On Preparation

It went like this...

Patrolman A was scheduled to attend a firearms qualification and training program at the range. He arrived straight off a patrol shift with the gear he usually wears on duty. The flashlight that he brought (the only one he has since he lost his department issue light) was so dim that it could barely illuminate the target 15 feet to his front. Truth told he could have probably gotten more light from a 99 cent Bic lighter. Heck, I had a brighter micro-sized keychain light on my car keys that day. He and another officer with a similar light, maybe they bought the lights two for one at the Dollar Store, laughed about it. He chuckled, look at me hard-core salty street cop and my crappy flashlight. With his laissez faire attitude he was essentially saying, It's not gonna happen to me. I don't need no stupid flashlight.

Now what's to keep our hardcore/bad attitude/unprepared copper from leaving the range and being dispatched to a man with gun call that just so happens to be in a darkened warehouse? Ain't so funny now my brother is it? Now it's your butt that's out there flappin' in the breeze and not only can't you see to successfully navigate your way in that subdued lighting environment but you certainly can't locate the suspect or identify him as armed. To every other officer out there you're a liability, Skippy, and all because you are unprepared.

It Is Not About the Flashlight

Of course, we're really not talking about the flashlight are we? The flashlight, or more accurately the lack of a decent flashlight, is just an example of lack of preparedness. We're talking about a way of life - Preparation. Simply stated we are internally and externally ready or not. Our mindset is geared towards evaluating, controlling and reducing risk through proper awareness, attention, commitment, aggression and fear control. Physically we're ready by skill mastery. We've practiced those physical skills necessary to perform our jobs. We can perform the proper draw-stroke of our duty pistol. We can accurately deliver fire on target. We can competently deliver less-lethal force on a suspect via our pepper spray, Taser or expandable baton. We can handcuff seemingly cooperative suspects as well those who are resisting arrest. Finally, we understand that we are the weapon system and our physical suspect control skills are up to snuff and practiced. We understand that this mind/body connection works in concert to allow us the means to save our butt.

Externally we improve our odds by ensuring that our uniform looks good so we present a professional appearance. Looking like a bag of rags and projecting poor body language does tremendous damage to our very survival. Simply put, if you look unprofessional or like an easy target you're more likely to be attacked or have a suspect attempt to escape. Look professional, ready, and competent, dare I say, formidable and you'll have fewer problems. Additionally by making sure your pistol, holster, magazines, handcuffs and duty gear are in place, properly maintained and functioning removes a source of potential disaster. In the worst of times your gear will be there working for you, not limiting or inhibiting your performance.

Mindsight not Mindset

As a trainer I've found that the term mindset is insufficient to describe the state of internal and external readiness I believe is necessary. When describing mindset we usually reminded of the late Col. Jeff Cooper's Color Codes possibly even a reference to his Principles of Personal Defense. Although the good Colonel's material is still sound today there is more out there to mental preparation. Michael Asken, PhD wrote and self-published a book in 2005 titled Mindsighting: Mental Toughness for Police Officers in High Stress Situations (available through his website MindSighting, linked below) which delves deeper into the mental aspects of performance and what I find vitally important, fear control. Dr. Asken reports several different types of fears or related issues in the law enforcement officer:

  • Realistic Fears - Fear based in reality of injury or death
  • Fear of the Unknown - The fear of not knowing what to expect
  • Anxiety - Although not specifically a fear anxiety is an uneasiness without specific focus
  • Illogical Fear - Is a fear defined by the author as out of proportion to objective realities
  • Fear of Failure - The motive to avoid failure leads to fear and discomfort
  • Fun Fear - Actually more an enjoyment from experiencing the adrenalin rush or excitement

What's interesting is that we all experience fear and the physiological reactions to it. Asken refers to methods to control fear and training is often a large component of fear management in all of the categories mentioned. Sadly many officers experience anxiety or physiological reactions prior to attending the very training that offers them the method to reduce or control their fears. I've known officers that get physically ill prior to attending a training or qualification event. Because of this they avoid, instead of embrace, the method (training) that gives them the best chance to win on the street and improve their performance on the range.

Training and confrontation simulation can safely take us and our fears to a new place whereby we increase our comfort zone. Competence and its resulting confidence do much to control and reduce the sympathetic nervous system (fear response). Only by opening ourselves up to the crucible of training do we touch our fears, embrace them and learn to control ourselves in excitable conditions. Only by readying our minds, our bodies and our gear can we truly be prepared.

The Fan of Real Life

As in the old saying of when the feces hits the rotating oscillator, life and its stark, cold and unfeeling reality has a way of humbling us all: Daylight or at night, functioning flashlight or not, skills mastered or forced to wing it. Whether you're ready or not, here it comes. The difference and the only method you have to be an active part of the outcome is indeed being ready being prepared in mind, body and equipment. Showing up at the range with a crappy flashlight hurts your rep; showing up at a gunfight for your life unprepared hurts a lot more.