At every level of my training as a police officer, I’ve been constantly reminded to “train like my life depends on it”. I’ve heard it at the range, I’ve heard it during emergency driving, and I’ve heard it during traffic stop training. I’m almost positive our report writing instructor in the police academy managed to squeeze in some form of life and death threat. I can’t be sure though, because that was some boring shit and I don’t think I was awake for most of it. I end up with some pretty awesome doodles around the dried slobber in the margins of my notebook though.
As an instructor, I’ve taught lots of in-service classes and I’ve returned to teach recruits at the police academy several times. Depending on the subject matter, I’ve also been guilty of the “you better pay attention to this shit, because one day your life may depend on it” type of attention getter for my students.
As a field training officer, I’ve spent a lot of time pouring over the 1,001 ways cops die with my trainees. We cover policies and report writing and other mundane topics, but ultimately the officer safety topics take a priority.
As a patrol supervisor I do my best to remind my squad of “type A personalities” that they are not invincible. I ensure that they are as reflective as possible as they direct traffic, that seatbelts are being worn inside patrol cars, and that they are up to speed on local threats and other trends that may endanger them.
There’s a social movement stating that we are too focused on the dangers of our job and not focused enough on the preservation of life. To these folks, I offer a heartfelt “fuck you, you first”.
You see, our lessons are learned in blood. There are moments in the history of American policing that have left a mark on the way we train our people. The killing of 4 California Highway Patrol officers in the unincorporated Newhall area of Los Angeles in 1970 led to revolutionary changes in the way officers were trained in the use of firearms. We learned tactical lessons from Columbine, from the North Hollywood bank shootout and other major incidents that followed. We watch dash cam videos of officers who made fatal mistakes during traffic stops and solemnly vow to not repeat those same mistakes ourselves.
Now we face threats from domestic and foreign terrorists in addition to the standard pieces of shit that would rather shoot it out than return to a cell where they belong. Cowardly unprovoked ambushes of officers seem to be the newest methodology for those who are bent on doing harm to the men and women in blue, and I fear that will evolve into something worse.
An officer who is placed in fear of mortal injury and discharges a firearm in the defense of his or her own life is in the middle of a life altering situation. He or she will deal with the aftermath forever, even if there is no public outcry. Even if no cellphone video snippet is aired nationally, even if there is no media crucifixion or a political figure finding immediate fault with little or no information, the officer who pulls the trigger will revisit the moment forever.
There are cries for a nationwide law enforcement use of force policy which will change nothing. A duck is a duck is a duck, and a deadly force incident is a deadly force incident. Our officers already understand that shooting another human being is a last resort. Go ahead and put some sort of flowery verbiage on paper, it will change nothing while our society falls apart at the seams. There are no free toasters awarded to the officer with the most confirmed kills. It is a last resort because life is precious.
Although I have never been the one to pull the trigger, I have been involved in some manner in four officer-involved shootings in 13 years. None of those officers were injured. None of them wanted to be placed in that situation. None of them created the situation. The officers simply responded to the actions of the suspects in order to defend themselves from a lethal threat. In these incidents, two of the suspects were killed. One was wounded severely but managed to survive and later stood trial for his crimes. One was somehow unharmed. In these incidents, all of the involved officers were changed forever because life is precious.
In the same period of time, I’ve attended the funerals of more officers than I care to mention. Unfortunately most of those officers met their end because of the actions of some walking, talking, human piece of shit. A police funeral brings about a full range of emotions that cascade from rage, sadness, and pride. Those emotions come from deep within because life is precious.
Death is a part of life. Unfortunately it is an area that law enforcement officers are all too familiar. If your final breath is taken outside of a hospital or assisted living facility while you’re in the Donut, someone dressed like me will show up to document and investigate the scene. Homicides, suicides, accidents, and natural deaths, it doesn’t matter, we’ll be there. We’ll console the families. We’ll seek out the perpetrators if it’s appropriate. We do these things because life is precious.
If we happen upon the scene before the suspect leaves, we’ll insert ourselves and do everything in our power to protect the perfect strangers there who are endangered. If the suspect surrenders, he or she will be taken into custody unharmed. If he or she decides to continue an attempt to harm anyone with a lethal threat, it was his or her decision. With any luck, it will be the last decision made by the suspect in that situation. We do these things because life is precious.
At times our most reliable way to save a life is to take another, but we train our officers in first aid, CPR, and the treatment of gunshot wounds. We equip them with medical kits so they may be able to save a life. Most officers have performed chest compressions more than they’ve ever applied pressure to the trigger of their service weapon while on duty. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heroin addict that has overdosed several times in the last month, a soccer mom, or someone who we just had to shoot because they posed a mortal danger to us, we’ll do everything we can to revive them. We do these things because life is precious.
The lives of Mrs. Donut and my sugar donuts are precious to me, too. In order to remain a part of their lives, I have to sustain my own. If you have your own family that you value, don’t put me in a place that I have to defend my ability to return to mine.
It is human nature to blame others for the faults of our own ilk. As a law enforcement trainer, supervisor, and uniformed officer, I am sure there are plenty of things I can do to increase my own effectiveness and safety. Our approach can be refined.
Those who scream for change need to make the change. If you don’t enjoy seeing officers in riot gear and militaristic equipment, don’t riot or create disturbances that call for such equipment. Civil discourse is just that…civil. Forming as a large group and chanting “What do we want? Dead Cops!” repeatedly while blocking interstate travel is not necessarily a civil means to go about business. Any group pushing a rhetoric that is divisive and paints all law enforcement as an enemy only leads to violence; violence from cowardly fanatics like the shooters in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Milwaukee who ambushed police officers with tragic results.
The phrase “community policing” involves two key words. Community is the first. If the community does not support us, there is no community policing. If we are to make progress, the community must also embrace change. If we are expected to engage in self-reflection and task analysis to find faults in our own policies and actions, those who scream the loudest for change should also take those steps in their own peer groups. As an agency, if we have well publicized public forums and community outreach programs that have little to no attendance, it is no longer our fault. If no one happened to witness a crime that occurred directly in front of them, the fault is not ours.
The majority of the law enforcement agencies in our nation do not have the time, budget, or manpower to spend in order to campaign for support in their communities. That support is garnered by doing a service for the citizens, every day, without fail. If the community can call 911 and receive a response and lawful resolution to the problem at hand, the officers have represented their agency well.
Policing will remain in place regardless as to the cooperation and participation of the community. Laws must be upheld to maintain peace and order. There will always be those who break laws, and so there will always be a need for those who are there to pursue the law breakers. This is the case because life is precious.
If you want to see a change in law enforcement, change your community. If there is no longer a constant threat of death or grave bodily harm to the officers, there will no longer be a need for us to remind officers of their mortality at every step in the training cycle.
My heart is breaking for those who lost loved ones and partners alike in the horrific and cowardly shootings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. I wish the survivors a speedy recovery and hope that the good people of our nation begin to stand up to the media outlets and other purveyors of hate speech against the men and women of our law enforcement in the United States.
“Stay frosty” my brothers and sisters in blue. Be a hard target and fight the good fight. At the end of the day it’s all about going home to squeeze your loved ones. After your shift is done, if you can look in the mirror and be proud of the man or woman who is staring back, you’ve done everything we can ask of you.
It’s time to go patrol the Donut…