Officer Safety: Don't Stay Safe. BE Safe.
2010 was a bad year for cops. 2011 hasn’t started out well either. I recently came across a startling anti-police blog that exclaimed, “2010 was the year of the riot and 2011 is set to be the year of the insurrection.” I’m not going to choke you with statistics because so much is already out there on the assaults and killings that strikingly reminds us of our threats and call to duty. The significance of our current predicament is known. Moving forward this year (and forever) will command a new tactic that takes no budget, travel, or expense beyond that of our own attitude and limits—a personal reflection to answer a rhetorical question, “To be or not to be”? I’m not talking about Shakespeare but a challenge to consider a singular declarative statement in your life as a law enforcement officer—to BE safe!
In my career, I’ve been subjected to some of the best (and worst) buzzwords and acronyms in the safety industry. I’ve learned so much from so many mentors that I can’t possibly reiterate everything. I do know, however, that we tend to emulate others and ride on the shoulders of giants. In the absence of true leadership, people will follow anyone who is willing to step up to the microphone.
As a researcher and trainer, I read and listen a lot. I have my hands on about every piece of literature, article, or blog that promotes every call to action in a chaotic and tumultuous society that is our stomping grounds in law enforcement. I do ride-alongs, have coffee with the troops, and receive emails from officers and trainers looking for direction and feedback. On these occasions, I tend to look at the forest for the trees. In doing so, what I’ve come to realize is that we are NOT safe.Right now, you may be swallowing hard and catching a lump in your throat. I know I did when I wrote this. How many cops are brave and strong enough to say, “I don’t have my stuff together?" We are often lulled into complacency by people who pat us on the back and say “You do good work.” I know you do good work, but do you always do good work?
In our scientific community, there is no truth, but only the most probable truth. From now on, I ask you to BE safe and not to STAY safe. It’s not lip service nor is it a semantics issue. Why? Like an onion, if you peel back the layers of our training, trainers, administrators, and cops, it comes down to a simple philosophy and it doesn’t take Plato or Socrates to draw lines and make distinctions.
Have you ever told your children or grandchildren to stay good? “Stay good while we’re gone.” “Stay good for your teacher.” With an underlying anxiety born out of fear from friends and family being hurt (and not having control of that environment to ensure their safety), we say things like “be careful” and “be good.” Even Sgt. Esterhaus from Hill Street Blues used to end roll call with the familiar “Be careful out there.” The reality is that bad stuff can and does happen and we neutralize our own fear through those words—an expression of love, goodwill, and an unconscious, selfish desire for them to be okay.
Consider that the idea of staying safe is a continuance of a “place or condition” that already exists. Staying safe assumes that we have met some excellent or peak condition and simply work and live from that foundation. This is a difficult task when met with less-than-static and unfavorable conditions inherent to our job.
In the use-of-force business, we call it “tense, evolving, and uncertain.” Even in survival training, our best trainers and psychologists have taught us to not stay in one particular survival color condition. As I travel in airports across the U.S., I hear the familiar Homeland Security recording about leaving unattended baggage and our current security threat of “orange.” I like oranges—orange juice, orange wedges, peeled oranges. They are sweet, juicy and a great source of Vitamin C. Aside from my culinary appetite of the orange, I get it. I’ve tuned into the fact that our threat level is orange and has been for quite awhile. With a similar national threat level of “yellow,” (I’m not a fan of lemons or Big Bird), I am aware and everything seems to be somewhat routine. I’m vigilant yet I wait for my flight, delightfully reading my newspaper and sipping a vanilla latte.
Now consider the idea of “being” safe. ‘To be’ expresses a futuring. It’s an arrangement in advance or a future predicated on history. When you get done with training, kiss your family before heading out the door, or leave roll call and fire up that patrol vehicle, consider a possibility of existing in a progressive verb tense.
My colleague, Dave Smith (aka J.D. “Buck” Savage) has recently contributed to our cop universe with a new spur to action called the conspiracy of safety—fueled by the mantra of “Not Today!” From this conspiracy, we are asked to become something “more” through a collective responsibility. I see it as a constructive way to solve problems as a prospective function.
Being safe requires reflection—where we are, where we were, where we want to be. It requires us to see ourselves as others see us. While Momma always told us not to worry about what other people think, the fact of the matter is that people do see us and think things about us. What comes next is not always a good thing. Our socialization by perception does not serve us well. It confuses our self-confidence and intuition against the rules of society and, more importantly, against those who do not conform to the rules of society.
As cops and trainers, I ask for you to be safe. It makes us look for the more desirable. It’s a process of coming “to” and a training axiom that can serve us as an organic idea of what can be while maintaining integrity in the service we provide to our officers and community. To springboard that idea for our conspiracy of safety, be safe. Behind the badge is more than flesh. Behind it is an idea and ideas are bulletproof!