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For some, force is the ultimate resolution to any problem. The use of force, if decisive enough, will end any encounter, no matter how much we all hope that it need never be used. While the use of force by a law enforcement officer will conclude a situation, it must be warranted and carefully considered prior to being administered if it is to be found justified.
As such, the decisions required to resolve a critical incident must be made in a prudent, yet decisive manner. Whether the situation is a barricaded gunman, or a robbery that has degraded into the taking of a hostage, there is a likelihood that it will require some amount of force to end.
When this occurs, it is time for specialists—officers trained to work, and if necessary fight, as a team. These groups may be known by many names, such as a Special Weapons and Tactics Team, Emergency Service Unit or Critical Incident Response Team. Regardless of what name they go by, the mission, and the consequences, are the same—save a life and/or take a life.
Some people will not understand the desire to be part of this. Only those who have reached what they believe to be the pinnacle of success within their world can know this sense of accomplishment. They want the challenge, they know the risk and they need the responsibility.
When you and your mates are the only thing that stands between life and death for an innocent hostage caught in the midst of a nightmare, when you are the ultimate guarantor of safety for a community, you take life more seriously. You take those you choose to associate with more seriously and continually evaluate who you, and they, are. Being found wanting is not something you can accept. The pursuit of excellence becomes ingrained. The drive to be better never ends.
Those who have worked and fought their way into this world know camaraderie and fulfillment like no other. They now exist in a different world, a world where skill and precision are prized above all. Gone is the term “good enough.” Those words have no meaning in a world where lives hang in the balance. There is no “good enough.” There is only “well done.” The respect of peers is hard won and prized beyond measure.
Some find this atmosphere not to their liking and leave after a short while. Others will thrive in this environment, both physically and mentally, through years of service. A few rise to lead the sub-groups—entry teams, chemical munitions teams, counter-snipers, etc. It is these officers who will carry out the operations; it is they who are described as the iron fist beneath the negotiator’s velvet glove. Only a few have the ultimate honor of commanding the entire team, of being found worthy by the department’s administration of leading this group.
For some of us, we are fortunate to have found the next generation born hard. We have had the luxury of teaching those who know who they are and what is expected of them. They are the precision scalpel through which a law enforcement agency chooses to apply force in the most dire of circumstances. Honor, integrity and excellence are more than mere words in this world.
When we leave the unit, we will carry with us the ultimate honor of knowing that those same men whom we have served with, suffered with, and ultimately lead are right now ready as the final option.
Scott Oldham is a lieutenant with the Bloomington, Ind., Police Department. After 18 years with the department’s tactical unit, Lt. Oldham recently left the team after serving in various capacities, including team commander. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Jan 2011
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