Way back in 2007, over 15 years ago now, I wrote a short piece about a police department that had been stood up and the Chief prioritized technology over force tools. Every officer had a laptop computer, a blackberry (remember those?), a GPS tracker in their vehicle and more. But you know what they didn’t have? Shotguns, rifles, specialized less-lethal munitions. They each had a duty belt with a sidearm, two spare magazines, a TASER, a baton, a pair of handcuffs, a radio, a cannister of OC Spray, a flashlight and a pair of nitrile gloves. They were, in fact, prohibited from carrying a third spare magazine if they saw the need or had the desire. When questioned about it, the Chief commented that she wanted to make sure the agency stepped off into the new millennium focused on the strengths of technology and avoiding the dangers of too much force. Given all that’s happened in the past 15 years, she was probably ahead of her time. But still, have you ever seen a laptop computer fight a criminal into handcuffs?
Jump forward to today. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference was just held last week in San Diego, CA and the show floor was saturated with companies that provide software solutions, data management, data-based predictive policing tools, etc. The number of radios, laptops, handheld computer based anything and more was abundant. It was good to see services and organizations represented that supported officers who were challenged with stress management, mental and emotional trauma mitigation, and substance abuse/addiction issues. Companies that offered training services or tools were well represented. What wasn’t there in large number was companies that manufacture or train use of force tools. There weren’t a lot of firearms companies there. There weren’t a lot of baton/impact weapon companies there. The Use of Force focused companies were training companies (mostly) and the training was (again, mostly) virtual or simulated.
Now don’t get me wrong: There is a place for projected simulation training in the law enforcement community. In fact, it’s a tool we don’t leverage enough. Depending on the system, the price can be prohibitive for smaller agencies. But it also has the challenge that every other software based, simulation based, not-reality-based system has: it trains the mind (and yes, we all need that) but does nothing to train the body or a practical skill.
The place where law enforcement gets injured is direct contact with a subject or threat. The only inherent danger to using technology is that it can distract us from being aware of a threat. Using handheld e-citation devices is efficient and time saving, but if you’re looking at it when the subject gets out of his car and points a gun at you, then the device has ultimately contributed to harm.
This is NOT an article saying technology is bad. What I’m trying to articulate is that law enforcement officers, at the end of the day, are warriors first. While we do all we can to Protect & Serve, sometimes we have to arrest and handcuff bad guys. Those bad guys don’t always smile, say, “Thank you,” turn around and peacefully put their hands behind their backs. In fact, some of them ambush us, many of them fight us, lots of them run from us and then, when we finally get hands on them, they resist having those handcuffs put on. The perspective I’m trying to share is that no matter how much technology you have and how much it empowers you to be better informed, more time efficient, etc., none of it ever puts handcuffs on bad guys. None of it supports you in the actual fight. Hand to hand combat, as much as we think of it as a military reality, is what law enforcement professionals potentially do every time they touch someone to put the handcuffs on.
It’s also one of the most dangerous parts of the law enforcement career. The minutes that follow, “You’re under arrest,” are among the most dangerous for any officer. The subject may be 100% compliant and take being handcuffed with resignation. They may only act compliant until the officer’s first touch and then the fight is on. They may be obviously resistant and ready to fight before the officer gets close.
We have tools available to help us when we deal with that third case. You say, “You’re under arrest,” and the guy drops back into his fighting stance, bouncing on his toes, fists up and ready to go at it. Spray? Taze? Baton? He has to go into handcuffs despite his resistance. That is when you know how much your agency supports you as a warrior.
If the agency has invested millions of dollars in technology but you can’t remember the last defensive tactics refresher training course you had, there’s a problem. If your laptop computer is brand new but your baton and handcuffs are both 30 years old, there’s a problem. If you’re required to take 24 hours of diversity training but there’s no gym or fitness incentive provided by your agency, there’s a problem. If you know exactly who to call to report unprofessional conduct but no idea who to call when you’re dealing with the post-event trauma of shooting a criminal, there’s a problem.
In contemporary society it’s all too easy to get distracted from this reality: Everything an officer does on duty that is service related is important, but none of it will get him killed. Everything an officer does on duty that is protection related is potentially dangerous and mishandling it, even in the smallest way, can be deadly. As we move forward into the 21st century, it behooves us to remember that officers are warriors and we need to train them as such.
“It is better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war.” – Miyamoto Musashi
We do a pretty good job of training the gardener. But in doing so, if we neglect training the warrior, we’re going to get him badly injured or worse. Train the warrior first and the gardener second.