Police Training in a Zombie Flick?

Who knew you could find critical combative concepts and other police training tips in the film Zombieland?

Zombieland was a 2009 movie release that mixed an incredible cast (Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin) and some of the usual zombie movie elements with a script full of comedic plot twists that turned people who usually hate zombie movies into diehard fans. With a plot line that would have made Denny Crane proud, the movie centered on a mutated, mad-cow-disease induced apocalypse. This turned most of the world’s population into cannibalistic zombies in the somewhat traditional fashion.
Eisenberg, of The Social Network fame, plays a young survivor of Zombieland that uses the name Columbus. With a slight physique and unintimidating appearance, Columbus has beaten the odds by remaining uninjured and uneaten. During the introductory narration of the movie, Columbus admits that he is an unlikely survivor. However, he unequivocally states the reason he has survived--when so many others did not--is because he follows the rules! His rules.

As the movie progressed, many of the rules (there were 32 total) were highlighted in a comedic fashion. But what I found so interesting about Zombieland is that so many of the rules set by Columbus are applicable to police work. Some would qualify as critical combative concepts. Whether or not they worked in the fantasy world of Zombieland is of little consequence. However, whether or not you follow them in the real world may be of the ultimate consequence.

And now, without further ado, I give you some of the rules from Zombieland as they pertain to your job as a police officer.
Rule #1: Cardio
Although the movie exemplified the importance of cardio when two zombies were pursuing Columbus, (unlike most zombie movies, the mad-cow mutations can run!) the same importance can apply to you when you need to run to a position of cover. Realistically, jogging is good for your health. Running can also save your life. We must also not ignore the fact that heart disease remains a top killer of law enforcement officers. Good cardio conditioning can make the difference between life and death—on and off the job.

Rule #2: Double Tap
Although the rule was written as “double tap” for the movie, in effect, it was explained as to keep shooting or striking until the threat is no longer a threat. IMHO, we need to be programmed not to fire a certain number of shots, but to be programmed to use reasonable force until a threat is justifiably neutralized.

Rule #4: Seat belts
This rule was first illustrated in Zombieland, when a woman that crashed her car was ejected through her windshield. She did a very graphic, fatal nose-dive into the pavement. This rule should go without saying, but for some it doesn’t. Although we all know that seat belts save countless lives every year, there’s another aspect to them that’s rarely mentioned in law enforcement circles. That being said, seat belts drastically increase your capability of maintaining control of your vehicle under extreme driving conditions.

I learned this early on in my career during one of the first pursuits I was ever involved in. I was the secondary unit pursuing a high performance Pontiac. Our units were 1983 Chevy Malibu’s with the 305 H.O. engines, but they also had slick vinyl, bench seats. When we slid around corners, the centrifugal force had the unbelted primary officer sliding around the inside of his unit like a pool ball going from bumper to bumper on a pool table. If you can’t stay in the driver’s seat with your feet on the pedals, you are apt to lose control under bumpy or fast conditions. Besides, I tend to follow the lead of professionals in all aspects of my life. Professional NASCAR drivers, World Rally drivers and even stunt drivers wear their seat belts. I wear mine. And, if you consider yourself as a professional, you should follow their lead as well.

Rule #18: Limber Up
Rule 18 was illustrated when Columbus limbered up, just prior to going into a situation where he might have to engage a zombie. In reality, we would rarely get the chance to limber up immediately prior to an altercation. Nevertheless, that certainly doesn’t preclude you from stopping your unit on occasion, and engaging in some light stretching of major muscle groups. Sitting in a car for hours, then spontaneously breaking into a full sprint—or knock-down-drag-out fight—is a recipe for shredded body tissues. Even prior light stretching, can help prevent muscle injuries when you have to go from zero movement to explosive muscle contractions.

Rule #22: When in Doubt, Know Your Way Out
Rule 22 is applicable to everyone, all the time, on-duty or off. Whenever you enter any building or structure, take note of where the exits are. In the real world, we are always in doubt, as we never know when we will be thrust into a life-threatening crisis. If all hell breaks loose spontaneously and you find yourself overwhelmed, it may be time to fall back and regroup. Having prior knowledge of where to exit can be a lifesaver in those instances where milliseconds count.

Rule #29: The Buddy System
Simply stated, watch each other’s backs. If a crew in an adjoining district makes a stop, don’t wait until he requests backup, just go. There’s strength in numbers, and just being there can often deter an otherwise imminent assault. If being there doesn’t deter it, it certainly makes a difference when a subject turns violent.

Besides being an enjoyable movie, Zombieland really does make a valid point about the fact that following the rules can keep you alive and uninjured. An Officer Behavioral Descriptor (prevalent factor) identified in officer injuries and deaths in the FBI studies Killed in the Line of Duty (1992) and In the Line of Fire (1997) was: “Doesn’t follow all rules, especially in regard to: arrests, confrontations with prisoners, traffic stops, waiting for backup (when available).”1

If you’re saying to yourself, “1990 what? That old stuff doesn’t apply anymore.” OK. I guess you're right. In Violent Encounters, the latest federal study (a cooperative effort between the USDOJ, FBI and NIJ), the finding was a bit different. That 2006 study listed the officer behavioral factor as: “Failed to follow established procedures especially in regard to: arrests, handling prisoners, traffic stops, calling and waiting for backup (when available.)”2 For our purposes (and probably anyone else’s) is just another way of articulating a failure to follow the rules!

Establish your own list of rules. Follow them even when they are inconvenient or time consuming. Just like Columbus, the rules can and will increase your longevity in a violent world. Although you’ll likely never encounter a zombie who will try to eat you, you probably will encounter a criminal someday that will try his best to kill or maim you. Afterward, you might take a bit of self-indulgent humor in telling him that you learned how to defeat his best efforts from a zombie movie.

1. Pinizzotto, Ph.D, Anthony, Davis M.S., Edward and Miller III, Charles. Violent Encounters. USDOJ, FBI and NIJ, 2006, p. 19.
2. Ibid.


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