Photo Lt. Chris J. Cole
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
The sound of sirens echoed in the distance as I approached the marble wall. It was much bigger than I thought--more than 18,600 names of officers that made the ultimate sacrifice. Visiting the National Law Enforcement Memorial wall was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was a solemn reminder that none of us are invincible. As I stood near the entrance of the path leading to the wall, I read the inscription carved deep into the blue-gray stone. It was located directly below a large bronze statue of a lion guarding his cubs. The inscription read, "It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived." --Vivian Eney Cross, Survivor
I couldn’t help to wonder what, if anything, these fallen warriors would do differently if they were given a second chance in life. I thought of my own life and the commitments I’ve made to protect and serve my community. I thought of the commitments I’ve made to my family and friends. Were there things I could do to make myself more prepared for the day of reckoning? Were there things I could do for others as a trainer to better prepare them?
If you’re in a leadership role, it’s your job to ensure your officers are ready to meet the life-and-death challenges they could face on the streets. This isn’t something we can accomplish in one or two training sessions. It’s something we must do daily.
Identify Officers’ Needs & Prepare Them
It’s our duty as trainers and supervisors to empower, lead and coach our officers into being the absolute best they can be. This is something we must constantly work for on a day-to-day basis. It’s easy to get distracted, but we must make it our commitment to focus on our officers and give them what they want and need.
How do we know what they want? We ask them and actively listen to their answers. We may think we know what they want, but we never really know if we don't ask. Having these conversations once a year isn’t enough. We must make it a habit to have these talks frequently. Half of the battle is taking the time to really listen and to formulate a plan so that the officer can reach their full potential. Help them get to where they want to be. By asking such questions you may find that an officer is uncomfortable with their abilities in a certain discipline. Such information allows the supervisor or trainer to schedule further training sessions for that officer.
Lead By Example
Whether you’re a supervisor or not, others are watching you. If you died today, how would you want to be remembered? I’d hope all of you would want to be remembered as a man or woman who lived their lives honestly and with integrity. To be an effective leader or trainer, we must practice what we preach. If you’re not proficient with your own abilities, how can you expect your officers to be proficient? Take an honest look in the mirror.
Make Changes, Not Excuses
It’s never too late to make changes in your life. There’s always room for improvement. If you knew today that next month you or someone you work with would be in a life-or-death fight, how would you prepare yourself or your co-workers?
It’s easy to make excuses why we can't exercise, eat right or practice our skills. We’ve all heard it: ″I'm too busy, too tired, too fat, too old, it will never happen to me and if it does, I'll be ok.″ Really? Are you willing to bet your life on it?
Quit making excuses and start making changes. It’s your duty. Remember: In a life-or-death fight, your worst has to be better than the other guy’s best. It’s not just your life on the line; others may perish because you’re ill prepared.
Learn From Our Fallen Brothers & Sisters
It’s our duty to learn about the tactics that worked and those that didn't. We can do this by sharing the stories of fallen warriors and learning from them. We owe it to them to never forget their sacrifices and to pass on those blood lessons so that those heroes didn’t die in vain.
Motivate Officers to Be Their Best
It’s important to motivate officers through positive feedback. Public praise can be a strong motivator. It’s important to understand that positive feedback is like a good spit shine. A one-time application will only last for so long. After a while the polish wears off and dulls. We need to constantly provide positive feedback so that we can keep that polish. Our goal should be to motivate our officers often so they’re prepared physically and mentally, proficient and confident in their skills. If we can do that, we’ve done our job.
Train to Win, Not to Qualify
I hate the term qualification. To stand in front of a static target and shoot rounds through paper is of little value. The stress involved is way too low. I have to shoot X amount of rounds within so many seconds. What if I don't get all my rounds off?
The stress in a qualification is nothing close to a real, armed encounter. We’ve all seen cops who have successfully qualified but aren’t battle-ready. Anyone who just fires a qualification for their firearms training is missing the boat. Combat courses that require shooting on the move, reloading, clearing malfunctions and engaging difficult targets are a must for any firearms program. That said, a trainer must never overlook the fundamentals. Drawing from a holstered position, reloading and clearing malfunctions are skills instilled by repetitive drills.
Watch your firing line during a qualification. When it's time to reload, many veteran officers often fumble around trying to perform a simple magazine exchange. When you identify this, you need to address it by incorporating further training. If you have access to simunitions or airsoft, they should be incorporated in your training as well. The more realistic training we expose the officers to, the better prepared they are.
Keep in mind: We can and should train beyond what our departmental policies require. Each day I work, our shift sets aside a few minutes to train on fighting skills. It can be anything from striking a heavy bag with a baton to firearms skills. Five to 10 minutes of dry firing, reloading and clearing malfunctions can make a huge difference in an officer’s firearms capabilities. Short bursts of such training will keep their fighting edge sharp.
At the end of the day the reality is that none of us will live forever; we are all destined to die someday. What matters is how we live our lives now. The sad truth about the police memorial wall is that there is room for more names. Most of us can accept the fact that our names or someone we trained or supervised could very well end up carved on the wall. We hope it doesn't, but as Lt. Col. Grossman says, ″There is no safety in denial.″ We owe it to the fallen heroes to not take our lives for granted: To live a good life, a life of honor, integrity and commitment; to train ourselves, as well as others and to be prepared for the fight we may not see coming; to never give up; and to live our lives as lions with strength, courage and valor.
If you or an officer you know has lost their edge, don't just sit there idle and do nothing about it. Takes steps to sharpen that blade until it’s honed into a lethal cutting instrument.