On most of the calls we respond to, we run more or less on autopilot. That is, we react unconsciously to what’s happening. It doesn’t have to be an officer-involved shooting for this to happen. When we respond to a call for a bar fight, a domestic, a bad accident or even a suspicious person, the things we say and do usually happen without a lot of conscious thought or reflection on our part.
And that’s the way it should be. These calls are all either volatile or potentially volatile; the purpose of our training and experience is to allow us to deal with them without having to take the time to think carefully before each step we take. Usually we don’t have this sort of time available to us, anyway.
Nonetheless, running on autopilot can prove dangerous, too. Sometimes we should slow down, and often when we slow down, so do the other people involved, which is almost always a good thing. Other times, our autopilot responses may be sub-optimal.
So how can you slow down and assess your actions? Here’s how: Breathe one breath, slowly and powerfully. Inhale, and then exhale with a soft “whoooooo.” That will slow down your mental engagement, and exert some control over any physiological involvement occurring within you, such as a tight stomach.
Most important, it will provide you two things. First, it will break the chain of your autopilot responses. If they’re non-optimal, that’s a good thing; if they’re the right course of action, you can always resume them. Second, it will give you one second of clear, composed thought, a sufficient window of time for you to quickly evaluate what’s going on and how to best respond.
You almost always have one second available. Not always—not in the middle of a gunfight or a scuffle—but usually.
Try it on at least one call a day. If you like the results, great—continue doing it. If not, nothing lost.