What Is Responsible Fear?

We think about, train, and strategize for the sudden, dangerous, high-risk event all the time. But do we put ourselves at even greater risk by ignoring the everyday threats to our health and safety?

So what do the fears of freaked out parents have to do with our world?  If you’re a local cop you’ve probably responded to countless calls from these same parents fearful of unfamiliar strangers parked near schools or on the street near where children play, convinced of the worst.  Almost always the fears are unfounded, the strangers intentions purely innocent.  After a while we roll our eyes while dutifully responding, FI the contact, reassure the p’s, and move on.  Every so often, however, the fears are justified and suspicions well-placed and we’re glad someone followed their instincts and picked up the phone.

But we also know “stranger danger” is greatly overrated and real threats come from within and unexpectedly:  Sex abuse is most often at the hands of a known and trusted adult; predators lurk the internet and lure children seemingly safe and alone in their own bedrooms; bullies lay verbal body blows on peers that whittle away at their emotional and physical health in class, on the playground, and online; the lure of hard drugs even the most stoned 60s hippie knew to avoid now crush lives right and left.  And by the time these threats are realized they’ve already done their damage to the surprise and horror of the unsuspecting parents.

Now think about our own world of policing.  We think (and worry) about, train, and strategize for the sudden, violent encounter.  We study and armchair quarterback mass shootings, barricaded subjects and hostage situations, and how we’ll approach high-risk calls.  We need to do this; those high-risk, low occurrence events truly pose significant danger and failure to think, train, and strategize breeds complacency.  But while we stand vigilant against such extreme incidents – and some of us too often slip into hypervigilance – we frequently lose sight of other, less dramatic but no less dangerous threats.

As you train for deadly force encounters, confronting multiple assailants, and active shooters – focusing on keeping yourself, your colleagues, and the innocent safe – do you give equal thought to what you eat every day?  To exercise and flexibility?  To keeping your mind alert and supple?  We all talk a great game about officer safety, going home at the end of each shift, and survival over the length of a career.  Yet so many of us subsist on fast food and other highly processed meals to get us through our day, let slip the fitness regimes that led us to and through the academy, and fall into comfortable patterns that feel safe but offer little in the way of intellectual growth and novel experiences.  Do we ever think about the toll this takes?  

We concern ourselves with off-duty threats and how we’ll protect our families when we’re out in a world of danger, but do we stop to think how the job, the constant hypervigilance, and the “us vs them” mentality so many of us allow to define our worlds might damage our relationships and the psyches of those we love the most over time? 

These are concerns and questions most cops never give much thought to, but we should.  The world around us can be dangerous, true, but the world we inadvertently create might be even more so.  Something to think about.


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