Jack of All Trades
It’s safe to say policing is in Jeff Harris’ blood. From a young child, law enforcement has been engrained in him, as his grandfather and his father were both Louisville police officers, serving 33 and 38 years, respectively.
When Harris became an adult, he too became a law enforcement officer – first with the U.S. Army in the early 1980s, and then with Louisville Metro Police Department, beginning in 1987.
After retiring from LMPD in April 2013, Harris decided to take the law enforcement knowledge he acquired throughout his career and bring those skills and experiences and pass them to others by teaching.
“While I was an officer, I always enjoyed attending training at DOCJT,” Harris said. “I enjoyed meeting officers from around the state and comparing their experiences with my own. When I left law enforcement, I promised my family I was not going to be the police any longer. I always had fond memories of DOCJT, so I pursued a job here, and have enjoyed it every day.”
Jack of All Trades
In 32 years of law enforcement, Harris has just about done it all. He has been a patrol officer, school resource officer, member of the LMPD SWAT team, an accident reconstructionist, a chaplain for his Fraternal Order of Police lodge – the list goes on and on.
“I have a lot of experience doing different things, but I don’t consider myself a master at any skill,” he said. “I was a patrol officer with the (Louisville) police department, and (my duties) were regular, routine law enforcement experiences.”
As an instructor, Harris’ passion is teaching officers’ skills. His current assignment has him working out of DOCJT’s Louisville field office.
“As an instructor in the classroom, you never really know if what you are teaching is getting through to the student,” Harris said. “When I was in firearms, I could take a recruit who had very little experience with a handgun or rifle, and coach them.
“I had several cases where I had an individual with limited firearms skills, and they were throwing rounds everywhere. If they’re coachable, I can coach them into a proper stance, proper grip, all of the fundamentals and the placement of rounds on a target become closer to the 10-ring,” he continued. “As an instructor, you get immediate feedback on what you’re teaching, if they’re coachable, and most of the recruits are.”
Aside from teaching firearms, Harris also teaches other diminishable skills, such as driving. It’s something he feels strongly about. It can mean life or death for the officers on the street.
“I totally agree with (former) commissioner (Mark) Filburn when he put the diminishable skills out there,” Harris said. “We die fighting, shooting and driving. It’s astonishing to me the number of officers that are killed driving. I enjoy teaching the diminishable skills areas because I think it directly impacts the
areas where our training may be deficient. (Diminishable skills) are things that kill us and put our names on the (Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation monument).”
Becoming a Teacher
Prior to coming to DOCJT, Harris taught driving in Louisville, and initially applied at DOCJT to become a driving instructor.
“I had been a driving instructor for years,” he said. “I went to the Michigan State Police instructor’s course in 2000, and I love teaching driving. So a position came open (at DOCJT) and I applied for it.”
Harris did not get that job, but soon received a call asking if he would be interested in a firearms instructor position at the agency.
“I had never been a firearms instructor before,” he said. “I had been considered for a firearms position once when I was with Louisville, and I’ll try anything once. So I applied and they hired me in Firearms. I learned from the ground up on how to be a firearms instructor, and I really loved that job.”
Skills aren’t the only area where Harris’ expertise comes in to play as a DOCJT instructor.
“On the in-service side, I teach emerging issues, criminal investigation for patrol, stress and wellness and interview and interrogation,” he said. “I recently started teaching the law enforcement instructors development courses. We are creating a class for next year that will focus on retirement and wellness.”
A key aspect to his teaching is simply being a good facilitator, Harris said.
“My goal with every in-service class is to get the class involved,” he said. “In most of the in-service classes, the students have decades, if not centuries of (combined) street experiences, and they’re all sitting in those seats staring at me.”
Encouraging students to share their experiences as it relates to the topic being taught makes classes much more enjoyable, Harris said.
“I don’t think the students get as much from the class if I’m just standing in front of them going over goals and objectives,” he said.
When it comes to sharing his law enforcement experience, in the context of teaching, Harris will do so, including one story involving a clothesline.
“Younger law enforcement officers don’t really understand the concept of clotheslines, and I’m a little older and I grew up with clotheslines,” he said. “There was a time when (the SWAT team) served a search warrant, and I was on perimeter security, and I had to go to the back of the house. So, I got to the back of the house, and there is a clothesline, and I got hung up in it. I now have a scar on the bridge of my nose that I will carry for the rest of my life from when I got tangled up with the clothesline.”
Harris shares this story to his classes as a teachable moment.
“I tell them when they (reconnaissance) a place where they’re going to serve a search warrant, check the back of the house and see if there is a clothesline, because those perimeter people are going to want to know about those clotheslines,” he said.
His move from LMPD to teaching law enforcement officers has been seamless and enjoyable. Harris said in a way, teaching is another avenue of the profession.
“I was very fortunate to have received a lot of good training while I was an officer,” he said “I received a broad spectrum of training from institutions such as Northwestern University, Texas A&M, Institute of Police Technology and Management for accident reconstruction and the Michigan State Police for driving. So I felt an obligation to share some of that with other officers, and I was very fortunate to have that opportunity.”