If we choose to be more than uniformed observers facing a threat to life situation, first responding police officers must have training, equipment, and will to win the fight. Whether the threat presented is an active shooter in a school, a gang of armed robbers attempting to escape capture, or terrorists attacking our citizens, the choices we make today for training and planning strongly predict the future outcome. Does our current training and preparation afford us a “win first” probability?
What is Required for Victory?
In making choices for success, particularly in deadly force incidents, the essential elements are:
- reality driven training
- frequently practiced
- in the likely environment
- with equipment suitable for the task.
We have identified the elements to build a valid training program if there is a desire to do so. Yet it will be of zero value if the money required to fund the training, equipment, and overtime is not made available. Historically, the first item to be taken from the budget when money is short is the training line item. Every physical and mental skill requires basic and continued training. What we are facing in terms of countering violent offenders is the Olympics of police work. What successful Olympian practiced once a year?
It Never Happens Here
The cost, time, and energy to be truly prepared for the coming danger is high. The fatigue factor is a reality. Vigilance is tiring, boring, and vital. The belief that “it will not happen here” is easy to accept. Yet every community that has fallen victim to a monstrous crime has been seen on the news with their representative saying the same; “such things do not happen here”. If we base our willingness to spend our time and money on the frequency of a terrible event occurring, we will likely do nothing. Failure to prepare is a gamble; the currency at risk, the lives of our children and families. This is a gamble we must not take. As Special Agent (ret.) John Hall of the FBI described in his series of articles regarding firearms training; the need to train for critical events must not be predicated on frequency of the event but rather on the critical and harmful nature of the event.
I cannot think of a more critical or harmful event than the mass murder of our school children.
Good endings reinforce poor practices.
Too long we have seen this and sadly rewarded conduct that was fundamentally flawed but achieved a “good ending”. We must never confuse success with good fortune or a lucky break. Training is no different. Consider firearms training: too often police firearms training occurs indoors where weather and clothing are not factored in as it would be on the street. Too often all happens with full lighting, unlike the street where so much happens in low light of the night or inside darkened buildings. Too often it focuses on a single offender when multiple offenders are a reality. To train for the highest stress incident with no stress involved, and courses of fire with no basis of reality to the street; ask yourself if the training you receive is preparing you for the truth of physical combat or simply done to fill a training folder. Is the training done once a year, or once a month? Do your officers take the training to heart and make it part of their daily work effort? Are they filling a vital role as first responders or simply filling a space on a schedule?
If it is the latter, what chance will there be that officers will have both competence and confidence to use their firearms timely and effectively when no other option exists? We must never allow the motto of failed police response to be “we cannot help you, because we cannot help ourselves”.
We Are It
As police officers, we took a sworn oath to carry out our duties of public service and protection, recognizing that we will face dangers. Dangers that include confronting and defeating violent armed criminals and terrorists. We go armed when others do not. We are trained to act when others cannot or will not. It is therefore our responsibility and duty to run to the fight when all others run away.
It must be understood and embraced that we take on these dangers; not recklessly or foolishly but with acceptance that the safety of those who rely on us will come before ours.
There are no secret police coming to save you. We are it. We are the last ones to hold the line. When we fail, all fails. It is not TV with a good ending. We will at times face the reality of only bad endings, with some far worse than others if we do not act with speed and resolve.
Where is Leadership?
If we truly believe that we are the final option, then the Chiefs and Sheriffs of today must lead the way in making certain that our men and women are not only up to the task of daily police work but stand instantly ready for violent confrontation. All officers REGARDLESS of rank must be able and willing to act. Where strong leadership exists, it is because of leading by example not by proxy. The key to success is a valid program lead from the top down. Only the bosses can make this happen and they must be active participants not disinterested observers. Those who lead must never forget where they began. Too often those in charge have lost touch with the core issues of street enforcement. Every administrator needs to get out among the troops and show interest and concern.
The Coming Fight
Confrontation is coming to every town and officer. As seen in events both nationwide and worldwide, no village, town, or city is immune. Ten years ago in New Lenox Illinois on the night of December 7, 2006, a traffic stop behind a high school turned into a prolonged 9 minute, hundred plus round gunfight. The first two officers were wounded but stayed in the fight. These men and two additional officers fought the shooter without hesitation or retreat. Their superior and brave actions prevented the gunman from entering the school where evening activities were underway. They fired on the shooter who died trying to murder them. They responded as trained, showed courage and tenacity, and now are examples of what all of us need to be.
More and Better Training
In the ten years since New Lenox, the Illinois Tactical Officers Association has provided enhanced training to thousands of officers. Active Threat Response, Rapid Deployment, MACTAC, Self-Aid Buddy-Aid, and Rescue Task Force are offered on a continuous basis and the classes are filled.
It is this training and continued practice that will successfully bring us through these difficult and dangerous times.
Continued and Future Threats
Our children are our greatest treasure and at highest risk. How will we respond should we face the atrocities of Beslan Russia? There will be no negotiation, only murder. Tell me the value of each child saved to their mothers and fathers. If we do not seriously train for this type of attack today, we will fail in total when it happens tomorrow. In the active shooter or other high intensity deadly force confrontation, the equation for success is will and skill. We must get highly motivated, well trained officers on scene with rifles and associated tactical response gear to immediately bring the fight to the terrorists before they can execute their plan and then the hostages.
Again, look in truth to your training. Are you training to defeat a teenager with a gun or a group of dedicated attackers? As ITOA Conference presenter trainer Paul Howe wrote; are you training for the fantasy of the fight or the reality?
Time to Decide
Today we are at a fork in the road when deciding our present and future ability to combat the violent threats we are certain to face. We cannot stay where we are and the path we choose once undertaken cannot be changed. One direction is certain failure based on inadequate or flawed training and preparation. The other direction is hope of success. Hope not founded on wishful thinking but on practiced actions. .
For those of you who read this to the end, will you take the right direction?
Consider, how many did not and will not?
One man or woman can make the difference. Is that you?
As my Brother Ed Mohn says;
“Train hard for the day will come”
That day is not far off.
You may be off duty but you are not off watch. Keep you gear on you, with you, and live in the moment. Always vigilant, stay “Left of Bang”.
Lead On Brothers and Sisters !
May you have a great holiday season and a healthy, and prosperous new year.
Stay Safe, Stand Ready.