What’s Your Life Worth? - Below 100 - LawOfficer.com

What’s Your Life Worth?

The cost-to-value equation of essential equipment

Jeff Chudwin | From the November 2009 Issue Sunday, November 1, 2009

In every shooting/tactics class we conduct, I ask each officer a basic question: “What’s your life worth?” I then ask each officer to repeat after me the following statement: “My life is worth ... $100.” At my insistence, if a bit reluctantly, the men and women speak these words. When finished, I ask them if they believe what they just said. Then I shout, “Of course your life’s not worth $100! There’s no monetary value to be placed on life; you can always make more money, but injuries and wounds are long suffered, and dead is dead.”

Although most officers would agree, most aren’t standing by their words. They’re using pistol/rifle magazines for training that they carry daily on the street. The same magazines they depend on to function properly when their life is at risk are being dropped into the sand and mud, kicked down range or stepped on by the shooter next to them. Three magazines to use exclusively for training cost far less than $100. So I ask my trainees why they haven’t made the purchase. For the most part they get it, and return to other classes with new, clearly marked training mags and a different, upgraded attitude.

Before we start, ask yourself, what percentage of your pay is reasonable to spend on lifesaving items that your agency does not supply you with? In other words, what’s your life worth? Let’s review, from head to toe, the needs of today’s officer and the cost to stand at the best level of readiness and protection. We’ll total the amount at the end. Note: I make reference to items and brand names that I use that have served me well.

Head Gear
Protective eyewear: Let’s start with the eyes, because loss of vision is catastrophic. Actual incidents I can cite are an officer shot in the face with a shotgun, another stabbed in the eyes with sharpened fingernails and a ball bearing shot from a slingshot into an officer’s eye—all preventable injuries with impact-rated eye wear. Do you own impact-rated shooting glasses that can also be used as regular street glasses?

I’ve worn Wiley X glasses for many years and wear/carry them at all times. The model I use, the Talons, comes with interchangeable lenses of clear, yellow and smoke for all lighting conditions. I’ve tested many other excellent brands, such as Revision, Oakley and ESS. It’s a matter of personal choice, but the key is to have a pair that fits well and is with you at all times, protecting your eyes.

During a SWAT callout Sgt. Ed Mohn of the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System (NIPAS) Emergency Services Team was running through a backyard during a shooting incident. A piece of black pipe sticking out of the side of a building caught him center of the protective lens (right eye) and glanced off, cutting his face. His eye was saved, and today he wears protective glasses both as a SWAT and patrol supervisor.

Cost: $5–$200/range for multi-lens system.
Expected useful life: 2–3 years.

Helmet: A Kevlar helmet should be in every squad car. Officers insist on soft body armor; the need is proven. Why then ignore the vital area of the skull and brain? The times the helmet may be needed will likely be very few, if at all. But the one time you need it, it pays for itself. For many years, surplus military-type helmets have been available at little or no cost through the LESO 10-33 program administered by state property coordinators. New helmets are available if used ones aren’t.

Cost: $300. Expected useful life: Career.

Updated prescription eye glasses or contacts: You can’t see all that well and don’t want to spend the money to get a new set? In police work, clarity of vision is vital. What you don’t see will harm you. Get it done.

Cost: $100–200. Expected useful life: 2 years.


Outer Wear
Soft body armor: This is a lifesaving part of our on-duty “uniform,” which includes both the formal uniform and street clothing. It only works if you’re wearing it.

Many years ago, I interviewed a number of officers from around the country who were shot while wearing their bullet-resistant vests. What each said independently was that when they were shot, they didn’t expect to be shot and all that saved them from grave harm or death was the wearing of the vest. I knew and worked with a deputy who was saved from severe injury or death when his vest stopped a shot fired into his back, above his spine. He didn’t have the vest on when he drove to the scene of a disturbance. As he stepped from his squad car, he turned around and put it on. Moments later, he was ambushed. A vest must be worn to be of value. You can’t know the time and location of the threat.

Every department should be issuing soft body armor, but if yours doesn’t, buy your own and replace it as required by the manufacturer. Have 15-year-old vests saved officers’ lives? Yes, but why take the chance? I ask again: H.M.I.Y.L.W.?

Cost: $500. Expected useful life: 5 years.

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Jeff ChudwinJeff Chudwin is the 2009 Law Officer Trainer of the Year, serves as chief of police for the Village of Olympia Fields, Ill.


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