Tools of the Trade

Photo by Thomas Def on Unsplash

Every job has its tools. My first work experience was as a paper carrier when I was ten or eleven. I had a big sack that went over my shoulder to carry the papers. I also had a hat, gloves, a jacket, boots, sneakers, and rain gear. All of these tools helped me do my job, but that doesn’t mean I used all of the tools every day. The scarf was very handy in January, but not so much in July. This may seem obvious, but I didn’t carry the scarf with me during the summer while I worked. Likewise, I only brought the rain gear with me when it was raining. It would have been counterproductive (slowed me down) to carry everything whether I was likely to need it or not.

I’ve found the same is true with every job. I worked in restaurants for a while. Mops and knives were both important tools for me to do my job, but I didn’t bring the mop with me while cooking, nor did I carry chef knives while mopping. In financial services, if I were giving a talk, I’d bring a laptop and a projector and leave behind my file cabinet and printer. In the warehouse, I didn’t bring a forklift to check my email. And it’s not just my particular jobs. A doctor doesn’t bring a full surgical kit into the room for a routine physical. A catcher leaves his mitt in the dugout while batting. It’s just common sense.

Cops are different, though, and I can’t figure out why. Guns are one of the tools used by the police. I’m not going to address whether that should be the case, but for our purposes just accept that it is the case. But, guns are not a tool to be used in the vast majority of a cop’s duties. So, why do they carry a gun everywhere they go? It doesn’t matter if they are serving a warrant or directing traffic or speaking at a school or responding to a 911 call, they carry a gun.

Maybe the cops think they are Batman. Batman never knows when he might need some shark repellent bat spray. Likewise, cops never know when they may need a gun. But, that is only true in the most trivial sense. Technically, no one knows when any tool may come in handy. We don’t all walk around all the time with epi pens and a defibrillator, a set of socket wrenches, jumper cables, a ruler, a level, etc. All of those things could be useful at any given moment, but they are not likely to be. A police officer may respond by pointing out that someone with severe allergies might carry an epi pen all the time and many drivers keep jumper cables in their cars. That is true, but those are people with increased likelihood of needing those tools. A beat cop will almost never need a gun.

Before anyone gets testy, I said “almost.” I said earlier that I didn’t keep a mop with me while I was cooking. That doesn’t mean that I never spilled anything while cooking. It means that when I did spill something, I went and got the mop to clean it up. Having the mop behind the grill all the time would have been riskier than it was worth. I might have tripped on it and cut or burned myself or someone else. I knew where the mop was and could access it as needed. The same is true of cops and guns. Having a gun on your person at all times increases the risk of accidental discharge, theft, and escalating situations. Keeping the gun somewhere safe where it can be accessed as needed (which is gun safety 101, by the way), would allow police officers to do their jobs more efficiently.

I want to expand on that last bit a little. There is the famous quote from Homer’s Odyssey, “The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.” Or, as my therapist puts it, “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Nothing increases the likelihood of using a tool as much as physical possession of the tool, even when other tools would be much more appropriate. How many times have we all used a butter knife as a screwdriver? Or a sleeve as a napkin? They don’t do nearly as good a job as the right tools would have. And, we should remember that butter knives and sleeves aren’t inherently dangerous. At least ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a cop’s intention should be to defuse a tense situation, but they use a gun to try to do so. There isn’t a more inappropriate tool to use in those situations.

So, I’m just asking cops to catch up with virtually every other profession. Don’t carry all of your tools with you all the time. It’s a waste of resources and can be dangerous. Also, always use the appropriate tool for a given situation, not whatever tool happens to be on your hip. It’s got to be embarrassing to be a cop. They can change that by showing the same base level of competence that a ten year old paper carrier does.

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