adolescents, nor does it necessarily make them a good police officer. When working with adolescents in this type of situation, there is virtually no type of background experience that creates an "automatic in." Although a law enforcement background and experience doesn't make the transport agent or transport successful, it can be a great asset. First and foremost, if the transport agent has the communication skills and experience to work with adolescents in a non threatening way, it can be a valuable tool.
Why law enforcement? These individuals have the training and ability to deal with a variety of situations that may arise. They know how to offer suggestions and solutions that others may not understand or have the knowledge to resolve. They have an understanding of both the civilian and law enforcement communities. Any competent transport agent should have the ability to keep complications to a minimum, but it is comforting to know these extra resources are working for the family and child.
In my experience this training is valuable in diverse situations because it provides the depth, understanding and experience needed to handle a transport that is not going as planned. In situations where others with less experience have been flustered and made the wrong decisions, agents with a law enforcement background tend to maintain a clear head and sense of calm, regardless of what is going on around them. Law enforcement trained individuals generally have dealt with situations involving high stress and quick accurate decision making, on a much more complex level than would be encountered on a teen transport. When dealing with the law enforcement community, in the rare cases that it becomes necessary, there is a clear advantage to having agents with this additional experience. I have personally seen how their training can open doors that would normally remain shut or at best put a significant glitch into a transport.
When faced with hiring or working with agents who exhibit equal communication skills, one with and one without a law enforcement background, my clear choice would be the individual with the law enforcement background and training. It is that extra depth of training and assurance, not the "cop," that we may just need to draw on from time to time. As for myself, I would rather have this background experience available to me and not need it, than need it and not have it in my transport work. For the transport agency, family and child, it is another asset that can be valuable in bringing the added safety and assurance to families who are already dealing with a stressful situation.
After reading your essay, "IS a law enforcement background a valuable asset in adolescent transports?", I am encouraged to find us on common ground with regards to the "foundation" of a good agent. I too have heard both sides of the argument and stories to validate each side. What impresses me most about your take on the situation is your common sense approach to providing safe and secure service (physically & mentally). I can not tell you how many times I have used the illustration of transporting a child from A to B being only a part of a much bigger picture. I also agree that many police officers come well equipped (emotionally) to verbally diffuse sensitive situations while striving to minimize the need to do so. I am personally not ex-law enforcement, but I have close ties with many officers and have deep admiration for them. As for any potential agent for my compa! ny I personally put them to the test over and over because anything can l! ook good on a resume or sound good in an interview. Only transporting, with all the sleep deprivation, crisis intervention, and time constraints, will show an agent's true character. I also think there are many good agents with other backgrounds that are a true asset to our industry.