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Officer Survival in 2013

All:  Welcome to 2013.  Happy New Year!  May it be a safe and prosperous New Year for you and yours.  Now that I have the pleasantries out of the way, welcome to a year that’s kicking off with plenty of debate about a couple of topics that certainly have the ability to impact our day (or night if you work graveyard shift).

Our year starts off with a huge debate over gun control, spurred by the most recent heinous crime committed in Newtown, CT by an obviously disturbed person.  Whether he was mentally or emotionally disturbed, knowingly carried criminal intent, was mad at the world or was simply evil and bored doesn’t matter in our world.  For us, response to and neutralization of the threat is what we focus on.  In this case, politicians and others with various agendas (myself sometimes included) seized on the event in an attempt to leverage it for their own gain, even if the “gain” is simply getting more of something they believe in.

Unfortunately, in this case, the issues are spilling over and affecting some of us at the operational level.  Take, for example, the detectives who were in a Denny’s restaurant in Illinois, who were asked to leave by a manager because their guns made other patrons nervous.  The Chief of Police has now ordered his officers not to go into a Denny’s unless they are responding to a call for service.  Not long ago, a representative from the Buffalo Wild Wings chain of restaurants/pubs came out with a statement that they don’t allow concealed carry in their establishments.  (They have yet to respond to my request for clarification on their position about off-duty or retired officers carrying concealed.)

Some in favor of gun control have long attempted to disarm those who rightfully and legally carry firearms.  In some places, judges have even sought to prohibit uniformed officers from being armed in the courtroom (although one judge I know of who tried this was the basest of hypocrites as she held a concealed carry permit and was always, as far as I know, armed in her courtroom).  Of the folks who favor gun control, a couple of prime motivators usually stand out.  Some seem simply afraid of firearms and the majority among them (in my experience) are largely ignorant about firearms, how they function, what they’ll do, etc.  Others seem genuinely motivated about reducing deadly violence in our streets and they see restricting what they perceive as tools of violence as a means of reducing violence.

To those who are afraid of weapon because they are ignorant of them, I encourage education.  Personally, if there’s a topic that concerns me, I do what I can to become better educated about it.  I find that the more I know, the less I fear.  To those who want to reduce criminal violence by controlling what they see as tools of violence I say, think again.  We human beings are a determined lot and we usually find a way to accomplish our goals even if it means improvising to use other tools.  All around the world there are countries and cities that have gun control laws far more restrictive than ours, yet mass killings and acts of violence continue to occur.  The problem is not the guns, or the proliferation of them, but the human beings who decide to commit violent acts and our lack of ability to identify them until after they’ve acted on their impulses.

To my brother and sister officers I say:  Make sure that you recognize daily your personal responsibility for your firearm(s).  Maintain them properly.  Maintain your proficiency with them.  Be mindful of others around you, on and off duty, and maintain positive control through personal possession, disabling, or secure storage.  For those among us who are pro-gun, be prepared to answer questions with rational, straight-forward information.  I’ve been a firearms instructor for almost 20 years and can’t count the number of hours that I’ve spent educating folks about simple basic firearms info… without being able to give anyone a bill for the time.  Ultimately, it was time well invested.

The other issue hovering over our heads is the economy.  While politicians play the blame game, tax revenues stay depressed which means law enforcement budgets stay cut.  Cut budgets mean fewer training hours, older equipment and too often, shortages in manpower.  All of these things serve to increase the risk we face each day as we perform our duties.

“Thanks” to that, we all need to recognize that our personal responsibility hasn’t changed.  YOU are responsible to make sure you maintain your equipment properly.  It may be older than you’d like but not caring for it only shortens its serviceable life span, and since YOUR life depends on ITS life, then you NEED to make sure you’re taking care of it.  Fewer training hours mean less time focused on maintaining or increasing your job knowledge and skills.  It behooves you to make time, during your shift or on your down time, to stay abreast of legal changes, agency policy updates, etc.  Use your own time and money if you must to get to the range at least quarterly.  Talk with your partner or your squad about various scenarios and “what ifs.”  If you’re a squad leader, make sure you take time in roll call to mentor your squad in topics particular to your area / beat.  Establish “informal” policy if need be about responding to high risk calls with reduced manpower.  Often, we can’t wait for backup.  Do you train in response tactics as a single officer?  Does your gear reflect the potentially higher risk?  Is your communications life line at least efficient?

It’s a new year and we need to not only survive, but be victorious all the way through to the next year.  Don’t get distracted by the political yuck that is constantly going on.  Don’t get sucked into the sensationalism the main stream media sells.  Stay informed about the topics necessary to maintain your survival during each shift.  Maintain yourself and your gear.  Go home at the end of every shift.  In the words of the infamous JD “Buck” Savage, “Not today!”  Don’t become a statistic or victim today.  Commit to NOT dying TODAY… and do it EVERY day.

In the words of my first squad sergeant when I started out as a Military Policeman:  “Stay alert; stay alive.”