A new teaching year is beginning for myself and my fellow members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Advanced Training Unit, with a handful of new courses to be presented and refreshers coming on a few more.

Each year, the Municipal Police Officer’s Education & Training Commission (MPOETC) develops four courses as mandated classroom training for all of Pennsylvania’s law enforcement officers.

In Philly, it is the ATU’s job to present those courses to the vast majority of the city’s 6,000+ officers, detectives and supervisors. The ATU also provides fee-based training to ‘outside’ jurisdictions such as the police from SEPTA, the university police at Temple and Penn, and a few other agencies and municipalities.

Each MPOETC course is presented as a half-day of training, making for two full state-mandated days in the classroom for each officer. Every single year, the 15 or so members of the ATU staff will provide instruction to roughly 25,000 attendees in a couple of thousand sessions.

However, for 2014, that number will expand, because every two years all officers are also required to receive recertification training in CPR and First Aid. The CPR training is a full day. The First Aid training is a half day, and the PPD always takes advantage of the other half day to present some type of additional training.

So in the 2014 teaching year, the ATU will be presenting four classroom days to each officer in the two days of MPOETC-mandated training, a day for CPR, and another day for the combined First Aid/departmental training. Factoring in only Philly cops, the ATU staff will provide classes to at least 42,000 attendees during the year.

The four MPOETC offerings this year are “Legal Updates“, “Invisible Wounds“, “Crimes Against the Elderly“, and “Social Media“, while the departmental bonus training to accompany First Aid will be a “Policy Updates” course.

A new version of “Legal Updates” is presented each and every year to all officers. The course highlights any major changes to existing laws, presents important new laws passed during the last year, and goes over the particular facts involved in specific case law from around the Commonwealth and the nation in the last year.

Crimes Against the Elderly” is a course highlighting the problems being presented by transient criminal groups who run various scams and other crimes, frequently targeting more vulnerable elderly members of the community with their organized crime schemes. These include frauds involving home improvement, roofing, driveway resurfacing, and more.

Invisible Wounds” is a course designed around the elements of ‘PTSD’, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As many of our officers learned during a recently-presented course on “Suicide Prevention“, PTSD is considered the primary cause of that particularly devastating issue. Officers should emerge with a better idea of not only the dangers to those in our profession, but also will learn some strategies to help them avoid, mitigate, and manage it’s effects.

Social Media” is a course that will introduce the officers to various forms of social media and their importance in the world at large, while also discussing how it can be used as an investigative tool. There is discussion of the benefits, as well as the perils, of their individual on-duty use as sworn and salaried city employees, as well as their off-duty use of media and it’s relation to their employment responsibilities and expectations. There is also a presentation on the necessary growth of departmental/agency uses of social media.

The PPD has determined that a “Policy Updates” course would be beneficial, and this will be presented on the same day that First Aid training is provided. This course will be a review of the key points in a couple of dozen important internal policies, mostly Directives, which the department has updated over the last couple of years.

All of this training presents a challenge to the management and staff at the Advanced Training Unit, with a full schedule that will keep them busy for much of the year. Captain Hugh Lynch, who has been the on-site Commanding Officer at the unit for the last couple of years is being promoted by the PPD, so it will be a new challenge under a new Commanding Officer as well.

Also notably, this marks the last scheduled year in the careers of a pair of the units key personnel: Lieutenant Jim Gould and Lieutenant John Bradley. Each of these men plays an important role, but each is wrapping up his career with the PPD. Both are scheduled to retire at the very beginning of 2015, at the latest.

The staff at the Advanced Training Unit is fully invested in the education of Philadelphia’s police officers. This year’s schedule may be a challenge on the minds, the feet, and the vocal chords of that staff, but we realize that the benefits to the individual officers, the department as a whole, and subsequently to the community are great.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to begin reporting to Major League Baseball spring training camps in the next couple of weeks, it seems appropriate to borrow from our National Pastime for a relevant opening statement to our own teaching year: “Play ball!”

Old Man Winter’s Act Getting Old

Now is the winter of our discontent. The last four years have been a roller coaster. But this winter has been extreme by any standards.

Over the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, the Philadelphia area received huge snow storms that buried us for days each year. We thought that was bad.

Then we received a couple of much needed and well deserved breaks over the last two winters. Both 2011-12 and 2012-13 were mild, with very little snow. In fact, last winter was extremely mild. It was almost enough to make you forget those snow storms of recent years, and forget what a normal winter is around these parts.

Then came this season. It started calm enough back in December. But over the last month we have received 33 inches of snow, capped by the storm earlier this week which dumped more than a foot on most of the area. Since our average winter delivers about 20 inches, we are already well above that average.

It hasn’t been just the snow storms this year. The cold has been bitter and unrelenting. Here in the northeast we have been introduced to a new meteorological term: the polar vortex.

The polar vortex refers to a couple of climate features that hover near the poles year-round. The one affecting our weather normally hovers over the area of Baffin Island in Canada. In rare events, that elongated vortex can dip lower, however.

This notably happened during what became known as the ‘Winter 1985 Arctic Outbreak’, in which the polar vortex dipped abnormally low, bringing record-breaking cold into every section of the northeastern United States. Temperatures in the Philly area dipped below zero.

That cold dipped as low as Florida, where the average low is about 60 degrees in Miami in late January. Temperatures there set record lows, dipping into the 30’s. By the end of that winter, more than 90% of the Florida citrus crop was destroyed.

The bad news for us? This pattern is back. The polar vortex is back. The persistent cold temperatures are back. And in 1985, the cold lasted well into February. Our own forecasts right now show that we are not predicted to warm up at all into early February.

There is good news. Hold on. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to baseball Spring Training in Florida in less than three weeks. The fact is, this cold wave will snap. We will have spring. Temperatures will rise. We just need to hang in there while Old Man Winter gets in a few more licks.

(artwork of meteorologist John Bolaris courtesy of Philly.com)

Jesus’ Example

In the Catholic Church, today is set aside as the “Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” On this day, readings and sermons remind us of that important event in Jesus’ life.

He travels to the River Jordan, where his cousin, John the Baptist, has been doing the work of preparing the way for Christ’s coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John calls on people to repent of their sins, and to change their lives. He preaches that the hour is growing late, warning people to “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.” He then baptizes with ritual immersion in water as not just a sign that you are sorry, but as a whole change of life.

John has also been proclaiming that he himself is no one special, but that soon will come one greater than he, one who will baptize people not with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus about whom John speaks, and soon enough the day comes when his proclamations will turn to reality.

One day, while continuing his work of baptizing the usual array of sinners: ordinary folk, prostitutes, tax collectors, soldiers, and even clergy, suddenly Jesus appears in their midst, demanding to be baptized. John hesitates, saying that it is Jesus who should be baptizing him. But the Lord insists, and John proceeds with the ceremony.

At it’s conclusion, as Jesus raises from the water, the sky parts, God’s glory shines down upon the scene, and a dove descends, coming to rest on the Lord. God’s voice is heard by all: “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on him.

Why did Jesus insist on his being baptized by John, when quite obviously as the Son of God, he could indeed have insisted just the opposite? His own words tell the story. In responding to John’s incredulity, Jesus said: “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands.

Jesus was telling John that it was important to demonstrate publicly that he himself was willing to not only tell people what to do, how they should live, how they should worship and respect God, but the he was also going to “walk the walk” and set an example. He would not ask anyone to do anything that he was not willing to do himself.

Jesus’ example at his baptism is one that we all need to take more seriously in our own lives. Whether in our roles as supervisors over other men and women in a work environment, as a political leader, as a public servant, or in that most important of roles, as a parent, we are to set the example.

The mantra of “do as I say, not as I do” must be forever set aside. It is not just enough that we know what is right, and demand that from others. We must also demand it of ourselves, and must first and constantly demonstrate that knowledge. We must all “walk the walk” as Jesus did in setting the example for us.

Following his baptism, Jesus went out into the desert and began the forty days and forty nights of fasting, reflection, and prayer that would prepare him for his public ministry. During that time he would be tempted by the devil, who would offer the Lord every earthly delight in return for his worship.

Again in the desert, hungry, thirsty, and hot, Jesus would set the example for us by turning away from the devil repeatedly. After numerous encounters, Jesus finally puts his foot down: “Away with you, Satan! For scripture says: ‘The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.’

Jesus example in demanding the he receive no special treatment, but be baptized as everyone must, and his example in repeatedly turning away from the earthly temptations of the devil are there for us to draw upon as inspiration. Through prayer, we have the power to follow his example, and to set our own example in today’s world.

The world is in desperate need today of such example setters. In each family, we are being called to set aside our old ways and to turn towards God. We are being called to stand up publicly, to live boldly proclaiming the example of Christ through our own words and our deeds. No matter your past, resolve to begin today to set that better example.

Best Cheesesteaks in Philly

There is no one in the world who can legitimately judge a cheesesteak contest without being from Philly. And there are few from Philly who can more legitimately judge them than me.

That’s a mighty big claim to make in this town, home of the most awesome and delicious sandwich on God’s green earth.

But notice that I didn’t go overboard saying I was THE most qualified – just that few are MORE qualified than I am. Let’s just say that I have enjoyed more than my share, and have enjoyed them at most all of the best joints.

So I certainly feel as qualified as anyone to put forth my choices for the best cheesesteaks in Philly over the past year of 2013. While I hate to rank my favorites, I’ll do it just for argument sake, because nothing sparks a debate or argument like a good old-fashioned subjective ranking. Suffice it to say, every one of these is a personal favorite.

Also, if you are reading this at some point in the future, don’t be afraid of the list being outdated. These places have been around for some time, and enjoy loyal followings due to their consistency. You’re likely to find them a decade or two from now at the same locations, all still producing quality.

For a cheesesteak to reach my list, it needs to be three things.
First, it has to be from within the city limits of Philadelphia, where by far the best cheesesteaks in the world are made, and where they originated. Second, it has to taste great. Pretty obvious, right? And third, I like it when a place or a sandwich has something unique that adds to the meal or overall experience.

As far as my own order, I am a “Wiz witout” guy. I like my cheesesteaks made with Cheese Whiz melted into them, and without fried onions. Every once in awhile, I’ll go “Whiz wit”, light on those fried onions. Sometimes maybe American cheese instead of the Whiz. I also like it slathered in ketchup.

If I can get a great order of fries on the side, all the better. And a milkshake would be super, but a Coke is just as fine a side drink.

I am not making a comment on the texture, meat, cheese, condiments, etc in the particular sandwiches on my list. Leave that to alleged expert taste-tester foodie types. These all taste great. They are all within the city limits. They all bring something extra to the experience.

For instance, ‘Wit or Witout’ has the best fries of any of these places, and Steve’s aren’t far behind in that regard. That’s always a nice bonus as a side dish.

‘Chinks’, recently changed to “Joe’s Steaks & Soda Shop” due to political correctness reasons, has the best milkshakes, with their ‘Steak & Shake’ combo a must-try on your list.

Geno’s and Pat’s are legendary longtime rivals directly across the street from one another, and both have the South Philly outside eating experience. Geno’s has the bonus of being major law enforcement supporters.

‘Johns Roast Pork’ has that same outside eating in South Philly, and also has the added bonus of awesome seeded rolls, which I really enjoy. As their name implies, they also make a great hot roast pork sandwich.

Campo’s is the only Old City shop to make my list. But they also have the bonus of being my very favorite overall cheesesteak experience: another location on Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park. There are few things better than enjoying a delicious Campo’s cheesesteak before a Phillies game at a stand-up bar looking out over the outfield on a gorgeous spring or summer afternoon or evening.

So here without further elaboration are the best cheesesteak joints in Philly for the year 2013. Remember, being at the bottom of this list doesn’t mean you’re the worst, or that you don’t have a good sandwich. Just the opposite – you don’t even get on this list at all without being one of the best:

1. Campo’s: 214 Market Street (Old City) and Citizens Bank Park (Ashburn Alley)
2. John’s Roast Pork: 14 Snyder Avenue (South Philly, just east of I-95)
3. Geno’s: 1219 S. 9th Street (South Philly, 9th between Wharton/Federal)
4. Wit or Witout: 9970 Roosevelt Blvd (Red Lion Rd) and 7352 Frankford Avenue
5. Joe’s: 6030 Torresdale Avenue (Tacony)
6. Pat’s: 1237 E. Passyunk Avenue (South Philly, right across from Geno’s)
7. Steve’s: 2711 Comly Road and 7200 Bustleton Ave

Get out to any or all of these great cheesesteak joints during 2014 and enjoy the best sandwiches that your mouth has ever tasted.

If you think a place deserves a spot on the 2014 list, let me know. I will be sure to give it a try in the coming year. I already have a few places lined up as candidates!

One Word 365: Discipline

Towards the very end of 2013, I stumbled upon a website that intrigued me with it’s premise. The site is “OneWord365.com”, and the premise of the program is that you choose one word you want to focus on in the coming year.

Such a simple premise, but one with the potential for a great deal of power. Almost any New Year resolution that anyone has ever made can be boiled down to one word, so I decided to give the program a try. And so here we are today.

My one word is “discipline”, though I don’t mean it in the negative sense, where punishment is involved (though at times it may seem like a punishment is going on, for sure.) No, my efforts are more towards the concept of “self-discipline”, the training and control of oneself and one’s conduct which is usually undertaken for personal improvement.

Frankly, I feel that my life could use a little personal improvement in a number of areas, and my own efforts at undertaking greater discipline in those areas this year could, if successful, mean major, positive change in my life. Those main areas include diet, exercise, finance, and what I am calling “presentation”, how I am presenting myself to the outside world.

I realize it is nothing more than a concept at this point, a thought in my head, supported only by the idea being expressed in some words here at my website. But I am going to begin planting that idea, specifically that word “discipline”, into my consciousness, and am going to begin taking action towards greater self-discipline as well.

I am going to fundamentally change what I eat and the way that I eat it. I am going to undertake a regular exercise program, and then maintain and even expand on it as the year progresses. I am going to spend less, save more, and be more charitable when I am able. That takes care of the areas of diet, exercise, and finance.

The final area is that of “presentation”, which will include improvements in how I speak to people, how I approach my career, how I conduct myself online. When I am able to do so financially and responsibly, I am even going to dress better. I am going to write more here on my website, on more important topics.

It has been said that self-discipline is all about actually thinking on your words and actions, and then making choices that are right for you and the others who have importance in your life. The “OneWord365.com” FAQ says that the program is about choosing to live with purpose and intentionality.

I think those concepts merge perfectly into my own personal plan of greater self-discipline: thinking about what I am doing and saying much more often, being less reactionary and more under control, and intentionally make better choices in word and deed with purpose.

So there you have it, a fairly major 2014 New Year’s resolution. I have joined the “OneWord365” program publicly with the choice of “discipline”, specifically focusing on my own self-discipline. As the year moves along, I will provide some specific updates on my progress, in hopes of inspiring myself to continue, and others to join in.

That’s another thing about “OneWord365” – it’s never too late to jump in and start a program of your own. Go and visit the website. Pick out a word that encapsulates the area of your life which you want to focus upon. And then begin, holding yourself accountable along the way to the person who, in the end, matters the most in any positive change – you.