How can an officer arrive at the police department in full uniform to begin their shift only to realize they left their duty pistol at home? Or how about when an officer carries an unloaded pistol on the streets for several months in between range sessions because they failed to load it properly? How can an officer have an unintentional, accidental or negligent (take your pick) discharge at the range or at home with an unloaded pistol or shotgun? Or when an officer reaches for flashlights or other equipment on their duty belt only to realize they left the devices in the patrol car or back at home. These are just a few examples, but the list goes on.
Habits can be either good or bad and are mostly subconscious behaviors that have been built up over time. Bad habits can get you or your partners hurt or killed. Good habits can be lifesavers. The choice is up to you on what rituals or habits you develop.
Good Safety Rituals & Habits
Example: Let’s take the process of loading and preparing a pistol or other firearm. If performed as a positive ritual, it becomes a process filled with positive habits. You learn to “run the gun” properly. The process starts with a properly executed draw stroke of the pistol to a two-handed position at full extension, where the pistol sights are burned into your subconscious. The pistol is brought back to your “work area” or “power circle,” as firearms trainer Todd Jarrett likes to call the area closest to your body, with the pistol high in the cone of vision. The slide is locked back to the rear and a full magazine is obtained from the magazine pouch on your belt and inserted into the mag well. The slide is retracted and released by the support hand, which allows the slide to move forward and chamber a round. The pistol is moved back on target and the sights are realigned.
Prior to re-holstering, take a couple of deep breaths and get in the habit of breaking tunnel vision by performing a 360-degree scan around your area. Also check the chamber on your firearm to make sure a round is in fact loaded. Return the pistol to the holster and reengage all thumb breaks or security hoods. This process should ensure that you didn’t work the mean streets for months without a bullet in the chamber.
Think about this ritual and all the positive benefits. Now, compare them to the opposite process: You insert a magazine into a holstered pistol, bring the weapon to a low-ready stance and as you cast your gaze downward to the pistol in your hand, you chamber a round and then re-holster. The fact is that nowhere on the street will this come in handy. Bad rituals and habits don’t serve you, good habits do.
The bottom line: The process to unload, clear and secure is just as important starting with drawing the pistol to point shoulder, burning the sights in to your mind, bringing the pistol into your workspace, removing the magazine and placing it in your pocket. Run through these actions several times while also locking the slide to the rear, checking the chamber and magazine well for additional ammo, and then looking away and doing it again. A slide forward, the sights on a safe target and a trigger press (if possible), ensure the pistol is in fact unloaded. Of course, all of this is conducted with the muzzle directed at a safe backstop with the following firearms safety rules in mind:
Rule #1: Treat all firearms as if they were loaded.
Rule #2: Don’t point the muzzle at anything you don’t wish to kill, shoot or destroy.
The preparation for a shift tour should be a ritual conducted the same way every day. Mentally, this ritual takes you from an off-duty status to one of being “locked in” and “good to go.” As you gear up either at home or in the locker room, the ritual ensures that you have all the equipment you need to complete your assignment. Distractions during this process result in officers having unintentional discharges or even showing up for work without a gun.
Solid Safety Rituals
As a SWAT team leader and instructor, I introduced many rituals to my team. One of which was the ritual of saying “breathe to reduce your stress and focus on your task” as we approached a target location. The idea was to plant this habit subconsciously into the operator’s mind by the ritual of repeating it. Same for the inspection process prior to an operation. Why do you think skydivers have another diver inspect them? No use jumping without a chute.
Recently, an officer expressed concern because during his ritual inspection of the patrol shotgun he found three buckshot rounds missing from the magazine and regularly finds shotguns, if present, to be in a state other than “cruiser ready.” His rituals might save him, but he expressed concern that other officers lack mental and physical preparation. Their rituals might hurt them; hence the genesis of this article.
I’m not a pilot but I’ve seen them perform preflight inspection rituals, which are even ensured by way of checklist to make sure as humanly possible that nothing is overlooked or missed because of faulty process. From inspecting the propeller to the tires, pilots prepare for takeoff, flight and landing. Should your takeoff for work be any less prepared? Develop “preflight” rituals for many of the preparations and tasks you must do for work. Don’t “wing it” because it will indeed hurt to jump without a chute.