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What Was Your Scariest Moment On the Job?

What Was Your Scariest Moment On the Job?

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“What was the scariest moment you ever had on the job?”

When PoliceLink posted this question on Facebook and Twitter, it really gave me pause. I started my law enforcement career as a dispatcher at age 17, became a cop at 21, and retired as a sergeant two years ago after 29 years on the job. I’ve had plenty of frightening moments in those thirty three years, but “scary” is a relative term. I was just as scared when I was a brand new sergeant and my team and I got shot at responding to a domestic as I was when I realized I had hit “reply” instead of “forward” on a particularly inflammatory inter-departmental email about the boss who had just sent me the original email. Like I said, scary is relative. What scares you?

Our family and friends often believe that “danger” is the most stressful and frightening thing about our job. As most police psychologists will tell you, it’s actually the “administrative stress” that wears at us. As Dr. Kevin Gilmartin says, “It’s not the a-holes on the street, it’s the a-holes in the station;” and some of those people and situations can be downright scary!

As one reader responded, “having to explain to the undersheriff where that hole in the ceiling came from’ was certainly a frightening moment in his career. Being called into Internal Affairs, having your butt chewed by the sergeant, or getting into an on-duty fender-bender that’s totally your fault are just a few of those things that scare us.

Fear is different on the street. It can actually be a great motivator and trainer. One reader talked about deploying stop sticks during a pursuit and watching the suspect lose control, hit a cement barrier next to him and then hit his patrol car. Another wrecked his cruiser driving 110 mph in a pursuit. I’m guessing that once the dust settled, these crimefighters learned the valuable lesson that it’s not just thugs with guns who kill us.

Vehicle-related incidents kill us with frightening regularity. How about when we’re assaulted by someone with an edged weapon? Even when we win, we learn to be alert to knives, fists and feet, not just assailants with firearms. When we respond to a “run of the mill” domestic and the shooting starts, we remember that there is no such thing as a “routine” call. Having the heck scared out of you can be a powerful training event, pay attention to those unexpected lessons, and share them with your co-workers.

Many of our respondents talked about situations where they felt totally out of control. Several found themselves in spontaneous riots while trying to make arrests; others were involved in foot pursuits and lost their radios, batons, sometimes their partners! Many told stories of equipment failure. One talked about spotting an oncoming tornado that was snapping high tension wire; how fast can you safely drive in the opposite direction of that?!

Correctional officers have many frightening moments dealing sudden attacks by inmates who are already known criminals and now want to take out a cop. Several others discussed how frightening it was to be the rookie passenger in a cruiser during a high speed pursuit. Ironically, one of my most frightening moments on the job was being the FTO and passenger during a pursuit; I still have nightmares about that one! Cops like to be in control, and a lack of it can be ridiculously scary.

Animals also seem to be a big cause of fear among cops. My husband, Dave “JD Buck Savage” Smith, remembers that his very first call as a rookie in Tucson, AZ was “mountain lion in the back yard.” How do you train for that?! One of our readers was attacked by a rabid raccoon, and many were attacked by various breeds of dogs. Another was nearly killed when a moose stepped into the roadway! We’ve had officers in the US killed when they’ve struck cattle, deer and other large animals, or they’ve swerved to avoid a dog or cat.

Not only do we need to train for armed assailants, we need to visualize and train for those unexpected and unpredictable animals that may come our way, whether we’re on foot or in a vehicle.

Sometimes our most frightening moments occur when we’re off duty. Remember, ten percent of police officer murders occur when we’re not working! Several of our respondents told stories of being car jacked or robbed at gunpoint. Do you carry off duty, and do you train mentally and physically for potentially violent off duty encounters?

Cops love to tell “war stories, “ but what struck me about so many of our responses was that bone-chilling fear came from concern for the well-being of our friends and family. One officer was bitten and potentially infected by a life-threatening disease, and yet his concern was primarily for his wife and son. Many spoke of life and death struggles to save their partners, not themselves. Warriors tend to be pretty damn selfless.

When we look back on our scariest moments, they are often also some of our greatest adventures. The key is balancing the risk with your training, tactics, and strategies, such as wearing your vest, carrying an off duty weapon, buckling your seatbelt, and telling yourself on every call, during every shift, “Not Today!” Continue to tell your stories, embrace the “cop humor” that we all need, and keep reaching out to each other. Law enforcement is one big, crazy family, enjoy the adventure and stay safe!

  • Picture_100_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    The situations are scary later. We are trained to work through the fear and use the adrenaline to our benefit. Often is not until later, even days later where reality sets in and we realize how bad things were. I believe we should respect the dangers and avoid feeling “Scared”.

  • 309


    almost 4 years ago


    One was particularly scary for me. I am not a LEO yet, but I've gone on many ride alongs. One day it was me, my college roommate (the deputy) and one other deputy patroling the whole county. An officer at a small town within the county was in a physical altercation with a suspect who was known for assaulting officers. After several calls from county dispatch the officer never answered. We were a good 25 minutes away, ended up having to 10-19 to his location running code. Turns out, he got in a foot persuit and lost is radio. We were fearing the worst the entire drive over. In the end, we were truely greatful he was ok.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    "Law enforcement is one big, crazy family, enjoy the adventure and stay safe!"
    This is the best line ever, and it's been an amazing ride!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    one of my scariest moments of mine was accompanied by one of the best feelings ever.
    I was fighting with a suspect that easily made two of me. The dispatcher is giving me his rap sheet as I'm fighting with him which included several charges of Battery on an officer, Agg bat on an officer, att murder, 2nd degree bat of an officer, etc. My section partner was on his way and started running code 3 when he heard what the dispatcher was saying. The best sound I ever heard in my life, and the best feeling, was that siren pulling up behind me and him calling for more units. It took five of us to finally get him under control and in hand cuffs.
    My adrenaline gets going just thinking about it.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


  • Draped_badge_max50


    about 4 years ago


    They aren't scary until the adrenaline rush wears off and you go damn that was freaking close...

  • 002_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Great Article

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago

    Quitre simply,when I was shot.Followed closely by the time I was stabbed and the two times I was cut.

  • Swat-cat_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Very Good Article! Thank You!

  • Me_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Great article!

  • Az_phx_motorcade1a_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Good article!! yes, I think the scariest moments are the ones when you realize you made a mistake.

  • Images_7a8ec2bec1e1bf7f38b54b52a8c9c453_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Crazy world view not just from the stands but in the game. God Bless Be Safe to All!

  • Parkview_01_003_max600_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Great article. Thanks for the insight.

  • Justin2_max50


    about 4 years ago


    1) Waking up in the hospital after a car crash with my family standing around crying like I was dead. 2) Stopping a car with four people inside who were clearly up to no good, and having to wait 20+ minutes for cover while I pulled all the BS in the world out my butt to buy time. "Hey, man I'll let you go as soon as you think of somebody with a DL to drive the car." Long story short, reality sunk in when we found a .45 sticking out from under the driver seat and a rifle in the trunk. Yep, second week off of FTO.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    I had plenty of scary moments. In 1985 a guy passed my cruiser and he aimed his .357 magnum at me out the window of his van (domestic dispute). I aimed my 9 mm back at him but bar patrons were exiting a bar behind him and I couldn't fire for fear of hitting one of them. I floored it, got behind him, and he threw his gun out his passenger window and surrendered. Thank God.

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