What’s Your Life Worth?

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.

Duty uniform: Uniform pants incorporating side cargo pocket are now a standard. Fechheimer, 5.11 and Blauer are a few of the companies offering a variety of fabric blends that look good and wear like iron. There still exist a few holdouts, but most agencies I’m around allow officers to wear these useful pants. With cargo pockets, we can carry lifesaving items with us, not in our cars. In an emergency, if we can’t reach our gear, it has no value.

Cost: $60. Expected useful life: 1–2 years.

Boots: Add to this proper protective foot wear. A good pair of boots that fit your feet and protect against the elements is essential. You spend so much time on your feet that sore feet or blisters aren’t acceptable.

I say boots and not shoes —why? For the patrol officer on the street, the ankle support and protective features of well-made boots top any type of low-cut shoe I’ve worn. Boots can be had with insulation for extreme cold or simply a water barrier liner to keep dry. In the Chicago region, I have both types to interchange as the weather changes. For years, I’ve worn Rocky Eliminators. They’re soft, fit well and break in fast. For the past six months I’ve been wearing Bates Durashocks 8" boots. This combined leather and nylon model is waterproof and fits like a glove. Whatever your choice, replace boots as needed. You cannot cheat your feet.

Cost: $125. Expected useful life: 2+ years.


Emergency Medical Gear
When officers are shot on the street, EMS/fire won’t arrive until the scene is “secure.” We’re on our own in the critical minutes when life is saved or lost. Illinois Tactical Officers Association/Tactical Emergency Medical Support co-chair Chuck Soltys of the DEA has trained my officers and written extensively about the need for upgraded training and equipping of every patrol officer. Based on Chuck’s direction, we issue our officers a wound pressure bandage, gloves and a tourniquet to fit in their uniform pants cargo pockets (e.g., an Israeli Battle Dressing or an Olaes Modular Bandage). Just more than a year ago, an officer was shot through the femoral artery. With only minutes to act, another officer, who was trained in the military and carried a tourniquet with him, stopped the deadly blood loss. The officer’s life was saved, and a vital lesson reinforced.

Cost: $20–35. Expected useful life: 3–5 years.


Many agencies require officers to provide their own handguns as part of the new-hire process and thereafter. Yet there will be times when a handgun isn’t the appropriate force response. The current trend nationwide is to allow individually purchased and owned patrol rifles. The choice of duty firearms is vast, and books are written on this subject. The point: Buying your own patrol rifle ensures you have a lifesaving tool that’s under your sole care and maintenance —one in which you have complete confidence.

Divide the cost of the patrol rifle over the years of service and you’re buying an inexpensive form of life insurance. Example: A young boy in the south suburbs of Chicago was kidnapped from his parents at gunpoint by an escaping armed robber. A pursuit ended up on the porch of a home where the offender placed a pistol to the four-year-old’s head and started a countdown to murder. A single officer with a personally owned carbine took action when all seemed lost. He placed a precise headshot at the covered gunman and saved the child.

Cost: $800. Expected useful life: Career.


Holsters wear out because they’re worn daily and scraped, pulled, twisted and subjected to weather extremes. Failure to accept this fact has led to disaster. Example: An officer wearing a worn leather duty holster had his handgun snatched away during a fight with a violent offender. The holster was literally torn apart. The officer was murdered with his own gun. More than once this has occurred. But I still see officers on the street with worn out and substandard holsters. When I ask why, I’m told they “cost too much.”

True, holsters today cost what our firearms did when I started. And what of it? Cars today cost that much more—as does everything else. Inspect your holster, duty belt, mag pouches and determine if you would give them to a son or daughter just sworn in as new police officers.

Cost: $80–150. Expected useful life: 5+ years.


The Bottom Line
I’ve listed gear that I believe is essential. The grand total: $1,500–2,250. If your agency issues body armor and a patrol rifle, subtract $1,300. When viewed against the number of years this gear protects you, some of it not needing replacement, the overall cost is very manageable. Some items you may have to wait to purchase, but you decide what you can or cannot live without. Most often, that’s known only when you truly need it but don’t have it. As with most things in life, the choice is yours. Choose well.

Now repeat after me: My life is worth ...


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