What does it take to really survive a violent confrontation? For all the tactical training and mental preparations, just how much does luck enter into the equation? And what can you do to shift the odds in your favor?
These are weighty questions for even the most experienced of cops. For those of you just starting careers in law enforcement, the thought of violence can be downright intimidating or exhilarating. Either way, it's likely on your mind.
An officer can face the prospect of having to kill or be killed at any stage of his or her career. Those who anticipate such inevitabilities and prepare for them fare the best in the fight. But what are the most important things you can do to maximize the likelihood of you coming out on top in such situations?
Luck Favors the Prepared
Certainly bad breaks have played significant roles in the deaths of any number of peace officers. Inopportune visits to a fast food restaurant or Stop 'n Rob, or the unwitting and well-intentioned welfare checks of dangerously paranoid individuals, have resulted in the deaths of more than one officer.
Even in situations where you have time to respond to a threat, other factors can come into play: a bad ricochet, a round taken outside the protection of a bulletproof vest, or a freak severing of a femoral artery have all proven fatal. You can't account for them all because every violent confrontation is different.
Winning Is Mental
But good officer safety practices can minimize the odds of you getting seriously injured or killed. And it all starts with a proper mindset.
When you go out on the street, you will have at your disposal a sidearm, maybe a long gun, a baton, an OC canister, and maybe a Taser. You will learn how to use them all. But perhaps the most important tool in your arsenal will be a disciplined mindset.
Without a disciplined mindset an otherwise welltrained and well-equipped officer becomes a liability: The cop who shoots "distinguished expert" on the range can freeze up in stressful situations if he or she doesn't have the mindset to win. And the one-dimensional deputy who relies solely on ballistic intervention can needlessly escalate situations.
Sometimes your best call will be to defuse the situation before it escalates. In your career, you will be called on to play many roles: clergy, counselor, arbitrator, psychologist, and goodwill ambassador.
You also will have to be a warrior. And you will need to know when the time for talking ends and the time for fighting begins.
The possible confrontations that you might face today are far more varied than the ones your counterparts were facing 30 years ago. These include antisocial phenomena such as drive-by shootings, workplace violence, mass murders, and schoolyard massacres. Plus assault weapons are increasingly becoming the weapon of choice for gang members and other sociopaths.
As a result, active shooter protocols and rapid intervention techniques are relatively recent advents. The concept of the officer as first responder means that you will likely be called upon to take roles conventionally assumed by SWAT and crisis negotiators.
And even when the people you face appear relatively harmless, you must always be on your guard. Many cops are seriously injured or killed while making traffic stops or arrests of "non-violent" suspects. Be aware that pedophiles, vice suspects, white-collar criminals, and other suspects conventionally considered "lesser risks" have on occasion proven to be every bit as determined and successful in assaulting and killing officers as violent parolees and armed robbers.
Knowing that violence can erupt at any time on the street is part of having a disciplined mindset. Keep your guard up and remain alert at all times.