I remember how happy, or sad, or scared, or disappointed I was as a kid while watching a movie. And then "The End" would appear in big letters, signaling the finale of the story. Today these words are rarely seen unless the movie is going for a "retro" look. Movies inspire in us all types of emotions, from sorrow to joy to inspiration, and the good ones are usually worth watching repeatedly. It is no accident that law enforcement's events make great subjects for movies; they include intensity, emotion, unpredictability, antagonists, protagonists, conflict, and remarkable plots.
For the officers living through real-life events, though, the stakes are incredibly high and the story does not end cleanly with a big "The End." The arrested need to be searched, transported, interrogated, booked, tried and so on. The scene needs to be secured, evidence collected and recorded, the chain of evidence protected, and so it goes in the process that is crime fighting. This is important to keep in mind: threats don't end with the arrest. Securing the scene is a continuous process, and "winning" means getting justice in court by collecting facts, writing reports, and testifying effectively. Screenwriters have it easy; they have "license" to change facts to fit their aims, and sometimes even change the apparent truth of a story; we don't have that luxury.
Occasionally, I see officers on videos who relax after an arrest, as if the director has yelled, "That's a wrap!" signaling the end of a shoot. But our cast includes no "actors" in the Academy Award sense. Our actors, good and bad, are the real thing. Bullets are not blanks and no stuntmen step in to take the blows for us; it is a real skin-on-skin moment with no pulled punches, and kicks are often aimed at really sensitive or vulnerable areas. We are our own directors, deciding when the action is over by using our training, experience, common sense, in the circumstances presented.
We dictate our own endings and we are always aiming for positive ones. We are the good people helping the innocents against the bad guys, and don't let anyone tell you a narrative that presents a different scenario. What you believe is what matters and you should believe in your mission, your abilities, and your certainty of victory in critical situations. We all love to talk about mindset, but sometimes it becomes just a mantra instead of a belief. You create the ending of your own story, every call, every crisis, every day. It is what psychologists call your "locus of control," the center of agency in your life. Optimists believe they control their own destiny, they are the ultimate arbiters of their fate. Pessimists believe their fate is a random event, or that others are in control, that their input is useless at best and merely an exercise in futility.
In a remarkable book, Who Prospers: How Cultural Values Shape Economic and Political Success, Lawrence Harrison describes how culture can affect a society's success or failure. He points out that backward societies tend to be past-oriented, suspicious, and believe the individual has little role in the direction or fate of the nation. Charity, for instance, is a symptom of your view of the individual in society. If you believe individuals don't make a difference, that your only responsibility is to take care of yourself and your immediate family, and that others will be cared for by God or the government, charity is going to play little or no role in your society.
The United States, in contrast, is caretaker of the world. Not the U.S. government, but the American people. We are the planet's greatest givers; we believe our giving helps, and that we do make a difference; we are not sitting around waiting for a government agency to help. America is filled with optimists who make the world a better place, and one of them is you. You decide the ending of your story, and you do everything you can to help others in their time of crisis.
So the next time you are in the middle of a critical incident, remember to keep your guard up until you decide "it's a wrap!" Remember our little mnemonics like "the rule of plus one" and "watch the hands" and "always look up"—all the ones you know will keep you focused and on point. The issue is simply this: you decide what happens in the story, or how you respond to it, until you decide it's time to call it "a wrap." And only then will the audience get to see "The End."
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.