Things That Matter Most

Don't wait until tragedy strikes to recognize the importance of taking a moment to ensure your safety.

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Inmysights Davesmith Left 10Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

Well, here I am reading my line of duty death report about an officer killed when he loses control of his vehicle and leaves the roadway while responding to a domestic violence call. The final sentence of the post freezes my gut: "Seat belt was not in use." Damn!

I am constantly reminded, by how an incident is reported, of some basic issues in officer safety. The reports reveal exactly what the officer thought mattered. Just think to yourself how often you read a critical incident report which includes the following, toward the end: "The officer's life was saved when his body armor stopped the shots from entering his chest." I guarantee you the instant that round exploded into the officer's body armor he thought that vest was the one thing in the world that mattered most.

"Mattering most" is an odd taxonomy for the things in our lives. Today it may seem that getting to the dentist or buying that anniversary gift for your loved one (don't forget this!) is the most important matter mattering before you. However, I submit that a lot of "little matters" matter most from second to second. And some of these are ubiquitous, constant matters that we may, from time to time, neglect. Neglecting a "little matter" can turn it into a "matters most" matter in a fraction of a second.

Let us take our friend, the seat belt. Now 99.9% of the time a seat belt is just an anchor for your rear end as you drive casually around. The fraction of the time you drive "hauling ass," when you absolutely need that butt to stay in that vehicle, is pretty low and accidents do not show up on your phone's appointment app. That split second when an unexpected crisis occurs is, sadly, not the time to remember how important a matter keeping your body in the cockpit truly is; but in actual fact, in those hundredths of a second, it is the thing that matters most!

The fact that a seat belt is passive and, once fastened, a constant throughout the time you are in transit in a vehicle means the conscious act of attaching yourself to your ride takes a fraction of a second upon entering the vehicle, and detaching should be a simple "habit" with no conscious thought whatsoever. So we can say that the matter of fastening your seat belt should be of little matter except for the fact that keeping your matter intact depends on the seat belt caring for the matter it is designed for. The weak element in the design of your seat belt is you. You have to take care of one small matter to make all the meanings of matter in this sentence matter. So dammit … why not?

The same holds true for body armor. This is a passive tool that requires you to put the damn thing on before danger, and take it off after. But we can't know when we will actually need our armor. By which we mean, "We don't know when it will matter most." Yeppers, we do not, so that is why it is passive; once put on, it is there until the moment it matters most, throughout the shift, until such time as you decide it just does not matter enough to keep wearing it—hopefully at the moment you are no longer on duty.

OK, here is the point. If you believe your life matters, the people who love you matter, the job you do matters, and the actions you take matter, then why do you fail to do things that will matter most when your life is on the line? If you don't wear a seat belt, start wearing the damn thing. Worried about "being tactical" (whatever that is when you are hauling ass in your patrol vehicle)? Then practice unfastening your seat belt without looking.

Body armor is in the same category, and the percentage of officers killed today without it on makes me shake my head in amazement. At a time that is as dangerous as I have ever known in my life, the number of crime fighters who can't see how much body armor matters is a matter of great sorrow to me. I hope you will take time to evaluate the things in your life that matter most, prioritize them, and then act on them … this is no small matter.

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.

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Officer (Ret.)
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