Photo credit: Photo by John Wills
Have you ever known anyone who went to their doctor and was unfortunately given the terrible news that they had a terminal illness? When they were told that they had six months or a year to live, did they just give up and go home to die? Probably not. If you have known one of these individuals, you know that they drastically changed their lives for their remaining days on earth. They completely changed priorities, putting themselves and their families first. Things that they thought were important before--jobs, projects, material things--moved way down on the list of what used to consume most of their time. Now what gained prominence were things like places they had always wanted to visit, things they had always wanted to try, people they had always wanted to meet, and even things they had always wanted to say. They also, perhaps for the very first time, faced their mortality and very likely began a dialogue with the Lord unlike any they have ever had before.
Now let's move this same scenario from the medical field to the law enforcement domain. Imagine if you will, that you knew the exact date and time that you would be involved in a fight for your life--a gun battle. Let us presume that in exactly six months from now, at exactly 3:00 pm, you knew that you would engage a bad guy in a gunfight. Tell me what you would be doing from the moment that you learned this challenge would take place, until the actual event occurred. Never mind...I know your answer--you would be training day and night to prepare yourself for this life and death struggle. You would recognize that on your daily list of priorities, training to win has just superseded all else that you used to think was important. You would ensure that your marksmanship, tactics, equipment, strength and health, were all "spot on." When that date and time finally arrived, chances are you would be the most efficient fighting machine that you could possibly imagine.
We know that the aforementioned scenario could never take place. That being said, if you will never know exactly when such a critical incident might occur, but know that your job as a police officer carries a high probability that you may be involved in a gun battle on any given day, why aren't you preparing yourself for that moment? Why do many of us, including our administrators, place a low priority on training? Why is it that whenever there is a budget crunch, the first area to take a hit is the training dollar? The paradox is that everyone recognizes the value of training, we all concur that training saves lives, yet we are quick to eliminate it from the budget at the first hint of a monetary crunch. So that begs the question...Will you be ready when your test presents itself, and how do you prepare? There are three areas of preparation: physical, mental, and spiritual.
Physical preparation involves, first and foremost, your individual fitness. This is an area in which no one else bears responsibility but you. You need to be doing something in this area each day. The very nature of our job demands that you be fit. We chase after people, we confront non-compliant subjects, we lift and carry people, we are more often than not performing physical tasks each shift. If we are unfit, these things become a liability for us and our colleagues. If I am chasing a subject up several flights of stairs, when I catch him I still have to have the strength to cuff him. I also expect that my partner(s) will be right there with me as well. Fitness does not mean that you have to be a competitive bodybuilder or marathoner, but it requires that you occasionally challenge yourself and get your heart rate elevated. If you never stress your body, when you encounter a stressful incident on the street there is a high probability that you will fail.
Physical also includes being instinctively familiar with your weapons and weapon systems. It means through training, being able to get to and manipulate every tool on your duty belt without thinking or looking at any of it. Being physically prepared also means being effective with that service weapon, shoulder weapon, and less-lethal weapon when the need presents itself.
Mental preparation means being focused on duty. It means not bringing any baggage with you from home or anywhere else. That argument that you had with your spouse or child last night needs to be shelved while you focus on the task at hand. Mental preparation includes having a "can-do" mentality that translates into a mind-set that gives you the confidence that you can handle anything at anytime. Not over confidence, but rather the piece of mind that comes with knowing that you have covered all the bases.
One other aspect of mental preparation involves that gray matter that we sometimes neglect. It is incumbent on each of us to stay current with the means and methods that will allow us to perform our jobs as efficiently and expertly as possible. That means constantly talking with our colleagues and doing our own research about new products, training techniques, and tactics that have been performed successfully by other police officers. It also means not waiting for the training officer to deliver all of our training. Sometimes we need to be proactive and actually train ourselves when it is obvious that our department cannot provide us with all the tools that will likely keep us alive. Finally, it involves going over in our mind the "what ifs" that may possibly cross our path this day or any day, and the plan that we have to win those situations.
The last level of preparation is the spiritual component. It is no coincidence that most departments have police chaplains. These dedicated men and women minister to our every need, but most importantly, they are there in times of line of duty deaths and serious injuries. Spirituality has always played a role in law enforcement. Each year recall that there is a national ceremony in Washington, D.C., that commemorates our fallen comrades which includes a mass said in their honor. Ensure that your spiritual house is in order so that when you walk out of roll call you leave nothing to chance. When body, mind, and spirit are in tune, you are a righteous warrior, not unlike Michael the Archangel, patron saint of police officers.
Will you be ready? I pray that you are because, just like the thief that comes in the night, you never know when your test will come.