Back in the 1980’s, I remember seeing my first training video featuring the now- famous “JD Buck Savage” character, created and played by Dave Smith. Even though I can’t remember the focus of that particular episode, I clearly recall my reaction:
This guy is a genius.
In taking the most serious of police-related topics and pairing them with his particular brand of oddball humor, Smith – and Buck – hit on a training method that had universal appeal, and made sure those lessons became ingrained in the minds of an entire generation of officers. From “Saw drunk, arrested same,” teaching us the importance of detailed report writing, to the call to “Pinky’s WooHa Lounge,” showing us how state and local agencies interact, every topic covered by Smith was integral to daily police work. They were also injected with more truth than many of us realized at the time – the “Circle K Robbery,” episode, for instance, was the direct result of an officer killed while counting change on the way into a convenience store instead of being aware of his surroundings. In approaching such heavy material in a way that made the audience laugh, though, the videos were much more effective than the dry, humorless efforts common in that time.
The most impressive thing I discovered when I recently revisited some of those old videos was the truly timeless nature of the material. Sure, it’s easy to get caught up in the grainy film and hairstyles, but every young officer today can still watch and laugh along with ‘ol Buck while that information sneaks its way into memory. The same is true of Buck’s creator. Recently, I had the opportunity to be in the classroom watching Dave Smith continue to spread the word. His wife Betsy Brantner Smith - an extremely talented trainer in her own right - joined him. They were presenting the “Winning Mind” course to law enforcement officers from all over southeastern Michigan at the Macomb Public Service Institute. The students were not only captivated by the content of his famous course, but also by his unique and entertaining teaching style.
After the class, I began to think about the impact Smith has had on a generation of law enforcement officers. He spent time with “Street Survival”, and with the first police TV network “LETN”, as a commentator and trainer. He still presents, writes articles and does weekly “Roll Call”, updates on PoliceOne.com. He continues to train with the same passion he’s always brought to his work, and it shows in how well he’s received in every incarnation of his career.
Watching him and the students in the classroom also got me thinking about the impact teachers have on all the students they train. There is a responsibility that comes along with deciding to become a trainer to always do your job and present your information in the best way possible. It’s not a position that should be assumed lightly, because every single student deserves the best that the instructor can give regardless of the day or circumstances. The best instructors are in constant mental motion, always looking for better ways to build those bridges between teacher and student that can best carry information and skills.
Bill Westfall, a longtime police trainer and presenter whom both Dave Smith and I are fortunate to call friend, talks about the concept of people being divided into ‘Finites,” and “Infinites.” Finites are described as perfectly good people who are born, live their lives, and die. They are important to the people around them. At the end of their lives, they are generally judged by the wealth they have accumulated, the personal happiness they enjoyed, or the stuff they managed to collect along the way. For a finite person, that’s the end of it.
On the other side are the “Infinites.” An infinite is a person who becomes immortal through the impact they have on others, most often by imparting a skill or lesson that is not only remembered by a given person, but also passed on again by that person to another. That cycle repeats itself on and on, until the original teacher and all those who carry on his or her knowledge and example become truly endless, echoing through eternity as generation after generation take a part of the “infinite,” for themselves and pass it on. Infinites are born, live, and die like any other person, but before they depart they plant an undying piece of themselves into the time-stream worth more than any material wealth.
Bill, Dave and Betsy are true examples of infinites. But, as trainers we must remember that we are all infinites. We have the ability to impart officer safety, leadership, or many other topics on to others in our profession. That information or skill may keep an officer alive or help them become leaders in their departments.
In the past few years, I have been privileged to spend some time with Dave and Betsy. I would argue there has been no greater influence on police training over the last three decades than Dave. Betsy is also a prolific police writer and a talented trainer. Dave was a visionary when he created the “JD Buck Savage” character for teaching critical skills to police officers. He understood that officers, like we Baby Boomers and others, who were raised on television would quickly relate to the video series. The series is still available on YouTube or through their website Dave Smith and Associates (http://jdbucksavage.com/video-gallery/).