For several decades now, the words survive and survival have played a major role in American law enforcement. Phrases like street survival, officer survival, the will to survive, survival mindset and ultimate survivors have been commonplace.
However, we need to think beyond survival. According to Webster's dictionary, survive means "to remain in existence," but, to me, that's just not enough. I want law enforcement personnel to go home the same way they left unharmed, unscathed and ready for duty; no wheelchairs, medical aids, crutches or coffins. I want officers to prevail, which, according to Mr. Webster means "to be victorious, to succeed."
What does it take to prevail in a confrontation? It's impossible to cover every potential life-threatening event, especially because many situations are outside our control. The fact is the individual street cop will have to take their fundamental knowledge and adapt it to the situation they face. After all, there's no such thing as too much training or preparation.
Adjusting Your Mindset
Many police administrators will flinch at the thought of their officers being trained to be "combative," but I argue that this is essential to our primary mission. While 21st century law enforcement is public-service oriented, the primary function is to protect the citizens we serve. Don't believe me? Ask them. Go out into your community and ask any citizen what they view as the No. 1 function of their police department, and they'll likely answer one of the following: "stop criminals," "arrest bad guys," "keep criminals from hurting me or my family" or the ever popular "keep the streets safe for us." Far too many police chiefs and sheriffs have forgotten this.
Let's get even more basic here: Visualize you and your significant other walking down the street when you're approached by a person who says, "Down that alley is a suspicious looking person I think is up to no good." As a citizen, what would your response be? You might get on the cell phone and dial 9-1-1, but you won't go near the alley in question. Now, let's picture the same scenario, except this time you're a patrol officer working your beat. What's your response now? You'll call for backup, and, at some point,
you'll be going down that alley to confront the suspicious person. That's what we do; it's what we're paid for, what the citizens in the community expect of us. To do this effectively, you better have a combative mindset.
The word combat means "to counter or actively oppose; to fight back." Combative means "ready and willing to fight." Mindset is defined as "a course of action based on a previous decision, a set path based on reason and intellect." Thus, it would be fair to say that the combative mindset could be defined as "a previous decision based on reason and intellect to be ready and willing to fight back."
What's wrong with that? It doesn't say a thing about attacking others, being heavy-handed or using excessive force. It states that if attacked, you'll be ready and willing to fight back based on reason and intellect. And where do reason and intellect come from? Your life experience, formal education and training. If the officer's training is sound, and nothing in their past life has led them to feel they need to be excessive, then why would they overstep their reach? Teaching cops to have a combative mind is not an excessive force problem waiting to happen; it's a wise investment.
Developing the Combative Mind
How do you develop a combative mind? The phrase "previous decision" is the most important. You must decide that this is the path you want to take and actively pursue it through training. The more skills you possess, the more likely you'll be able to fight back in a life-threatening event. Cops must be confident in their skill and ability if they wish to overcome the fear that we've all experienced. Make no mistake: Fear is your friend, and someone who says they're never afraid is either a liar or a fool. In addition, a cop who doesn't believe they can actually perform a particular technique won't to try to use it on the street, which makes them more vulnerable.
Combat skills range from verbalization to defensive tactics (e.g., hands-on, chemical sprays, electronic devices, impact weapons and deadly force via firearms). Cops need to be as skilled as possible in all levels of force. Are you? Even though the threat is real, skill levels are lacking among some American cops, and this is unacceptable. How skilled can anyone be when they only attend in-service training a few times a year? Let me give you a dose of harsh reality: You can't be very skilled unless you're willing to practice on your own time, and the techniques you learn are simple to practice and execute.
For a number of years, I've used the "Three S Test" to evaluate techniques I've been exposed to in various training programs to see whether they will support a combative mindset. I think it's a valid measuring device anyone can use:
- Is the technique being taught simple to execute or perform? What's the likelihood the technique will be easy to accomplish in a fight? What's the likelihood that the average officer will practice the technique once training is over? Simplicity will make this more likely.
- Does it make sense? You're a person with a great deal of life experience and a reasonable level of police training. Some have extensive training or even military experience. If the technique doesn't make sense, talk to the instructor and express concern. After all, you (or your agency) are paying to be there. If the instructor can't address your concern, you're wise to dismiss the technique.
- Is the technique street proven? Has the technique been used in actual street combat? Ask the instructor. If not, do you want to be the guinea pig for this new technique?
This type of evaluation will help any officer be more confident in their abilities. History has shown that anyone who faces an armed threat will respond in one of four ways: fight, flight, freeze or posture. Fighting back or fleeing is a sound, even wise, course of action. Don't underestimate the advantages of withdrawal. As "Dirty Harry" Callahan so aptly said, "A man's got to know his limitations"; however, freezing and posturing are unacceptable and likely deadly. The dangers of freezing while in danger are obvious, but many feel they can bluff their way out of a confrontation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My law enforcement career has spanned almost three decades. I spent seven years on different tours in the county jail, getting to know how criminals think. It's wise to remember that many of these offenders didn't grow up the same way you or I did. The biggest mistake any cop can make is to apply their own thoughts or feelings to the way a criminal thinks. Example: A cop in my area confronted an armed suspect and tried to defuse the situation by putting her gun on the ground and dropping to her knees, thus showing a less threatening posture. The suspect responded by shooting her through the neck. Never base a decision on how to deal with an armed suspect by applying your logic.
It's Up to You
I've talked about being ready and willing to fight, but willingness means other things besides being prepared to punch or shoot. It also means being willing to attend training, even if it's on your time and at your own expense. Cops need to realize that it's their life on the line in that dark alley at 2 a.m. The chief or sheriff will probably be home in bed. If the officer doesn't have the needed skill, they will not prevail. It's that simple.
We must be willing to buy our own equipment if what's issued doesn't fit our needs. "To hell with it, I'm not spending my money on police junk" is the exact attitude your potential opponent wants you to have.
Continue to read industry magazines, such as this one, to keep abreast of new tactics, techniques and information. It's also a solid step toward developing the combative mind.
Think this won't happen to you? OK, sorry I wasted your time. But consider this: Right now someone is preparing so that when they meet you, they beat you. I suggest that you, too, train hard and stay on guard. And have the mindset to be ready and willing to prevail, no matter what it takes.