What more chilling words exist in law enforcement than an officer calling out that they’ve been shot or stabbed? Even if you’re not listening live the effect is reflexive. Your heart leaps and you gain a sudden intensity about what is going to happen and how will the officer be? But what if it is you the one on the radio transmitting that you that have just been shot? What will you do?
The first step is to mentally rehearse over and over exactly what you will do if and when you are shot. This is not a thought we like to deal with but denial is the true killer and preparation is the antidote that increases your odds exponentially!
In the early eighties, renowned police trainer Bob Lindsey of Jefferson Parrish found that an alarming number of officers were dying after being hit in non-disabling locations and failing to finish the fight. This triggered a flurry of research and soul searching in the training community and an outreach to trauma physicians to help us stem this tragedy. No one denies that officers will be shot and killed, but many more will be shot and live, fighting back and winning their confrontation. That’s who you want to be.
First, we learned to quit the practice of doing “bang bang you’re dead” drills. Too many training exercises were being stopped after the role player got the drop on the trainee and the feedback was, “you’re dead!” The artifact of this type of exercise is to literally teach the officer they are helpless if they get shot. True realistic training exercises such as these have to continue until the student fights back effectively. The goal of training is to habituate a fighting response to being hurt, not one of surrender. One of the bright spots of modern training is all the great realistic simunition, paintball, or air soft training going on nationwide.
But, whether your agency trains this or not, you must do so! Using your natural ability to create realistic scenarios right in your head through visualization is a great way to see yourself fighting back time and time again after being struck, stabbed, and shot. This is a form of inoculation, a little of the disease, that allows you to fight and fight and win, even when badly injured. One Atlanta surgeon said there was no way an Atlanta officer had won a gunfight, called for help on her portable, and held second suspect at gunpoint after being shot severely in both hands. He claimed the tendons that operated her finger could not have functioned and she couldn’t physically have done all those things…but she had, and so can you.
When she was shot she used her anger to energize her actions and she used that power to win, not fall to ground helplessly! So many winning officers who found out they were in a gunfight only after being shot the common element of surprise, anger, and focus come into play. They reflexively, habitually fought back and won…and so will you if you mentally prepare now!
Before you start doing your visualizations, your crisis rehearsals, understand the fact that the vast majority of officers shot survive! Too many officers are under the illusion that if they get shot they will die and that is one disabling, terrible belief. This point has been made time and again by ER physicians that if get to them alive the odds are they’ll keep you that way but you can help.
First, win the fight, get a safe environment and start self aid. All of law enforcement learns first aid but self-aid is an essential skill and I challenge you to get a class within the next year. But whether you take the class or not carry a combat bandage with you and learn how to apply it to yourself. Some officers even carry a self-applying tourniquet along with their bandage as well, but with training you can turn and Israeli bandage into a tourniquet on yourself as well as others.
Another thing physicians also say is “don’t diagnose yourself! Win the fight then treat yourself.” Looking at a chest wound or knowing you have a head wound and going into bellows breathing is exactly the wrong thing to do. Start your Tactical Breathing immediately and lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Take control of yourself. As one surgeon said, “A head wound kills you right now if it is going to, otherwise have faith you will make it!” That is a common refrain from the folks in the ER, a wound that hasn’t immediately disabled you is probably survivable if you don’t give up…don’t panic. And one of the best panic preventatives there is is training!
Finally, a word about the warrior’s path: When you put on a badge and a gun you literally give up the right to give up. You symbolically are saying you will fight for the innocent, for what is right, and for yourself. Every warrior knows what Hector said in the Iliad: “All who are born die, the hero as well as the coward, and I choose to live as a valiant one!” The choice in life isn’t whether we will die or not, but how we will live minute to minute, day to day, and when a just warrior falls we are in lamentation, and remembrance of the sacrifice. Each of us will face our end and if it is to be fighting so be it, but as the California Highway Patrol Prayer by Kevin Contoneo says: “And if ever I am called on to face the ultimate trial of life and death, that I might be victorious, in the name of all for which I stand. If not, that as I leave this work, I might drive the soul of my aggressor before me.”
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Editor's Note: It's a rare occasion that I would add to something that Dave wrote but in this instance I'm a living example of one of his points. In 1986, while off-duty at a gun range, I was shot in the back of the head. A poorly trained and improperly supervised shooter had left the firing line with a jammed Government Model 1911 .45ACP pistol. From a distance of about twelve feet behind the line, he worked to clear the jam with the grip safety depressed and his finger on the trigger. When he finally cleared the jam, he fired the weapon and the FMJ round struck me in the head just behind my right ear. I'm here to tell the tale because the bullet ricocheted off my hard head. Everyone on the range panicked because I had been "shot in the head." But I was conscious, had one hell of a headache, and a nice goose egg forming quickly at the point of impact. My family jokes about the proof that I'm hard-headed but I've always kept that experience in mind. Shot doesn't mean dead. Impact doesn't mean penetration. I'm living proof. Dave is right (as usual). Heed his words!