FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
October 2018 (3)
September 2018 (3)
August 2018 (6)
July 2018 (4)
June 2018 (3)
April 2018 (1)
March 2018 (2)
January 2018 (1)
September 2017 (1)
August 2017 (1)
May 2017 (1)
April 2017 (1)
January 2017 (1)
November 2016 (1)
September 2016 (1)
June 2016 (2)
May 2016 (3)
April 2016 (2)
March 2016 (1)
February 2016 (3)
January 2016 (1)
December 2015 (1)
November 2015 (5)
October 2015 (1)
September 2015 (3)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (6)
June 2015 (3)
May 2015 (2)
April 2015 (3)
March 2015 (5)
February 2015 (1)
January 2015 (1)
December 2014 (9)
October 2014 (2)
September 2014 (2)
August 2014 (2)
July 2014 (1)
June 2014 (2)
May 2014 (2)
April 2014 (4)
March 2014 (2)
February 2014 (3)
January 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (3)
September 2013 (5)
August 2013 (3)
July 2013 (3)
June 2013 (3)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (5)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (3)
December 2012 (5)
November 2012 (2)
October 2012 (4)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (4)
June 2012 (3)
May 2012 (5)
April 2012 (6)
March 2012 (5)
February 2012 (3)
January 2012 (5)
December 2011 (5)
November 2011 (3)
October 2011 (3)
September 2011 (3)
August 2011 (2)
July 2011 (2)
June 2011 (3)
May 2011 (4)
April 2011 (3)
March 2011 (5)
February 2011 (3)
January 2011 (3)
December 2010 (2)
November 2010 (4)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (5)
August 2010 (4)
July 2010 (4)
June 2010 (4)
May 2010 (4)
April 2010 (3)
March 2010 (3)
February 2010 (1)
January 2010 (3)
December 2009 (4)
November 2009 (4)
October 2009 (2)
September 2009 (3)
August 2009 (4)
July 2009 (5)
June 2009 (3)
May 2009 (5)
April 2009 (4)
March 2009 (4)
February 2009 (3)
January 2009 (2)
December 2008 (4)
November 2008 (3)
October 2008 (3)
September 2008 (3)
August 2008 (2)
July 2008 (3)
June 2008 (4)
May 2008 (5)
April 2008 (5)
March 2008 (4)
February 2008 (5)
January 2008 (3)
December 2007 (2)
November 2007 (5)
October 2007 (4)
September 2007 (4)
August 2007 (5)
July 2007 (4)
June 2007 (4)
May 2007 (5)

A Good Argument for Thinking Some Very Bad Thoughts

Prepping for battle means more than training. It means acknowledging the threat.

March 29, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

I was talking with a fellow retired copper the other day who, like me, grew up in Southern California. He noted that as California usually hovered around the top two or three states in line of duty deaths, it wasn't difficult for him to keep informal tabs on what was happening in his anticipated career.

Such were the reasons that, from an early age, he'd gotten in the habit of playing the "what if...?" game with himself whenever he'd read the details of an officer's death.

He'd ask himself what, if anything, the cop could have done differently. But he also went beyond that, routinely coming up with alternate scenarios involving various twists on the factors in play: The number of cops or bad guys involved...what kind of firearms might be the time of day or night might come into play...where he could exploit he could best direct resources to the affected location...

When he eventually got a job as cop in the Midwest, he continued the practice, and would in the middle of some windshield conference occasionally ask fellow cops how they planned for shootings. Sometimes, their answers took him aback.

"Now, what the hell would you want to talk about that for?" he'd heard more than once. "I don't want to dwell on that kind of thing"

The surprise he felt was matched only by his disappointment. Were there things that all cops hate to think about? Sure. But it never occurred to him that some cops would effectively take an ostrich approach when it came to the prospect of anticipating line of duty shootings.

My own curiosity spiked, I called other cops from throughout the country to see if they'd had similar experiences.

Many had not.

But more than a few had. Some speculated that their peers didn't cater to morbidity. Others chalked the reticence up to a simple lack of imagination. My admittedly limited sampling seemed to reflect it occurring primarily in rural areas. Rarely was any reason offered, but when one was, it often boiled down to one of the following:

"If it's my time, it's my time. I put my trust in the Lord."

"I know what I'm capable of and what I'm not. I don't make it a practice to get in over my head. I'm not going to spin my wheels playing f___ing 'what if' games."

"I have enough faith in my training to do what I need to do when the time comes. No sense worrying about it in the meantime."

I couldn't help but think of the adage, Trust everyone—but cut the cards.

Admittedly, I'm a heathen, and generally not one to speak on matters of religion. But I do recall something about God helping those who help themselves and fortune favoring the prepared.

Training is inarguably one of the most valuable tools we have, and thank God for those who oversee us at the firing range and tactical training.

But training goes beyond that which is communicated to us by those formally tasked with it.

From the moment we first get into the patrol car and feel that low surge adrenaline rush while rolling to our first call, our bodies and minds are continually recalibrating themselves, filing away information that will be put to use in the future.

That much of this is accomplished at unconscious levels doesn't mean that we shouldn't be consciously aware of doing things to further hedge our bets. And among these things I would count thinking about things the average citizen wouldn't.

One of the officers I interviewed for a "Shots Fired" feature made a salient observation. He'd played many rounds of situational mind games, with all manner of different permutations. The one that he hadn't factored was the one that most came to play when the bad stuff hit the rotary oscillator: How he would respond after getting shot.

While he still came out on top, he admitted that he'd wished he had included the prospect in his mental drills.

While acknowledging that some people may be predisposed to ignoring the threats inherent to the job, Don Alwes of the NTOA believes the ostrich approach may be also be reflective of another paradigm—that of the agencies the officers work for.

"My experience is that it varies from department to department and from assignment to assignment. Some departments encourage that tactical mindset. I've been fortunate in working for departments that understood that there is a harsh side to police work occasionally. Most of them encouraged their officers to get their heads screwed on straight.

"But I've seen other departments that really discouraged it. They avoided hiring people who had a tactical mindset. Maybe the officer you're talking about found himself on one of those departments," Alwes says.

And here I thought it was universally understood throughout our profession that when we fail to train, we train for failure.

Could those cops who looked at such questions as morbid merely been regurgitating what'd been fed to them by their employing agencies? I don't know. But I would also argue that there is something to be said for playing "what if...?" games. For contemplating things that we shouldn't otherwise be obligated to in a more civilized world.

By visualizing unsavory situations we help desensitize ourselves to trauma, toughen our minds, and endow ourselves with mental maps of where we're going and how we're going to get there.

But just as we should always envision ourselves coming out on top, we should also have plans in place for those situations wherein our desired plans don't mesh with reality. To that end, we have a forthcoming POLICE feature by Nebraska Sergeant Jeff Baker on taking some initiative in mitigating our loved one's trauma in the aftermath of some tragedy.

Will there always be some segment of our police community that takes an ostrich approach to one of the fundamental threats of our profession: Getting in a shooting?

I'd hate to think so.


Imagine or Visualize?

Train With Imagination and Emotion

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

steve @ 3/30/2011 10:14 AM

Great article could not help but think about the officers who often roll there eyes or say things like "you should not talk like that" when shooting scenario's or shooting topics are brought up.

Michael @ 3/30/2011 10:33 AM

Excellent article, as usual. I’ve played the ‘what if…’ game since the mid 80’s as a Military Policeman and have played it ever since. Call me “Tackleberry”, (a la the Police Academy movies), a ‘gun nut’ or whatever. I plan on retiring of old age. I just think of my family and that makes all the minor ribbing for having that mindset worth it. Unfortunately many others play the odds. Heck, if we all did that we’d only have a few rounds in our guns and no reloads. And that would be on the days we actually carried the thing! If I want to take a risk with the odds, I’ll buy a lottery ticket. Be safe everyone and take this first step to becoming a “Tackleberry”, it’s better to carry it and not need it, than to need it and not have it! Next step: What if…..?

Mark Tarte @ 3/30/2011 11:51 AM

I played the "what-if" from the academy. Our main RTO was a Marine combat vet from Vietnam and had gone thru the People's Park and Army Induction center riots in Oakland and Berkeley. It is something that EVERY cop should do all the time as well as mentally rob and burglarize businesses and homes in your community. I tell my students today that I robbed banks, liqour stores, burgled homes on every watch. They are a bit taken aback until I tell them it was to see how the crooks do it. Mental preparation is what helps steel us to the inevitability of the violence of the job, not just a range class or a DT class once a year. Great article Dean.

Scott H @ 3/31/2011 2:23 AM

Great article as usual Dean. It's hard to imagine there are such dolts in our line of work who don't "What if" the sh*t out of any situation. I'm not on the ground anymore, but I still "What if" situations for if our aircraft goes down or if I get into an off duty situation, especially with my family present. Bottom line, just like every good boy is taught in the Boy Scouts, Be Prepared!

Ghettocop @ 3/31/2011 10:53 AM

Not "What If"!!! It allows the possibility (and the escape) of the incident not occurring.... When/Then is how you should be thinking... As in....When I walk up on the guy in that black Honda on a traffic stop and he pulls a pistol, THEN I will: draw, fire, move to cover, etc...

Kyle @ 4/13/2011 3:42 PM

Ok, maybe I have not been running in the right circles for the last 14 years...but I have to ask...what is a "windshield conference?" Is it what I think we call "squad parked" where a couple or more cops sit door to door discussing stuff, s**t, and the meaning of life??? I have never heard that term....I like it though

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Why Schools Should Teach Students about Policing and Constitutional Law
I've long held the belief that a year-long civics class should be a requirement...
Training School Teachers and Administrators to Respond to Active Killers
Very few people who get into teaching have the mental, emotional, or physical fortitude to...
IACP 2018: Watching Trump's Speech to Law Enforcement
Trump slammed the Obama administration for restricting law enforcement's acquisition of...

Police Magazine