Letting Go of Law Enforcement's Ancient Thinking
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“That’s the way we’ve always done it”
It’s an all too common answer to a rookie officer’s inquiries about policy, procedure, and unfortunately, even officer survival. An “artifact” is defined by Webster’s as “something in a biological specimen that is not present naturally but has been introduced or produced during a procedure,” and we have plenty of artifacts in police work that no longer do us any good. Here are a few of the ancient ways of thinking or doing things that need to be eradicated from this profession, ASAP!
“This is the Departmental Handgun.” I meet so many police officers, male and female, who are carrying a handgun that they don’t like, can’t shoot well, or doesn’t fit their hand. I also meet many frustrated firearms instructors who are trying to help their students with shooting issues but are stuck with archaic equipment limitations. My first chief believed that everyone should carry the same handgun so that we could exchange magazines if necessary in a firefight. That seemed practical until the department started hiring officers with smaller hands who could barely access the trigger. It took a new chief and significant policy change to implement a “list” of authorized handguns, including models of varying sizes and calibers. The department made available (at no cost to the officer) one of several pistols, and if we wanted to carry something else, as long as it was on the list and we paid for it ourselves, we could carry it. Eventually, “the list” included patrol rifles and backup handguns; we could even carry personal shotguns, as long as they were within policy. We are often being outgunned on the street, so having ready access to multiple firearms that we’re comfortable with is a real plus for officer survival.
“I Don’t Need My Vest.” Even as we seem to be seeing an increase in officer involved shootings, so many police officers are still not wearing soft body armor. I hear everything from “it’s too hot” to “it’s uncomfortable” to the absurdly illogical “it’s in my trunk if I need it.” Your body armor should be as essential as your handgun, and you should don it each and every time you’re on the street, in uniform or readily identifiable as a cop. Make sure you wear it to court, when you’re working the front desk (lets remember what recently happened in Detroit), and even when you’re giving that Cub Scout presentation to your son’s Scout group. Active shooters, officer ambush, and a convenience store robbery are just a few of the unexpected events we need to always be ready for when we’re wearing a gun and a badge.
“Why Should I Slow Down?” Hey, it’s fun to drive fast, I get that. And as “first responders” we’re supposed to get there quickly, but as the old saying goes, if you don’t make it to the call you’re not helping anyone. Slow down, drive the speed limit or below when you’re on “routine patrol” and when you’re dispatched to that hot call, engage in some tactical breathing exercises and slow yourself down. As police driving expert Captain Travis Yates often admonishes, intersections can be especially deadly. Never assume that other drivers, even other cops responding to the same call, are paying any attention to you, your overhead lights, or your siren; in fact, assume that they are not. And if you (or one of your officers if you’re the supervisor calling the shots) become involved in a high speed pursuit, ask yourself if the driver has committed a crime worth someone, maybe you, dying for.
“Seat Belts Aren’t Tactical.” This is probably the most difficult artifact in the police culture to get rid of. The guy or gal who hits the gym daily, spends extra time at the range, and has outstanding officer safety skills on the street often still believes that seatbelts somehow do more harm than good. I hear excuses like “it gets tangled up in my gear” or “I always need to be ready to get out fast” or even the ridiculous “I don’t want it to pin me in the car if I have an accident.” Seriously?! Go to the Officer Down Memorial Page and read about our many fallen heroes who died in otherwise survivable car crashes because they were ejected from the vehicle. And if you think your seat belt if going to keep you from exiting your vehicle quickly and tactically, then go to the local dealership, get a seat belt extender and practice getting out of the car quickly and safely. While you’re at it, practice drawing your pistol from a seated position inside the vehicle as well, this is a skill many of us don’t spend enough time on. Its not a cliché, seatbelts really do save lives.
“It’s the Department’s Job…” To train me, to make me happy, to provide me with everything I need, and to make my career a satisfying one. Time to grow up, gang. As Dave “JD Buck Savage” Smith has been teaching for 25 year in his signature course “The Winning Mind,” you need to enter into an adult relationship with your agency. You and the police department have a social contract, they pay you, and you work. They may provide you with some training and some equipment, depending on where you work, but it may be up to you to acquire all of the gear you really need to be safe and effective, and you may have to seek out (and pay for!) the training you’re really going to need to stay both safe and sane. As Dave says, “love your job, love your brothers and sisters in this profession, love your God, your family, your country, and your dog, but don’t love the agency, because it’s not the agency’s job to love you back.”
“My Personal Life is My Own Business.” Even off duty, cops are held to a higher standard. This may not seem fair, but how can you arrest a drunk driver on Saturday night when you drove home from the local pub on Friday night after one too many beers past the legal limit? Society, the agency, even our family and friends, expect a certain level of decorum from us. Don’t post stupid stuff on your social networking page, don’t drive like an idiot and expect endless professional courtesy from your local PD, don’t be “badge-heavy,” and remember, if you want to be treated like a professional, act like one.
I challenge all of you to come up with your own bad habits, your own negative or outdated thoughts, your own “artifacts,” and let them go so that you become a better, safer crimefighter, on and off duty.