Over the past eight years, I’ve touched on many topics in this column, but few as frequently as the combative mindset—a previous decision to take action based on reason and intellect. You’d think that anyone who enters law enforcement would make the required previous decisions before hitting the street, but officer deaths and injuries show this isn’t the case. The harsh reality: LEOs are getting killed today the same ways we did decades ago.
LAPD Officer Pierce Brooks wrote Officer Down, Code Three almost 40 years ago and laid out what we now know as “The Ten Deadly Errors,” but many still haven’t heeded the warnings laid out in its pages. For those who haven’t seen them before, they are:
1. Failure to maintain equipment & proficiency;
2. Improper search & improper use of handcuffs;
3. Sleepy or asleep on the job;
4. Relaxing too soon;
5. Missing danger signs;
6. Taking a bad position;
7. Failure to watch the hands;
8. Tombstone courage;
9. Preoccupation; and
Any of these mistakes could prove fatal—it doesn’t have to be a combination of errors. Cross paths with the wrong (i.e., dangerous) person and commit one of these mistakes and you could be the center of the next police funeral. To make matters worse, consider surviving a deadly confrontation only to be prosecuted and fired because you didn’t carefully articulate your actions. It happens more times than many of us want to believe.
In an effort to avoid loss of job, injury or worse, here are two products that can help you not only win in conflict, but also win the aftermath.
Sgt. Paul Howe, former member of the famed Delta Force, was one of “The Unit” members on the ground during what’s commonly called, “The Blackhawk Down Incident.” Howe now runs a firearms and tactics training school in Texas called Combat Shooting and Tactics (CSAT) where he trains police and military units from around the globe. He also offers a series of training videos, in conjunction with Pantaeo Productions, which highlight his programs. His most recent video, Combat Mindset, is on what I consider the most critical of topics.
The DVD is full of video clips that are difficult to watch, displaying what human predators are capable of and what will happen if you give up and allow someone else to determine your fate. His message: Giving up isn’t acceptable. He points out that fear is best controlled through superior training and commitment to the mission (for example, LEOs staying “switched on” while on the job). Howe also deals a dose of reality when he makes the statement, “prepare to be injured, but also have the ability to treat yourself.” Mindset is more than just proper thought—it also involves proper preparation: “Fight the battle in your mind before you get there,” he says.
Another segment in this DVD deals with pain vs. discomfort, and how to know the difference. For the 30 years I was on the job, a continuing joke that was heard repeatedly was “cops don’t get cold, hungry or wet”—meaning they always take care of their basic needs above all else. Although the concept is ridiculous, I knew many officers who felt the old adage was true. Becoming overly concerned with being comfortable is a great way to lose focus on what will keep you alive on the street. “Don’t think about how hot (or cold) it is—think about training,” Howe says. I wish I had a nickel for every cop who whined to me about being too hot or too cold.
Although gear is secondary to attitude, it’s an important component in prevailing in conflict. Howe makes a good point when he says, “Know your gear and how to use it under less-than-perfect conditions.” At the same time, “don’t be too confident in your gear.”
When it comes to weapons, Howe keeps it basic: “Hit what you are shooting at. Have tactics that will work across the board and keep it simple.” Howe believes that many of the skills taught in the more “flashy” firearms training courses are silly. From a man who’s seen extreme levels of combat, Howe says he’s either trying to make the shot or he goes for cover. He warns not to overwhelm yourself trying to multi-task, “you can either shoot or talk—not both.” Simple is good.
Bottom line: If your goal is to prevail in conflict, buy this video.
Preparation for the Aftermath
I spent some time in internal affairs, investigating the actions of other cops. I’ve also been investigated by internal affairs for my actions on the street or while working the jail. I’ve read cops their rights and I’ve had my rights read to me. Believe me when I say I’d rather do the reading.
I’ve seen cops perform quite well under duress only to get jammed up due to poor articulation when it comes time to document what happened. I’ve also seen shoddy investigations (and incompetent investigators) jam up officers who didn’t deserve it. While attending the 2012 ILEETA Conference, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Kevin Davis, a 30-year veteran cop in a large city in Ohio. He’s a regular contributor to Law Officer and a highly sought after trainer throughout the LE community.
Davis recently published a must-read book for any cop who’s concerned with use-of-force issues. Use of Force Investigations: A Manual for Law Enforcement is a comprehensive look at the legal and practical aspects of police use of force and how such events should be properly investigated. Davis is an exceptional writer and this book would be an excellent read for street cops, front-line supervisors, investigators, police unions and agency administrators. His style makes this book a good choice for police academies and in-service training, containing information on Constitutional parameters, proper instruction of use of force, forming agency policy, street application, reporting and the all-important investigation of these critical incidents.
I have to admit, I thought I had a good handle on this topic, having dealt with it my entire adult life, but Davis made some points I hadn’t thought of. If you’re currently on the job, I highly recommend you read this book. It might just save your job and livelihood.