My Christmas gift arrived this week in the form of an e-mail from a Florida officer who advised me of another officer who'd recently survived an on-duty shooting. He said that the officer had made a point of mentioning his having read my Police Magazine column "Shots Fired" as a factor in his coming out on top. I am sure that the officers that have shared their experiences with you through "Shots Fired"-and their employing agencies that allowed them to do so-are heartened to know that others are profiting from their generosity.
But the considerable happiness I derived from that message was tempered, as I considered those officers that will not be spending the holidays with their families this year. For while there has been a precipitous drop in the number of officers killed in vehicle-related accidents, it has been largely offset due to a rise in the felonious killing of our country's law enforcement officers.
A 23% rise in firearms-related fatalities factors into that total, with many of these officers having been killed in ambushes. Over the course of the past few days when I first scribbled down an idea prompt for this blog, four more officers have died.
Writing these law enforcement blogs can be studies in frustration. On the one hand, I try to be as objective as I can be in writing feature stories. But the temptation to editorialize is strong. That's where a good editor comes into play. David Griffith continually reminds me to save the bloviating for the blogs. Objectively, I know he's right. Subjectively, I still want my say.
But herein I do get my say. By and large, I write what I want to write about in the way I want to write it.
All the same, time is a precious commodity, and it is my continual hope that those taking the time to read my blogs get something out of them. Judging from the comments I get both on the site and off-line I think I have an OK batting average, but I am also acutely aware that I am quite capable of "launching an occasional turd." (Thank you Capt. Bill Miller, Anchorage PD. BTW, in response to the blog on Officers Gonzalez and Miller, Captain Miller was nice enough to inquire as to the possibility of the men applying for APD where their talents might be better appreciated. So if you know either of these men, let them know.)
Still, it's natural to reflect at this time of year and wonder if all the outrage and bloviating on this or the joking and kidding about that is really a constructive use of time-yours or mine. I know I can't just be hammering away at officer safety every week because the novelty wears off and sooner or later people will tune out - probably sooner, as nobody likes getting lectured to. Still, there's that problem of all those names getting added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial each year.
So herein I am going to indulge in a little redundancy and speak of things that you already know but that you hopefully won't begrudge my pushing to the forefront of your consciousness. It's just a few things that we as cops all learn sooner or later whether or not we choose to act on them. So as you start your shifts this season, please keep in mind all the little things that can help you and your loved ones get through the holidays and next year.
Odds are that you do not enjoy a monopoly with your patrol vehicle. Ask yourself if your fellow officers are as conscientious as you are in keeping it clean and in good working order, and if you're doing as much for them. If you note vehicle deficiencies, do you do something about them or just put the car back on the line and grab another?
Driving a black-and-white and being the master of your domain is undeniably cool. All the same, try to avoid driving in front of, to the side of, or behind a tractor trailer or any other large conveyance.
Those of you in California be vigilant of the environmental changes that routinely come into play this time of year. First rains bring up the oil. Elsewhere in the country, your concern is ice or rain. Are you factoring such realities as you roll to calls and backup requests? As you coordinate a pursuit?
Don't drive and MDT (or indulge in whatever technological distraction might otherwise be available during your commute). Leave the multitasking for a time and place that's conducive for it. Like well off the roadway, and preferably in a parking lot.
No matter how good a driver you may be, you will always be at the questionable mercy of your fellow motorists. The drive defensively rule still applies to you. Anticipate others' anticipations. Know that people will cut you off, back quickly out of driveways without looking, and generally drive like asses. Sometimes they will be your fellow officers. Refrain from flipping people off as citizens have been shot at for less and you probably don't need any punitive time off.
Cops know better than to tailgate, but damn they do it anyway. (And don't say they don't. You and I know I speak the truth). Somehow, they think themselves immune to the same physiological and physical limitations of their fellow man. Well, you're not and the larger the profile of a vehicle, the further back you should stay. If you can't see around it, you're not going to know of any threats that the vehicle may swerve to circumvent until it's too late for you to do likewise. This is particularly true of vehicles driving the wrong way on the interstate.
Remember that if you have a partner rolling to your call or backup to wait until he or she gets there before needlessly establishing play. The hell with the pencil-pushers who want you to set land speed records in getting to calls. If they want short ETAs throughout their jurisdiction, they can hire more cops.
Consider the little things that can get you in trouble, Like when you're planning on making a right turn, make damn sure that the vehicle in front of you has completed the turn and proceeded down the street. A traffic accident routinely documented by cops is the one that results from a motorist seeing the car in front of him start to go, then taking his own foot off the brake and allowing the car to roll forward as he looks to his left for oncoming traffic oblivious to the fact that the car he saw start to take off has suddenly stopped because of a pedestrian that's stepped in front of him. And yet cops do the same damn thing.
Don't drive in the merging lane anymore than necessary. Use it to get on or off the freeway. The rest of the time, stay in the left hand lanes.
Avoid riding shotgun with those who would labor to impress you with their NASCAR skills; they are putting themselves and you at unnecessary risk. Playing passenger to a Darwin Award aspirant makes you one, as well.
Unless it's truly a life or death situation, take that extra second …To think … To respond … To act. Consider that a good number of officer-involved problems start with their mouths. Now ask yourself how you can profit from their example.
Don't just fixate on the obvious threat. Some of the officers that have been ambushed this year were in the process of patting down a detainee or dealing with a disturbing party when a third party entered the scenario and killed them. Always remember to separate and use a cover officer.
The next time that you resent going to training, think about all the cops who don't have that luxury and who have to fake their way through their work day. The more I reflect on my career, the more I have come to appreciate the training that was given me (even if by my own admission I wasn't always so wild about it at the time).
Don't kiss off stuff. It'll foster bad relations, hurt your standing in the department, and can ultimately snowball in so many bad-ass ways and you will be most unpleasantly surprised.
If you don't have an exercise regimen, start one. You may find that whatever time you "lose" working out you more than gain back in acquiring more sustained energy to accomplish more things. Besides, it might even save you from having a heart attack or getting your ass handed to you in the street.
If you are hurting physically or psychologically, be a man and own up to it. Don't try and hide your problems because you can't. Invariably they will come out in some form and neither your family nor your friends and co-workers should have to bear the brunt of your sublimating them. Find a sympathetic ear. And open up.
Take a second and review the 10 deadly sins in law enforcement. If you don't already have this printed out and posted in your locker, consider doing so.
Finally, have a Merry Christmas or Happy Hannukah and a Happy New Year. Unless you're offended by such wishes, in which case you already have your work cut out for you.