Where do we, as police officers, draw the line between complacency and denial, readiness and paranoia? Read the daily reports of officer-involved shootings, motor vehicle accidents, fights, assaults and every other threat. Consider the locations of these incidents and the picture could not be more clear: No matter where you wear the uniform and drive a squad car, the threat is universal, even if the terrain is different.
English poet John Keats wrote that “Nothing is real ‘till experienced.” I would add that there are experiences you will not survive if you aren’t prepared mentally and physically. Complacency will kill you.
The difficulty in any life-safety training is to have the officers truly accept that these threats are real. There’s no wakeup call as clear and loud as when you suffer violence directed at you, or when you come close to falling off the edge of the proverbial cliff. When your hands and knees stop shaking and you realize how close you came, reality will be upon you. After such an event, you may accept and embrace this new vision of life and make your actions conform to the recognition that danger is ever present. Most do, but for how long?
After a prolonged shootout that resulted in the wounding of officers and the killing of the offender, I spoke with officers of the agency at various times. Immediately after the event, all were at a high state of readiness. As months progressed, I asked how things stood. Answer: Some officers were returning to the prior thinking: Nothing will happen here. A year later, many officers expressed that the event was now out of sight and out of mind.
Keats had it right: When we’re forced out of our comfort zones and put at risk, it all becomes real. To stay real, you must believe that the threat exists against you.
Complacency is a third-person issue: It only happens to others, so I need not fear. Complacency is among the most dangerous and insidious threats we face, because it lays us open to all the others.
You Are Not a Statistic
We have those who argue statistics. If you cling to statistics to determine readiness, then leave your handgun in your locker and head out onto the streets, because, by the numbers, there is almost no chance you will be involved in a gunfight. While you’re at it, don’t train. Why waste the time and money? Not going to happen to you, so don’t stress out.
I refuse to accept this line of thinking, and I urge you to do the same. When the possibility becomes the reality, statistics are rendered meaningless. Develop safety habits and practice them every day, every shift. Carry what you need and know how to use it all under extreme stress.
Take the time to discuss with your shift partners what they expect will happen and how they will react. It may be far different in reality, but the discussion is vital. When we discuss and imagine, we buy into the realities that exist. We confirm that we won’t be uniformed observers, but capable and competent police officers, willing to meet the test. Remember: Many will arrive later, but for those few life- and-death moments, you are it.
If you’ve lived a life of readiness, then success, while not certain, is far more likely. If you’ve lived a life of denial and complacency, disaster, while not certain, is more probable. The message is as old as Scripture: You reap what you sow. For those who see law enforcement as a profession, you will be a professional. For those who see it as a paycheck, there’s a safer, easier job for you out there.
Consider this pre-shift checklist:
1. Inspect your firearms and gear at the beginning of every shift. Keep all clean and lubed.
2. Ensure weapons are loaded and ready. Inspect all ammo you load in magazines.
3. Press-check your pistol and inspect your magazines every day.
4. Be certain all battery-powered devices are charged or operating at full power. Carry extra lights and batteries.
5. Carry a good folding rescue knife, an extra radio battery, gloves and glasses.
6. Check and maintain your squad car: It’s your life raft and gear locker.
7. Go armed and ready at all times. As my long-time mentor John Farnam says, the fight will be a “come as you are” event, so dress for success.
8. Clear your mind of the daily distractions and remind yourself, today is the day.