Photo credit: Editorial Cartoon by Paul Combs
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Photo credit: Editorial Cartoon by Paul Combs
The recent movie 300 reminded me about how important it is to provide ourselves with the equipment that we need to keep us safe, and to maintain a tactical advantage. In the movie, King Leonidas and his fellow Spartans were keenly aware of the importance of having every tool that they needed to "win" every encounter. Granted, their tool box was sparse compared to modern day warriors. Indeed, their duty weapons consisted only of helmet, spear, sword, and shield. But they never went to battle without being prepared.
The shield was an important piece of a warrior's equipment. The Spartans used eight-deep shield walls, moving in perfect step like Panzer tanks to bulldoze the enemy off the field of battle. With their huge, three-foot-wide shields overlapping, each soldier was protected from his chin down to his knees, thus freeing his right hand to thrust a spear or a sword. The shield was used not so much to protect the individual carrying it, but rather to protect the warrior on his left. Therefore, losing a shield meant disgrace, and demonstrated that the individual warrior had misplaced his own welfare over that of the phalanx. Whereas a helmet was meant for personal protection, the shield was used for the common good of all. Warriors were expected to return from battle either carrying their shield, or lying on it.
Aside from their warrior mentality of "never surrender, never retreat," it was the shield that helped to keep them alive. That same shield today will keep us alive as well, but only if we include it in our tool box. I know what you're thinking...how can I make that big, heavy, bulky shield become part of my duty equipment? And, how do I get my supervisor to allow me to have one? Let's explore those questions.
Shields have vastly improved over the last several years. They are lighter and more high-tech with mounted lights, etc. Differing from the old, rigid, bulky shields, the new flexible shields are ideal for everyday policing. Patriot3 Inc.(tm) in Fredericksburg, VA makes a portable shield they call the "Minuteman II." The shield is lighter than the traditional hard shield, weighing about 15 pounds. It comes in a black nylon cover with a convenient carrying handle that will easily fit in the trunk or front/back seat of your patrol unit. Another portable shield, the Cuirazz(r) Ballistic Shield fits into a Cordura case that is easy to carry, simple to store, and is fast to open. When closed, the case looks like any normal suit carrier. The Baker Batshield(r) is also a lightweight, portable shield that brings a whole new look and feel to shield usage. Its unique look is sure to give pause to any bad guy thinking about taking on an officer carrying one.
The street officer faces just as much danger as do SWAT teams. Moreover, the street cop usually never has any time to "gear up" for the encounter. With portable, folding shields, one only needs to pull it out of its case and go. What situations might be suitable? The list is long, but the ones that immediately come to mind are the felony traffic stop, the robbery in progress, the "man with a gun" call, clearing a building, and VIP protection, to name just a few. I for one have seen enough officers running up to a car on a felony vehicle stop completely unprotected. The shield gives you great cover to clear that vehicle. It makes perfect sense to have protective equipment available for the street officer, since they are on the front line and often must contain a scene until reinforcements arrive.
That brings us to the matter of training. If you have never trained with a shield before, it will become a liability in your hands, rather than an asset. But suffice it to say that working with a shield poses some problems that can cause you to quickly become distracted. You cannot afford to have that happen in a critical situation, so training with a shield is an absolute must. This is especially true if you are accustomed to shooting two-handed, but now must shoot with one while looking through a viewport. The old axiom "you fight the way that you train," applies here as it does everywhere else.
How about training with the judgmental training simulators that offer the capability of employing shoot-back cannons? Having rounds coming in your direction and actually striking the shield adds a whole new dimension to the term "reality based training." This is the type of exercise that truly allows one to identify both the strengths, and maybe some operator weaknesses, that are inherent in shield work.
The life expectancy of these Level III portable shields mirrors the personal body armor that you presently wear. The conventional wisdom states five years, and naturally that is affected by care and maintenance. If you leave it in the rain or sun, the ballistic properties will diminish in time and not give you the longevity it should. Treat it as you would your personal body armor, and it will last five years or longer.
The Spartans utilized the shield to its fullest potential. It served not only as protective equipment, but also as a tool of intimidation. We can use it in much the same manner. A well-equipped, well-trained officer is perceived by the bad guys as an unstoppable foe and a professional warrior. That perception works in our favor, engenders respect, and more often than not causes our adversary to capitulate rather than escalate. This piece of equipment is a must for each officer on the street. I do not advocate carrying the shield on every call, but to have the ability to instantly deploy it, especially on felony calls, just makes good police sense. If cost is a factor (how much is an officer's life worth?) and precludes you from having a shield in every vehicle, it should at least be in a sector or supervisor's vehicle for quick deployment. Follow the example of King Leonidas and his fellow Spartans and include a shield in your tool kit. No warrior should be without one!