While working as a law enforcement officer in Central Florida, one of the tourist meccas of the world, I had the privilege of meeting other officers from all over. No matter where they came from, they shared stories that confirmed we all have the same kinds of problems, face the same dangers, and always suffer when politics enter the picture.
Recently, anti-police trends have made violence and lawlessness acceptable within certain dissident groups in our country. It feels like open season has been declared on police officers. This paradigm shift has both sides on edge. What used to be considered a normal traffic stop has everyone thinking it might turn into a life-and-death struggle. It is therefore imperative that supervisors promote officer safety without feeding into fear-based paranoia.
We are our own worst enemy when it comes to being prepared. We all know officers who are very tactical and many make fun of them, saying they're being paranoid. I remember going to alarm calls and responding as if someone were still inside. My backup officers would just walk up to the glass doors and tell me to calm down because it was probably just another false alarm. Why criticize officers for taking officer safety seriously on the job?
Another example is the Columbine High School shooting, which changed how law enforcement dealt with active shooters. No one questions a go-bag anymore, carrying a rifle, or conducting training in small unit tactics. Prior to Columbine, however, doing such things would have been deemed unnecessary, or considered overreacting by your command staff, or pegged you as a SWAT wannabe.
Being prepared means you are ready to face a zombie attack by staying in shape, maintaining proficiency in the tools of your trade, participating in as much relevant training as possible, and in committing to your agency's mission. On the flipside, being paranoid means you think zombies exist and have already infiltrated all levels of government.
If we feed into our fears, being paranoid is problematic at best and tragic at its worst. Though I am using paranoia loosely to make a point, real paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of delusion and irrationality. Paranoid thinking typically includes beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat. It's not a stretch to think that everyone is out to get you, because it sure feels that way at times. Regardless of what you are calling it, supervisors need to focus on calming fears that thrust officers into artificially induced hyper-vigilance and clouded judgment.
Being prepared means being ready to face the challenges thrown at you while you work. You must train to meet those challenges. What's important to stress is the application of core principles. Since no two situations are ever the same, understanding the principles gives you the widest possible range of tactics. If you pay attention, the situation will always guide you as to what tactics to use.
As a supervisor, you must find a healthy balance. Proper training and mentoring will help you cut down on exaggerated responses. To paraphrase a line from a Will Smith movie, fear is an emotion created by your mind but danger is real. We must be prepared to deal with danger but not feed into our emotions. Fear makes us irrational. Police officers cannot afford to be irrational.
I knew an officer who would shy away from anything dangerous. Even if he was the first officer on the scene, he would find a way to let another officer handle the call. He would often say he took long cover or went in another direction to check something out. He would only jump into the fray when it was almost over. When questioned about why he wouldn't commit, he stated he was afraid of getting in trouble. That answer meant he was more afraid of being suspended than of getting injured. Thankfully, that officer is no longer in law enforcement. He recognized this type of work was not for him and got out before he or someone else got hurt.
The example above brings to light another by-product of today's anti-cop mentality; it's no longer just the possibility of officers overreacting, but the possibility of their failing to act as well. Fear manifests itself in many ways, so helping someone deal with uncertainty has long been an unspoken part of a supervisor's job. Staying prepared is the only way to keep fear at bay.
Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 29 years of experience. He also retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant. He holds a master's of political science degree from the University of Central Florida.