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Columns : In My Sights

The Human Element

Times may change, but the need to keep your mind and skills sharp stays the same.

April 11, 2014  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

The other day I was doing a seminar and one attendee approached me and introduced himself as a fellow who'd attended a seminar I taught way back in 1983. We laughed about the weight gained, hair lost, and other changes time had wrought, and how these kids today didn't have a clue about how it was in the "good old days."

Only pagers came with you, phones were attached to the wall, and revolvers weren't relics from the past; they were duty weapons. Apple was something you ate and you could still buy an eight-track tape player. Driving 55 mph was the law and not just something elderly drivers did; and airbags and computer-aided dispatch were still in the experimental phase.

Yep, we laughed a little and then we reflected on how some things had stayed the same: cops died not wearing seat belts, training was the first thing cut in a budget, body armor got left in trunks of cars, and dirtbags seemed to never age. The isosceles stance is back in vogue even though the modified Weaver still has its advocates, and some officers are still carrying guns that don't fit their hands.

The 10 Deadly Errors are still deadly for our profession and while, thankfully, officer deaths have gone down, the cause and profiles of those fatalities have remained constant. The average age of the officers killed is around 40 with approximately 12 years on the job. I like to think training has helped but my friend also reminded me that better medical care, better body armor, and safer vehicles have to get a big chunk of the credit for making the numbers go down.

So here we are, where pay phones have gone the way of the dinosaur and computers are an integral part of your smart phone, but the element that matters most is still the processor operating behind your eyes…your brain. The one element that has remained unchanged in our ever-growing technological environment, as the commercial says, is the human element. The key is to somehow keep the mind focused on what's important and use all these technological advances to your advantage.

Now, I am not saying that all the training, equipment, and effort is for naught. I believe the world is a more dangerous place than when I worked the streets. The so-called "super-predators" predicted in the ’90s have, in fact, grown up to be pretty bad actors. The number-one type of assault fatality for the last couple years has been the ambush. The Boston Marathon bombers cold bloodedly ambushed MIT Officer Sean Collier as he sat in his car just to get his firearm. But the retention holster technology started by Bill Rogers years ago defeated their effort to obtain our fallen brother's weapon.

As technology may mitigate one's risk, it also creates others and one constant enemy within our own wiring is the way complacency steals our safety. No body armor or weapons can protect us when we develop lackadaisical or dangerous habits; and it is our sergeants' and supervisors' jobs to make sure we have not only maintained our equipment but also our skills and mindset.

We used to preach about being able to reach all your equipment in your vehicle without losing sight of any threats. But we have turned that driver's seat into a cockpit of distracters adding to the risks of operating a vehicle, sometimes in dense traffic at high speed.

I am sure you could come up with your own list of things that are safer and things more dangerous since you started your career, so here is an exercise I want you to do with your squad. Bring up the good changes, then the bad ones you've seen in your careers and lives and how you can work as a team to help identify any bad habits or lax behaviors that have been learned or developed.

Ultimately, it isn't about what kind of technology or weapons you carry, but about how you keep your head in the game and your skills sharp, the good old basic "human element."

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

Ima Leprechaun @ 4/21/2014 3:49 AM

What us old timers do forget is today are the "good old days" and it always will be that for someone. Personally, I wish officers used their heads for more than holding their hats on. Nobody talks anymore. My goal was always to control the situation through creative thought and conversation and if I had to use force it meant I had failed. I can count my use of force over my entire career on one hand. Mostly, I was the only Officer on Duty and back-up was 20 minutes or more away. So creative reasoning and talking worked great for me. I was always prepared to upscale if the suspect demanded it but few people really want to fight, most just need to vent. Words can't hurt you and venting decompresses the suspect. Like us, all they want is someone to listen to them. It's a heck of a lot easier than rolling around on the ground in a fight and its so much more user friendly. My biggest compliment came from a professional criminal (they are out there). He said I was the nicest Police Officer that had ever busted him and he really appreciated being treated fairly and as a human being. He ended up in the federal system, he always held back something of a major federal felony because if he got caught in a state crime he could always deal up to a better facility with the FBI. Smart guy for a criminal.

Ima Leprechaun @ 4/21/2014 3:54 AM

Thanks for the article Dave!

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