I have trained my family and significant other when we go out to dinner to sit in the correct seats in the restaurant. That is, leave the "power seat" for me.
The power seat is the seat that has the best view of the entrance and public area of the establishment. All officers know why I do this. It is the best way to NOT be surprised by an attacker. You can see everyone and everything from the perfect power seat.
Attack in a restaurant is not likely to happen, but I have spent most of my adult life in an elevated state of awareness, ever vigilant to not be taken by surprise. But when I hear about officers being ambushed in a restaurant, I ask myself if it really matters where I sit.
The tragic killings of two Las Vegas officers while they were having lunch Sunday brought me chills. It was reality check time for me. I realized that any officer is vulnerable to attack, at any time, at any place, doing any part of his or her job. Even on a "break," we know there are no breaks, no down time when we're on duty and in uniform.
Jeff Cooper, in his book "Principles of Personal Defense," talked about the color code of mental awareness. As a young police officer, the Cooper color code was drilled into my head. "Don’t get caught in condition white while on duty!" was a familiar phrase to me.
Throughout my years as an officer, I have lived by the Cooper color code. On duty, you go from yellow to orange, and sometimes red. When off duty, it's difficult to ever get out of condition yellow. Eventually, you become accustomed to living in the yellow because you know that complacency can be deadly. The mental and physical demand that this puts on officers is a topic for another day, but it is a reality that most officers live with.
Photo: Mark W. Clark
This takes us back to the restaurant scenario. Whether on duty or off duty, we are trained to be situationally aware. We know there are bad people in the world and they may cross our paths. In the unlikely event of an attack, we will not be caught in a vulnerable state. It's how we live and how we survive.
For me, when in uniform, seated at a restaurant, I feel vulnerable. Most officers do. Even in the friendliest of restaurants, we know we can’t control who walks through the door. That's why we eat with other officers, so they can cover our "six." That’s a tactically sound way to do it, but it doesn't guarantee safety. It just gives us the best chance to fight if an attack is thrust upon us.
Photo: Mark W. Clark
The two officers killed in Las Vegas this weekend were most likely in condition yellow just prior to the attack. They most likely were covering each others' backs, and they most likely were prepared for anunlikely attack. But when that man and woman entered the pizza place, hell-bent on revolution and murder, the officers didn't stand a chance.
So why do we do it? Why do we make ourselves vulnerable at a public restaurant? Why don’t we just eat at the station where it's safe? Well, the reality is that the station house isn't always safe either. Granted, it is safer, but you can't go into condition white at the station. Attacks happen there as well.
Photo: Mark W. Clark
We eat in public because we are public servants. We don't hide until someone calls for help. We are part of the community; we are woven into the fabric of a safe society. We must, by the nature of our profession, interact with the 99.9% of decent citizens that we police. We eat where it's familiar and we know the staff won't spit in our food. We say hello and have pleasant conversation with people while we eat. But in our heads, we are always preparing for that "what if" scenario. What if someone comes through that door that wants to harm me, or start a revolution?
We know that our uniform is a symbol. We know that our uniform is comforting to most people. But we also know that it can make us a target or a flash point for violence. That's why we train. That's why we have officers watch our six. That's why we mentally rehearse the "What if?" scenarios.
So as officers across the nation go about the business of policing their communities, I'm sure they will remember what happened to the two officers in Las Vegas. They will also likely recall what happened to the officers in Lakewood, Wash., in 2009. They will have a new "What if?" scenario to think about. They will then go to a public restaurant, sit with other officers watching their backs, converse with the staff and patrons, and eat their lunches in condition yellow.