Ambush! Whether premeditated or a
flash decision, an unprovoked and sudden assault on your life is a real threat.
According to the FBI, ambushes are the largest category of officer murders in
the last 15 years. In the last three years, ambushes accounted for over 40
percent of the murders and resulted in hundreds wounded and hundreds more
vest-saves or near-misses.
To protect against ambush, many
authorities provide laundry lists of suggested actions generally containing the
admonition, “Complacency Kills.” We have been falsely taught that complacency
is the bad attitude that kills cops. Instead, it is more how officers
unconsciously evolve into their daily practices that contribute to being
ambushed, injured and murdered.
Complacency, or “a feeling of
well-being or security, often while unaware of some potential danger,” is not
an attitude, but the end result of habits. No one begins a career intending to
be lax in their tactics. Complacent behavior begins with shortcuts, and
everyone seems to take shortcuts.
At first, you responded
tactically to every call (especially if you had squared-away FTOs). Then came
cutting corners because you saw experienced officers doing it. The message? “They
weren’t killed, so I won’t be.” In some agencies, peer pressure negatively
influences tactical behavior. “Why are you acting like this is a hot call? You
scared?” More shortcutting results, and still you weren’t killed. After enough
time this evolves into, “I haven’t been killed. I’m just that good.” Complacency,
that habitual sense that because you have not been killed you are therefore
“safe” sets in. However, luck is not a skill set.
Complacency assumes a choice. It
is not. It is a normalized habit. With luck comes the assumption that you are
always sharp, attentive, on-the-top-of-your-game, and instantly capable of
changing tactical gears. This is not police reality. You work when tired, sick,
distracted, and are sometimes overwhelmed by dynamic situations. When faced
with a suspect you didn’t know was willing or planning to kill you, tactical
shortcutting is sometimes fatal.
Policing is more accurately
described as a hazardous profession rather than a dangerous profession. The
truth is that most calls involve no threat to your safety. Only a few may
involve contacting someone who is willing to kill you. Problematically, we can
only know who that is and if that call was “low-risk” at its conclusion. With
20/20 hindsight, who hasn’t thought, “Man, that was close. He could have killed
If your response to “high risk”
calls requires dramatically changing your tactics, you may set yourself up
during “low-risk” calls. Believing you can flip a switch and suddenly become a
tactical ninja elite is magical thinking. Under stress, we fall back to our
dominant tendencies or habits.
Change your habits, and you
change your response to every unknown or known threat, including ambush. If we
substitute “low-risk” with the phrase, “unknown-risk,” how does that change
your mindset? That change of orientation might change your routine tactical
behavior—and your ambush prevention and response capabilities.
Ambush success results from
managing time, giving the victim no ability to meaningfully react. While some ambushes are not survivable, most
can be influenced by officer behavior. Good tactics give you an advantage of
time and position. Time permits decision-making and response.
Time allows orientation to a
suspicious movement or a strange situation. This additional time to heed that
tingling gut feeling and pause combined with superior positioning may foil that
ambush. Habituating sound tactics, making tactical behavior your norm,
decreases your vulnerability to assault—including ambush.
Making tactical habituation your
dominant response, and dropping that habit of shortcutting those proven safety
principles, can save your life. It is only when you have a routine of
habituating sound tactical behavior that the laundry lists of prevention and
response strategies can work. Habits of being tactically sound create better
survival odds than simple luck.
T. Williams is the Director of Training for Cutting Edge Training and may be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.