"Victorious warriors win first & then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first & then seek to win." —Sun Tzu
As police officers, we swore an oath to carry out our duties of public service and protection, recognizing that we will face dangers dangers that include confronting violent armed criminals and terrorists. We go armed when others do not. We are trained to act when others cannot or will not. It's therefore our responsibility and duty to run to the fight when all others run away. We take on these dangers not recklessly or foolishly, but with acceptance that the safety of those who rely on us will come before ours.
There are no secret police coming to save us. We are it. We are the last to hold the line. When we fail, all fails. It's not TV. We will, at times, face the reality of only bad endings, some far worse than others if we don't act with speed and resolve.
Some of us will likely face extreme danger soon. Sixty percent of Americans believe our country will face a major terrorist attack in the coming year. How will we respond should we face atrocities on the scale of those perpetrated against schoolchildren by Chechen terrorists in Beslan, Russia, in Sept. 2004?
When we surrender the fate of hostages to the whim of the attacker, we simply defer disaster to a later time. When negotiation offers no reasonable hope of success to prevent murder, the only option remaining is lawful force of arms. How many hostages lives have been forfeited due to lack of an effective and timely police response? There will be no genuine negotiation, only murder.
In active-shooter or other high-intensity deadly force confrontations, the basis for success remains will, skill and timely action. We must get highly motivated, well-trained officers on scene with rifles and associated tactical response gear to immediately bring the fight to the criminals/terrorists before they can execute their plan and then the hostages.
Look truthfully at your training. Are you training to defeat a teenager with a gun, or a group of dedicated attackers? As Illinois Tactical Officer Association Conference trainer Paul Howe wrote, Are you training for the fantasy of the fight or the reality? Are you training at all?
The cost, time and energy required to truly prepare for the coming danger is high. The fatigue factor is real. Vigilance is tiring, boring and vital. And it's easy to think, It won't happen here. Indeed, in every community that has fallen victim to a monstrous crime, news reports invariably feature someone exclaiming, These things don't happen here!
If we base our willingness to spend our time and money on the frequency of a terrible event occurring, we will likely do nothing. Failure to prepare is a gamble in which we wager the lives of our children and families. This is a gamble we must not take. As Special Agent (ret.) John Hall of the FBI described in his series of articles regarding firearms training, the need to train for critical events must not be predicated on frequency of the event, but rather on the critical and harmful nature of the event. I cannot think of a more critical or harmful event than the mass murder of our school children.
How do we measure the value of each child saved? After a disaster, people would pay any amount to make it right, but no amount of money can change history. We must spend money and effort before disaster strikes in order to prevent or deter it. If we do not seriously train for this type of attack today, we will fail in total when it happens tomorrow.
Requirements for Victory
If we choose to be more than uniformed observers facing a threat-to-life situation, first responding police officers must have the training, equipment and will to win the fight. Whether the threat consists of a gang of armed robbers attempting to escape capture, or a terrorist attack on our schools, the choices we make today for training and planning strongly predict the future outcome. Does your current training and preparation afford you a win first probability?
We already know the essential training elements for deadly force incidents:
Frequent and correctly practiced training;
Training in the likely incident environment; and
Training with equipment suited to the task.
Of course, this knowledge holds zero value if the money required to fund the training, equipment and overtime is not made available. Every physical and mental skill requires basic and continued training. What we face in countering violent offenders is the Olympics of police work. What successful Olympian practiced once a year?
Another issue: Good endings reinforce poor practices. Too long we have seen this and sadly rewarded conduct that was fundamentally flawed but achieved a good ending. We must never confuse success with good fortune or a lucky break.
Training is no different. Consider firearms training. Too often police firearms training occurs indoors where weather and clothing are not factored in. Too often such training occurs with full lighting, unlike the street where so much happens at night or inside darkened buildings. Too often such training focuses on a single offender when multiple offenders are likely.
If you train for the highest-stress incidents without any stress involved or shoot courses of fire with no basis of reality to the street, ask yourself if the training you receive is preparing you for the truth of physical combat or simply done to fill a training folder. Do you train once a year? Once a month? Do your officers take the training to heart and make it part of their daily work effort? Do they fill their vital role as first responders, or simply fill a space on a schedule?
If it's the latter, how likely is it your officers will have both competence and confidence to use their firearms timely and effectively when no other option exists? We must never allow the police motto to be, We cannot help you because we cannot help ourselves.
Where is Our Leadership?
If we truly believe we are the last line of protection and the final option, the chiefs and sheriffs of this country must lead the way in making certain our men and women are not only up to the task of daily police work, but stand instantly ready for violent confrontation. We can't store life-saving equipment in armories or supervisors cars that won't make it on scene.
Regardless of rank, all officers must be able and willing to act, and have the means to do so. Strong leaders lead by example, not by proxy. The key to success is a valid program led from the top down. Only the bosses can make this happen, and they must be active participants, not disinterested observers.
Those who lead must never forget where they began. Those in charge must not lose touch with the core issues of street enforcement. Every administrator must get out among the troops to show interest and concern and remain aware of the conditions their officers face.
Time to Decide
Today we are at a fork in the road regarding our present and future ability to combat the violent threats we are certain to confront. We can't stay where we are, and the path we choose can t easily be changed once undertaken. In one direction lies certain failure due to a lack of training, funding and/or commitment. In the other direction lies hope of success. Hope founded not on wishful thinking, but on practiced actions.
For those of you who read this to the end, will you take the right direction? Think of how many did not and will not. One man or woman can make the difference. Will it be you?
As SWAT entry team leader Sergeant Ed Mohn writes, Train hard, for the day will come. Six in 10 Americans believe that day is not far off.
Doing it Right
Criminal violence and confrontation threatens every town and officer. In New Lenox, Ill., on the night of Dec. 7, 2006, a traffic stop behind a high school turned into a prolonged gunfight. The first two officers were wounded but stayed in the battle. These men and two additional officers fought the shooter without hesitation or retreat. Their superior and brave actions prevented the gunman from entering the school where evening activities were underway. They fired on the shooter, who died trying to murder them. They responded as trained, showed courage and tenacity, and now are examples of what all should strive to be.