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What Will Your Legacy Be?

Each of us knows eventually there will be a eulogy said at a memorial service or funeral for us; we can’t know when or why we will be laid to rest, but perceiving our own mortality has always been considered one of the primary differences between our species and the rest of the known creatures inhabiting our planet.  I hope I am not the first person to tell you this, but “all who are born die, the hero as well as the coward” to quote Hector in the Iliad, and our choice in life is how we live, not whether or not we die… and Hector’s choice is to “live as a valiant one!”

I like to believe each of you , who wear a badge and protect others , see your life as hero’s path, living as a “valiant one” and bravely and wisely facing the challenges such a journey presents.  I remember in the eighties, as I was going on raids with my narcotics unit in Southern Arizona, I would always try to be tactically sound at all times because I had a national reputation from doing my a nationwide street survival program; and I didn’t ever want to end up in the seminar as an example of what not to do!

You may think that is a pretty weak motivator but you would be wrong.  That simple thought kept me peaked as we conducted raid after raid.  I was working with the finest folks I had ever worked with and didn’t want to let them, or my own legacy, down.    Understand, I have been intently going over officer killed summaries since I went into the Training Unit of the Arizona DPS in January, 1980.  While I had read plenty of books and articles about officer tactics and safety working at the Tucson Police Department and on the Highway Patrol, suddenly knowing and applying tactics, fitness, mindset, and all the ancillary skills and knowledge officers need had become my job.  In fact, one of the reasons my partner, Steve Trethewy, and I developed “JD “Buck” Savage” was to make officer safety tips “stickier” in the minds of our warriors.

In their book, Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath explain how some ideas, songs, or themes just stay with us.  Remember the Oscar Meyer wiener song?  Well, there are ways to make an idea “sticky” by adding certain elements to it, such as making it simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and presented as a story.  That is why I told you about my concerns on raids after doing years of seminars in which I explored good and bad examples of officer behaviors… being a bad example was something I dreaded and that motivated me to be extra alert, extra intense on every entry.  It also tempered my driving during surveillance, and my awareness going into a restaurant, convenience store, bank or other business on and off duty!  It was a damn sticky thought.

So here I am looking over the ODMP.ORG’s officers killed in 2014 stats and I see us doing pretty well in dealing with assaults, but accidents are killing us at a faster rate than last year!  Before you come up with reasons like a terrible winter, staffing issues, etc, let me just ask you to think about yourself:  How will you die?  Don’t know, do you?  But let me get you thinking about something I was taught years ago, called “The Nelson Rockefeller Maxim!” It is short and sweet:  Never do anything you are not willing to be caught dead doing!  To refresh your memory, the good Vice President died “in flagrante delicto” during a tryst with a female aide at his midtown apartment in New York, leaving a sad legacy to an otherwise well- lived life. 

Each of you face many risks daily on and off the job and when we exacerbate those risks by taking unnecessary chances, it just doesn’t make sense and makes your untimely eulogy a bit sadder  if (when?) that the risk event takes your life.  No one will say it, but all will think it: if you are found sixty feet from your overturned vehicle, ejected because you don’t think wearing a seatbelt is “tactical,” or killed racing through and intersection on the way to a call:, “If only she had worn her seatbelt!” or “If only he had slowed down!”

So how will you be remembered?  You are a “valiant one” (as Hector calls the heroic in his speech to Andromache), and I am sure you helped many in your career - but I ask you in the name of those who have died because they were speeding too fast, or were not wearing a seatbelt, or failed to search properly, or failed to follow the “Rule of Plus-One,” or failed to stand to the side of a door when knocking, or any one of a myriad of simple mistakes, to say silentlyto yourself, “I thank you my brothers and sisters for your sacrifice and I shall give it meaning by learning from, and not repeating, your mistake!” 

In doing so, I think it ensures that when something that suddenly strikes you as reckless or foolish, you will slow down, or take cover, or call for back up, and think to yourself, “I don’t want to be caught dead doing that!”