FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
It has been a tough few weeks for law enforcement. My heart goes out to my brothers and sisters in blue, their families and loved ones from those agencies that have lost officers in the line of duty, as well as those officers/agencies who have faced homicidal suspects in mass killing incidents. It should remind every agency and each officer that, "It can happen here," and "It can happen to me."
Although officer deaths due to traffic related incidents exceed those by gunfire, incidents like Oakland; Pittsburgh; Carthage, North Carolina; Kinston, Alabama and Binghamton, NY bring home the point that there are violent suspects in this world and it is our job to bring them to justice or neutralize them as a threat.
We must accept that we, the law enforcement officers in this country stand in between those that would kill and maim and their intended victims. This oftentimes makes us "target blue." Such realization should remind us that our ability to stop these suspects is based on our capacity to deliver precise, effective reasonable force. What Columbine taught us and recent events remind us is that many times there is no time to talk (for there is nothing to negotiate for, these killers just want to keep killing). The only time we have been given is that in which we must mount an effective response.
We do all this in a climate that is increasingly anti-police, where we are pilloried by the press and publicly judged by ignorant politicians appealing to the fringe vote. As the new target blue, we can expect that violent force encounters whether with armed or unarmed suspects will inevitably result in civil litigation. All of which, post-incident, amplifies the stress we must deal with.
There is an old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." The police version of that curse is certainly felt today, "May you police in interesting times." Regardless of all of the foregoing and how bad things become, we must press on. We must as police agencies and officers remember Rudyard Kipling's verse from If:
"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: 'Hold on!'"
In light of the new target blue I offer the following recommendations. Agencies must:
- Develop and implement clear and concise use of force policies and procedures. If your agency's use of force policy is 15 to 20 pages long, do you really believe an officer can remember it on the street? Instead policies should incorporate and follow the law.
- Abandon force continuums They are not in keeping with the objective reasonableness standard of the Supreme Court's Graham v. Connor decision. They have been developed by academics to limit use of force on the foundation that this self-imposed limitation is good. Force options need not be "pigeon-holed," this creates officers that are tentative about using force, allowing situations to quickly spiral out of control.
- Train your officers! Don't care about lack of money, time or facilities and neither will the court later on. They are no excuse. Officers will do as they have trained to do. Preparing them is your solemn responsibility don't let them down! Train, frequently and realistically.
- Develop and encourage leaders not managers. Line officers will follow leaders through the gates of hell. They won't follow managers out of the room. Officers know what supervisors care about them and what supervisors care about their own career or the agency before them. It is the line officer that makes or breaks an agency and is a department's most precious commodity. Lead them, they deserve it!
- Expect and reward excellence Raise the bar and people will rise to meet it. Lower it and officers will meet it as well. What's wrong with setting high standards in training and performance? Absolutely nothing but frequently we "dumb down" standards to the lowest common denominator instead of raise them to encourage excellence.
Officer Safety Suggestions:
- Each day, each shift, each call head in the game, scanning for threats, planning a proper response
- Develop intel on the way to a call. Check MDT notes, communicate with other officers if they've been there or if they're heading to a potentially violent address that you've been to. Use your senses as you approach on car and on foot, look and listen.
- Trust your "gut instinct." As Gavin DeBecker has written in his book The Gift of Fear, experience of non-violence lulls you into a state where you won't or don't listen to that "sixth sense" that is as much a part of your survival as any tactic or technique. Trust your instincts.
- SMEAC this is a military acronym that details the components of an operations order: Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration, Command and Signals. Applied to a potential violent call, this means:
- What you have.
- What your police objective is.
- How you're going to carry that mission out.
- Tools, back-up police and services (Fire, EMS) you'll need.
- Communication aspects of the call (where you're at and radio, MDT, cell-phone comm. equipment).
- Apply SMEAC, a planning process to your calls to address vital issues that may arise in a crisis.
- Watch their hands what is in a suspect's hand (firearm, edged weapon) can kill you. Start with their hands and look at the bigger picture.
- Identify who they are. That could be a plainclothes or off-duty cop with that pistol in his hand.
- Properly equip yourself: primary duty pistol, back-up gun, body armor, non-deadly force options OC spray, expandable baton, TASER, tactical fixed or folding knife.
- Arm yourself off-duty. Suspects are anal orifices 24 hours a day; don't stick your head in the sand off the clock. Be able and prepared to protect yourself and your family
- Prepare and train now not tomorrow, not next week, now, today. There is no better way to improve the odds of your going home than training. Invest in yourself, train like your life depends on it...because it does!
And so we bind our wounds, mourn our fallen brothers and prepare. We summon our courage and steel our nerves because the badge and uniform that means so much more to us than metal and cloth will once again be a new target blue and we pray for the will to prepare now and ask the Lord that in our worst moment we won't be found lacking.
"To be a warrior is not a simple matter of wishing to be one. It is rather an endless struggle that will go on to the very last moment of our lives. Nobody is born a warrior, in exactly the same way that nobody is born an average man. We make ourselves one of the other."
This column is dedicated to our fallen brothers in blue. We will not forget.