Every morning in my email inbox I receive a summary of officer-involved shootings, vehicle crashes and other incidents involving police officer injury or death. Like most of you, I continue to feel frustrated as I read about the daily assault on American law enforcement. Most days, I’m on the phone or exchanging emails or texts with other trainers, with survivors, and with officers on the street, talking about individual cases as well as “officer survival” in general, and the conversation always seems to circle back to the same thing: “Basics.”
Before you think to yourself “I’m no rookie, I don’t need another article on the basics of officer safety” and hit the back key, get up and take a long, hard look in the mirror. Remember, the average age of an officer killed in the line of duty is now forty. How did your last shift go? Your last arrest? Your last search? Did you make any mistakes? Did you see anyone else make mistakes? We’re not only responsible for our own safety, we are morally obligated to watch out for our brothers and sisters, and that includes making sure we’re all performing at our absolute best.
Here are some of things we need to improve upon, immediately. See if any of this applies to you or someone you know.
We’re rushing in. Whether it’s a suspicious circumstances call, a domestic dispute, a warrant service, a cell search, or a traffic stop we seem to be in a big damn hurry. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but very often it’s not. Are you thinking about what’s ahead? Are you visualizing what may happen in the next five seconds, the next ten minutes, the next hour, and how you’re going to respond? We call that “When/Then” thinking in our officer survival classes, and that kind of mindset is essential to your safety. Slowing things down a bit is not the same as “hesitation.” Be deliberate in your response, in your observations, in your tactics. Breathe, focus, anticipate.
We don’t get back up. Before you say “I don’t have the luxury of back up” ask yourself if that’s really true. For many of you, it’s your day to day reality. Half of all American police departments employ less than ten sworn officers. But even if you’re a small town cop, can you get back up from the agency next door, or from the county, the state police, or even from an off duty colleague who lives in town? Be creative and a little patient when it comes to getting another officer on scene. And for those of you who do have back up readily available, are you asking for it? More importantly, are you waiting for it? Again, rushing in can be deadly. What if you absolutely can’t get another officer there to help out? Then consider your options. Get people controlled, make sure you’re constantly aware of cover, communicate with dispatch, and always consider the option of disengaging. You can’t walk away from a violent domestic or an active shooter, but you can probably wait to serve that warrant until you have another officer or two on your side.
We’re outgunned. There are so many articles and news reports on the “militarization of law enforcement,” and yet we’re consistently being out-gunned. Assume the criminals have long guns, assume they have more that one weapon, assume they are skilled shooters, assume they have their own back up, assume they want to kill you. Make sure you have more than one firearm, enough ammunition, confidence in your own skills, and an absolute attitude that you will “keep fighting no matter what!” Remember, it’s not paranoia, it’s preparation.