Over the years we have tried lists, and videos, and posters and a whole assortment of gimmicks to keep our people safe. Truth is, almost no one in the law enforcement profession is actually seeking safety. Crime fighting draws a type of person known as a high sensation, or high risk personality. Sensation seeking behavior is manifested in many ways in our profession and to go into some of them is to rehash the whole, “you bet your badge,” activity we routinely engage in.
People, who have a “need for speed!” so to speak, are going to be in danger often as they seek a constant input of sensations. Just look how consistently we find officers who get thrust into light duty assignments due to an injury, illness or other event and then get themselves in trouble by “seeking sensations” in ways that are not acceptable to departmental or other social standards. So the salient question is: if we are going to constantly seek risk in our lives shouldn’t our habits, our habituated training, be congruent with that risk?
First, let’s define a habit: an acquired behavior regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. The example in my dictionary is: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street. Good habit right? You bet unless you stop processing what is going on in the road that you are about to step into. Every day tens of thousands of officers step into active roadways for everything from public assists to foot pursuits, so we can say for us looking for traffic on the roadway – really looking and seeing – is an essential lifesaving habit.
Just because we are sensation seeking types certainly doesn’t mean we are injury or death seeking types. We like risk, and the activities that go with it, but we aren’t suicidal on the whole (in a later article we will discuss suicide and the Crimefighter). Risk takers usually seek to overcome a risk when it comes along, and have a high tolerance for what is called “voluntary risk;” that is risks we choose to face. I have flown next to a lot of warriors that wouldn’t hesitate to be first through a door on a warrant but are “white knuckle” flyers who usually self medicate before, during and after a flight!
When we look at the all too large library of video clips of officers killed and injured we find a common theme. Bad habits develop in the midst of our high risk activities in spite of the fact that we think this is something that just shouldn’t happen. Good trainers know we train our essential skills to a “habituated” level…a habit. We draw our weapons without conscious thought when the “cue” to do so is present. The visual stimulus of a knife or gun or other weapon is all that is needed to cause a well trained law enforcement officer to seemingly produce a firearm as a magician does a rabbit.
The cry “gun” on a many a video is the final coherent word many a bad guy hears as an officer or deputy perceives and then ends an armed confrontation in a matter of a few seconds. Stimulus leads to a habituated routine or habit and in the vast majority of instances it is a good thing and we win.
But time and again as we watch officers get injured or killed on video, we see one “bad habit” after the other. Loitering between vehicles, hands in pockets, looking away from problem areas, letting subjects stand close, or leave their hands in their pockets and on and on. Where the heck do such habits come from? It is time as people in a high risk profession, filled with high sensation seekers, that we nip this in the bud and reinforce the good habits that our training gave us to begin with.