A great line out of a great movie.“What are you prepared to do?” Little did Sean Connery realize when he uttered this phrase in the Untouchables that he was asking one of the greatest, most meaningful questions of life.
What am I prepared to do? Ask this of yourself in both your personal and professional lives. What plan do I have to succeed when the world begins to rain brown on my precious little noggin?
Sergeants, perhaps more than any other officer on a police department will be tasked with putting in place an immediate plan to deal with any and all scenarios. You will need to stabilize and contain a situation until more detailed plans can be put in place.
This may be something as routine and mundane as a traffic accident or it could be a terrorist attack. Either way a sergeant will likely be the first commander on the scene to deal with any incident. Have a plan in mind, have at least a broad framework of a plan with options from which to choose the best course of action to resolve the incident.
There is video being shown recently in some police training that details a pursuit, which involved a vehicle that was ultimately stopped only to have a gunfight ensue between the officers and the bad guy. During the firefight the suspect made good use of the available cover offered to him by his car.
At some point during the firefight the suspect returned to his car and sped off only to be stopped again a short time later by the officers, this time using stop sticks to deflate his tires making the car immobile.
As the suspect attempted to exit his car with a weapon presumably in hand, one of the pursuing officers purposely rammed his vehicle into the suspect. While this officer was involved in this incident he may not have knowing had a plan, but he undoubtedly had at least the framework of one from which he could choose options.
Without a doubt this officer deserves every commendation that can be afforded him. Not only were his actions just and within the framework of the law with use of force, but they were also innovative and ended the problem without putting others at risk.
Surely, had the officer allowed the suspect to exit the vehicle, weapons would have again been fired by both sides. By using his car as a weapon and striking the suspect the officer ended the immediate problem with the least amount of danger to others. In the process of doing this, however he put his life at great risk.
Much has been said about the use of mental imagery training in the past. Many have used it to good effect but many also delude themselves by saying “If X happens I will do Y.” This when they are totally unprepared to execute “Y” in any shape, form or fashion due reasons that they themselves may not be aware. These reasons may be lack of sufficient training or they may be due to societal-inflicted repugnance.
However for whatever cause they stand in the way of the person being able to execute the imaged outcome. Many people truly believe that they will execute “Y” however they fail to do so at the moment of truth. They fail. They hesitate. They lose. They die.
As sergeants, our first priority is to bring our people home alive at the end of the day’s tour of duty. It is our duty to see that they are prepared as possible to execute “Y” when “X” happens.
As sergeants we need to encourage and strictly enforce officer safety practices in our officers and the primary way that we should be doing this is through example. If you are going to preach to your officers that carrying their baton on every call is a good officer safety practice then you should be carrying yours.
If you are teaching that back-up guns and body armor save lives then you should be wearing yours. Let them see you out there doing the same job they do in the way that you are telling them it should be done. No one has more impact than someone who is leading from the front.
While there is no true way to be sure that a person will not freeze at the “moment” there are tried and true ways to help them through that crisis before it happens. Mandate training—all sorts of training.
Make sure that your officers are skilled with the tactics that they are taught and with the weapons and other officer safety implements that they are issued or allowed. Be sure that they are taught not only defensive tactics and firearms but also the tactics of the street.
Don’t let them arrive at calls in the darkness with their headlights on. Don’t let them park in front of a residence where they are responding to a domestic disturbance.
Preach to them about the use of secondary weapons. Make sure they know about officer down rescue techniques and active shooter responses. Talk about suspects in body armor and what the reaction to such should be.
Discuss, teach, and preach other tactics that they may have been taught years ago but have deleted from their mental problem-solving inventory due to non-use. Encourage them to put everything that is morally, ethically and legally feasible on their option list so that they have the capability to perform when their moment arrives.
Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the City of Bloomington Police Department where he serves in the operations division as well as being one of the team leaders for the department’s tactical unit. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.