Thursday, January 3, 2013
Kevin R. Davis
My wife was stopped the other day for speeding. She drives a lot as a home health physical therapist, and although she’s very conscientious about her speed, her traffic stop was probably inevitable. She was contrite, accepted her responsibility and anticipated her citation. The officer was polite, professional and let her off with a verbal warning. She thanked him profusely and only then mentioned my law enforcement occupation. She then said, “Have you seen Heroes Behind the Badge? It is an excellent video.” He responded, “No. I don’t want to think about things like that.” She said, “No, it is really excellent and every law enforcement officer should watch it.” He stated that he was perfectly happy not thinking about things like the risks and threats in law enforcement.
First off, he was professional to my wife and was a good example of how to have successful contacts with the citizenry so I thank him for that. But I’ve written this column in the hopes that he or another of my brothers and sisters in blue may read it and rethink their strategy of active denial.
I won’t bore you with statistics but suffice to say one police officer is killed in the line of duty every 54 hours in this country. Eleven officers were killed during traffic stops, 23 were killed making arrests, 15 were ambushed, 7 died while answering disturbance calls and 9 were killed in “tactical situations” for the year 2011. Those are very real numbers which represent a fallen brother or sister in blue who leave behind their spouses, significant others, children, friends and family.
The risk and the threats to your safety and welfare are very real. You swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, the laws of your state and the ordinances of your city, but have you promised and sworn that you’ll study and learn of the real threats against your safety? “Ignorance is bliss” is true in some situations, but not in LE and not concerning your safety. Have you sworn to keep your skills, attributes and abilities to protect yourself against threats? Have you sworn to your family that you’ll do whatever you have to do in order to make in home at the end of your shift? Making it home sometimes isn’t easily accomplished and shouldn’t be dependent on chance.
The Best Defense Is You
That’s right, crime-fighter, the best defense against threats is you—your knowledge, awareness, perceptions, attributes, skills, abilities and the will to win regardless of the threats and challenges. If you wanted a job in which you could afford to disregard the risks, being a police officer isn’t the right path for you.
While writing this piece, I posted a story on my Facebook page about a young officer from the Midwest who was shot and killed from ambush. I reminded officers of the tenets of the Below 100 program:
A veteran officer and trainer sent me a private email begging the questions, “Why aren’t our officers heeding the call? What are we doing wrong? How can we reach them?” These are tough.
I know that much of your thoughts at this time in this country is devoted to “just getting by.” Important issues such as paying the bills, taking care of your family, making it through the week, working enough overtime or extra jobs and getting time off to be with the family compete in your brain while you go about answering your calls or making your vehicle or suspect stops. Ask yourself, such as trainer Brian Willis asks his students: “What’s important now?” Are you making a safe approach, scanning for threats, watching a suspect’s hands, monitoring traffic, paying attention to a suspect’s body language, maintaining a safe distance, searching like your life depends on it, handcuffing under control, keeping your gun hand free, transporting a prisoner safely, etc.,?
In your off hours or days, the last thing you want to do is read a police magazine, practice your suspect control skills or watch a sad but powerful law enforcement training DVD. I get that, I really and truly understand. The only problem is that failure to study, failure to train and failure to maintain awareness is the path to your own destruction. For in a violent encounter, in a fight for your life, the only thing you can control and the only impact you can make upon unfolding events are your responses. They must be decisive, smooth, aggressive, on target and practiced in order to make a difference in the outcome.
The great thing is that this can be accomplished with such a little bit of time investment. Hours and hours need not be spent out of your week but rather minutes a day. The good thing is that “You don’t pay the price. You reap the benefits,” as the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to say.
I started and have maintained my trainer career based on the simple premise that proper training can save your life. I had proven this to myself in the toughest LE laboratory—the street. I had carried this over into my tactical operator and SWAT trainer assignments. The end result was multiple officers who had looked at me after prevailing in violent armed encounters and intoning, “Training saved my life! I did what I had trained to do!”
They were cognizant of the risks. They were aware of their surroundings and had their head in the game. Even though some were ambushed by extremely violent armed offenders they responded aggressively as they had trained and prepared to do. When they hit, they hit decisively and as hard as they could. They understood that every officer feels fear, but that it’s the body’s way of preparing for battle and they were empowered by it. They weren’t victims, they were victors! They won, and you can too!
This is written to the officers out there in America. Day in, day out—from the time he or she clocks in and starts their tour of duty until the end of their shift, they answer their calls and handle their jobs. Don’t let your edge grow dull. Don’t let your awareness, attributes and skills deteriorate. Stay sharp, stay frisky, be ready and be able.
I thank you for what you do and the professional officer you are. I pray for your safety. Read, study, train, practice and prepare—it isn’t an option, it’s the way of winning.