Everyone deserves to be respected until they show themselves incapable of it. (Photo Dale Stockton)
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If you’re a younger officer, you may not recognize the title of this article. Besides being the official motto of my training company, it’s also a very significant quote—an immortal catch phrase for his fans—from the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie "Road House." Swayze portrayed ″Dalton,″ a ″cooler,″ a highly trained and skilled bouncer, who was recruited by a frustrated bar owner to squelch problems at his out-of-control bar. Swayze’s character came in with the intent and ability to stop the unacceptable conduct of both the bar staff and patrons and change the unruly atmosphere. During a training session for his bar staff and bouncers, he gave what was inadvertently and arguably the best advice for police officers that ever came out of Hollywood.
Rule 1: ″Never underestimate your opponent; expect the unexpected.″
It’s a sad reality, and I wish it weren’t true. But in our line of work, everyone you encounter is a potential threat to your safety. Note: I said ″potential.″ Not everyone will be a threat, but anyone could be. One of the early FBI studies on officers killed identified that many of the victim officers prided themselves on their ability to ″read people.″ This led to them dropping their guard with people they ″read″ as harmless, which may have contributed to their demise. In some cases they underestimated their opponents and paid the ultimate price for it. By accepting the fact that everyone is a potential threat, you will never underestimate any contact.
You must also operate without using the outdated concept of ″if/then″ thinking— if this occurs, then I can respond like this. You must embrace the concept of ″when/then″ thinking— when this occurs, then I will respond like this. Remember: The day and time you actually face a deadly threat or even a garden-variety assault will be decided by someone else. ″If″ denotes a somewhat lax possibility of attack and leads to a lower level of mental preparedness. ″When″ raises the expectation to a future inevitability and mandates a much higher level of preparedness. You must mentally and physically prepare yourself for combat at anytime, anywhere and against any opponent. You must also decide now, not during an assault, that when attacked you’re ready and willing to fight the millisecond you’re thrust into an altercation. By consistently expecting the unexpected, you will not find yourself caught off-guard.
Rule 2: ″It’s a job; it’s nothing personal.″
I would hate to try and count the number of former police officers who have lost their jobs, and/or went to jail, because they didn’t understand and practice this gem of advice. One of my personal mottos is: ″Never speak ill of stupid people. Because of them, I have a good job.″
Face it. The majority of criminal perpetrators who you’ll deal with aren’t going to be brain surgeons or graduates of ivy-league colleges. Many will be pure bad. You’re the major roadblock to their goal of living at other people’s expense, so you’re not going to be held in high esteem or sincerely respected by them. Some of them are going to try to push your buttons, get you to react emotionally and do something improper. You’re going to be called every name in the dictionary, and a few that Mr. Webster will never be familiar with. Get over it. As one unidentified poster on a cop forum stated: ″Bro, you’re in the wrong line of work if you’re going to let name-calling by sub-humans bother you …″
Why do we see officers on occasion sacrifice their jobs and freedom just because they feel they’ve been disrespected and react emotionally? Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less about what an uncivilized criminal thinks or says to me.
Why’s that so easy for me? Regardless of what they say or think, they lost. They’re wearing the bracelets. They’re going to jail, and I’m going home. Because of their stupidity, I have a nice home, a big-screen TV with surround sound and a sports car.
Adopt my motto about stupid people on this, and it makes it a lot easier to not take the criminal’s venomous blabbering personally.
Rule 3: ″Be nice—until it’s time to not be nice.″
An applicable axiom of unconfirmed origin that parallels this: ″Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet if necessary, because they may want to kill you.″
Being ″nice″ doesn’t mean you let your guard down or are touchy-feely or let people walk all over you. It means act like the professional you are. Treat people with courtesy and respect—until they choose to not be treated nicely. When they make the choice to not be treated nicely, you simply respond as appropriate. From verbal direction, right up to deadly force, it’s always the contact’s choice on how the situation develops.
Important: Once your subject is subdued and under control, you go back to being nice again. Why? Go back to rule No. 2: Because it’s just a job; it’s nothing personal.
Adopt these gems of advice from Patrick Swayze. It will do nothing but improve your professional performance, enhance your safety and lower your chances of unnecessary hassles.