The Mental Edge: Resilience

In law enforcement, having resilience will help keep you alive.

Talk about mindset and the mental edge, and you’ll usually get references to the late Col. Jeff Cooper’s Awareness Color Code or his Principle of Personal Defense. These are sound concepts and recommendations that still hold true today, but there’s more to what’s required for today’s law enforcement street warriors.

Times are tough my brothers and sisters in blue. Whether you patrol urban or suburban streets, or in a large city or a small town, it makes no difference. Officer fatalities are up: Today’s numbers from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund indicate an increase of 20% in total fatalities from 2010 and a 57% increase in deaths due to gunfire this year.

When Life’s Unfair
Recently, I’ve been involved as an expert witness defending two officers charged with crimes in on-duty use of force incidents. Both were charged with crimes based on sloppy or poor investigations by their own agencies. The defense teams were successful in winning an acquittal at trial in the misdemeanor case and dismissal of charges in the felony case, but both officers had to go through hell in the interim.

Law enforcement and fire services, as well as other public employee union rights, are being attacked throughout the country by ignorant and ill-informed politicians. In Ohio, a newly elected governor called a police officer who stopped and ticketed him for a traffic violation an “idiot.” And as example of his lack of support for law enforcement, he’s spearheading an attempt to seriously reduce police and fire union rights and abilities. A nincompoop of an Ohio state senator, who’d been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, stabbed law enforcement in the back by introducing Senate Bill 5, which attempts to gut a process that’s worked for safety forces and other public employee unions in the Buckeye State for over thirty years. Reducing the bargaining rights of police and fire unions for anything other than wage negotiations shows an ignorance of safety forces so deep that it’s unfathomable.

In my neck of the woods, the City of Cleveland, who’s already operating well below effective levels in staffing, will be laying off all members of its current police academy class. That’s right. Walk across the stage, get your certificate and then file over at the unemployment office.

Resilience is a Learned Behavior
We’re doing more with less and are offered less life-saving training by our agencies as well. So what’s all this doom saying about? Resilience—that ability to take a hit and still get up off the canvas.

So goes the song lyrics: “I get knocked down, but I get up again…You’re never going to keep me down.”

Learning resilience or learning to take a hit and persevere is a learned behavior. My late parents were products of the Great Depression. They could have told you stories about tough times they went through. Heck, our country was founded by people that went through tough times just to arrive here, let alone carve out a homestead in harsh situations.

How does resilience work for you? In a job that exposes you to politics of the worst kind (far more stressful and damaging in my opinion than the stressors of the street), shotgun discipline (don’t discipline the culprit make a policy or rule that disciplines everyone) and turns you into a political football (every politician loves cops at election time, but won’t hesitate to lay-off or threaten lay-offs to make a political point), the best attribute you can have is the ability to “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’” to paraphrase the old Timex commercial.

How to Build Resilience

  • Focus on what you can control by having the best attitude you can. A good attitude will carry you far. Positive energy attracts positive people and more positive energy.
  • Hang with winners. Whiners or positive energy black holes (negative people) can ruin the best of days, if you let them. Life is too short, so hang with winners.
  • Focus on building relationships. Too many careerists and rank climbers look at what’s in it for them. Focus on being a good cop and developing lasting friendships and relationships. That’s the good part of police work.
  • Don’t take it personal. Resistance in arrest situations, capricious or erratic discipline or poor prosecutions—doesn’t matter, just do your job as best you can and then let it go.
  • Focus on the big picture. Safely completing a call or a tour of duty is what it’s all about.
  • Maintain your honor & integrity. Do the right thing for the right reason and the other stuff will work itself out. Being able to look yourself in the mirror is a huge benefit.
  • Develop your skills. The physical feeds the mental. Being competent in your motor skills—be it suspect control or shooting—helps build “psychic armor.”
  • Never stop learning. You might not have the answers now, but chances are someone else went through similar problems. Read and learn.
  • Be formidable. On the street and at work. Regardless of who’s out to get you, always play your “A” game. Be a hard target.
  • Don’t dwell. If the dice came up craps, don’t dwell on it and cry in your beer. Learn whatever lessons you can and then move on.

In Sum
In the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, the second stanza reads, “In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, My head is bloody, but unbowed.” There’s many benefits from learning to take a hit or being resilient. It makes you stronger in the long run and harder to kill or injure. It’s a learned behavior, just like its antithesis—giving up or giving in. Throwing in the towel is never a good trait in law enforcement, but “cowboying” up and toughening your hide is. Be resilient, get up off the floor if you’re knocked down and fight back. Or better yet, be resilient enough to defend against the attack before it begins and knock them on their butt—that’s a better plan.


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