10 "Must Read" Books for Law Enforcement Officers

Being a civilian in the law enforcement universe for more than a decade now, I've learned that—in addition to talking directly with cops, doing ridealongs, and attending police training—there is enormous value in reading a wide variety of law enforcement books and training materials.

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Strewn on my living room floor are a handful of books from my fairly massive collection of law enforcement books and training materials.Strewn on my living room floor are a handful of books from my fairly massive collection of law enforcement books and training materials. Image courtesy of Doug Wyllie. 

I'm a voracious reader. I love a good spy novel or some action-adventure pulp fiction for the brief mental vacation these books offer.

I also love reading non-fiction books about law enforcement—in fact, I find that doing so is imperative to being more successful at my chosen profession. 

Being a civilian in the law enforcement universe for more than a decade now, I've learned that—in addition to talking directly with cops, doing ridealongs, and attending police training—there is enormous value in reading a wide variety of law enforcement books and training materials.

The following is a list of some of my favorites. In most cases, I've read these books multiple times, and use many of them as desk references when writing about the police profession, preparing to interview officers, and/or a variety of other job-related duties.

This list is woefully incomplete—it barely scratches the surface of what's on my shelves and appears in this space in no preferential order—but it might serve to get you thinking about your own favorite books, manuals, and whatnot, and potentially compel you to revisit one or more of them.

To the library we go!

"Blood Lessons" by Chuck Remsberg

Several months before I began this wonderful journey as a police writer, I took the sage advice of a dear friend. He said, "Read everything you can get your hands on written by Chuck Remsberg."

My friend added, "Like you, Chuck was never a cop, but he knows police work about as well as the most seasoned veteran."

Naturally, I began by reading Remsberg's trilogy, "Street Survival," The Tactical Edge," and "Tactics for Criminal Patrol."

Then, I read "Blood Lessons," in which Remsberg chronicles harrowing experiences of officers involved in critical incidents. Chuck's retelling of those stories had a tremendous impact on me as I began my career as a chronicler of police stories. It's an amazing book, and Chuck Remsberg is an amazing writer.

I echo my friend's sentiments: Read everything Chuck Remsberg has ever written.

"Use of Force Investigations" by Kevin Davis

This is one of the books that I should probably buy another copy—I've cracked it open so many times that the binding is breaking. It's not a legal guide—Davis is not a lawyer—but it offers sensible insights into how use of force can be taught so that appropriate decisions are made on the streets, how policy can be shaped to enable officers to conduct their jobs safely and with a clear understanding of what is—and what is not—permissible use of force, and how UOF investigations can be successfully conducted fairly for all parties.

Davis offers some really common sense ideas worthy of consideration by any officer, internal affairs investigator, police leader, or elected official.

"Building a Better Gunfighter" by Dick Fairburn

This book offers some excellent ideas about how to improve your survivability in a gunfight. Fairburn first focuses on the importance of improving an officer's marksmanship, mechanics, and mindset for winning an armed confrontation.

Fairburn then examines individual and team tactics, as well as what to expect—and how to respond—in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting, ending the book with thoughts on the physical, mental, and legal elements that might follow a shooting.

In the years since reading this book, I've applied Fairburn's principles in my own self-defense training, and it has made me more prepared to survive an event that—thanks be to God—has never yet happened. But I know I'm ready.

"In Context" by Nick Selby, Ben Singleton, and Ed Flosi

Following the incident in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014—in which Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown—the topic of police shooting "unarmed" subjects became nightly national news.

However, "unarmed" doesn't mean "not dangerous" and a grand jury determined that Officer Wilson acted within the law in his own self-defense when he fired those fatal shots.

In this book, the three authors offer analysis of more than 150 incidents in which officers shot an "unarmed" individual. It is an honest and dispassionate examination of events based on mostly open-source information.

The authors found in some cases that the officers involved were justified and in others not justified in squeezing the trigger. In other cases the authors concluded only that more information was needed in order to pass judgement.

"The War on Cops" by Heather Mac Donald

Heather Mac Donald set about the task of analyzing raw data related to crime in America following the upheaval over the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, looking at the rise in violent crimes in certain places and cross-referencing that data with the rise in anti-police sentiment (and the resultant fall in proactive policing by officers in those locations).

Mac Donald's book is packed with empirical research. Her evidence-based conclusion that where police are under verbal, political, and physical attack—and proactive policing subsequently becomes lost to history—is that the citizens pay the price with higher crime rates.

"Anatomy of Interrogation Themes" by Lou Senese

Getting a suspect to admit to committing a crime is an art form—one which has been refined over time by many brilliant investigators. One of the leading interview/interrogation methods is the Reid Technique, which has been in widespread use for more than half a century.

In this book, Reid Technique expert Lou Senese offers ideas on how law enforcement professionals can introduce "themes" during the interview/interrogation process that help elicit confessions to wrongdoing in crimes as diverse as arson, domestic violence, identity theft, kidnapping, rape, robbery, stalking, terrorism, and others.

I "confess" that I've used some of the techniques in these pages during conversations with my son's school administrators to understand precisely what goes on when I'm not personally present. (#forthewin)

"Law Dogs: Great Cops in American History" by Dan Marcou

This book is an unintended consequence of something Marcou and I worked on several years ago when I was working for a different law enforcement publication. Dan approached me with the idea of writing occasional articles about police heroes from American History. I knew that he'd be the perfect person to do the necessary research to accurately tell the tales of cops like Bass Reeves, Doc Holliday, Frank Serpico, and others.

This book is wildly entertaining and wonderfully informative about some of the true legends of law enforcement. Dan Marcou is an accomplished writer and does great service to these men and women who came before you in this profession.

"If I Knew Then"—a compilation of essays edited by Brian Willis

This is an anthology—a collection of essays by some of the best and brightest minds in law enforcement. Brian Willis—who serves Deputy Executive Director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA)—collected writings from a venerable "who's who" list of police writers such as Jeff Chudwin, Ron Borsch, Chuck Soltys, Tim Dees, Dale Stockton, and many others.

The topics are as diverse as the authors, with thoughts on finding a mentor as well as being one. There are "lessons learned" from seemingly mundane occurrences in life as well as thoughts on mentally recovering from highly traumatic events.

You could flip this book open to any page at random, spend ten minutes reading, and come away with something truly useful.

"Left of Bang" by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley

I've probably purchased this book more than a half dozen times—I keep giving copies away and needing to replace it on my bookshelf!

When the topic of personal safety comes up between me and any dinner party guest in my house, I invariably talk about the principles proffered in this book—I then grab my copy of it and gift it to that person.

Van Horne and Riley examine how concepts taught to Marines at the Combat Hunter Course—especially the essential skill of spotting trouble before it happens—can help an individual prevent something bad from happening.

Envision a timeline of events in which "bang" is a critical incident. Left of bang is what happens before the event, and right of bang is what happens in the aftermath. Staying "left of bang" means you are constantly ensuring that bad things don't happen. This book goes deeply into what to look for—such as baselines and anomalies, atmospherics, kinesics, geography, and iconography—in order to be safe.

It is a deep-dive into ensuring an individual's or a group's safety—officers and citizens alike.

"The Gift of Fear" by Gavin De Becker

In many ways the predecessor to "Left of Bang," this book also teaches readers about ways of avoiding potentially deadly trouble. De Becker encourages people to listen to that "little voice" inside them that warns of trouble.

He explains how people can sharpen their ability to pick up on pre-incident indicators of an impending attack in order to avoid such an occurance.

In this book, De Becker examines real-world events. Some ended very badly for the victim and others in which the potential victim "listened to their gut instinct" of impending danger and were able to survive the event.

The chapters at times read like a suspense novel, with tension building toward the conclusion of each case study. De Becker then offers lessons learned in every instance.

What's on Your Shelves?

Okay, that's my list.

I could easily do another list of another 10—actually, maybe a hundred—books for my LEO friends from which you might benefit.

In fact, it's entirely plausible that one day in the future I will write a "sequel" to this column that does precisely that.

Meanwhile, I ask you—gentle reader—to offer your own suggestions. Please sound off in the comments section below.

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