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December 29, 2011
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Brian Willis If I Knew Then...
with Brian Willis

2011 in Review: Saving cops' lives is simple, not easy

The strategies outlined below are simple but many require a change to the way we think and train as a law enforcement culture

I knew as I wrote this article that PoliceOne Editor Doug Wyllie would hold onto it until the “big, year-end” PoliceOne newsletter. Even still, back when I sent this to him, there were more than 150 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in North America so far in 2011. That can be considered a small victory, perhaps, if you consider that in April of this year we were on pace to lose more than 200 officers.

However, 150+ is too many, and many people have asked the question, “What can we do to reduce line of duty deaths?”

I believe the strategies to reducing line-of-duty deaths are simple, but not easy. Simple refers to lack of complexity. Easy refers to lack of effort. The strategies outlined below are simple. Many, however, require a change to the way we think and train as a law enforcement culture. Cultural change is never easy, especially in law enforcement. The following are seven simple strategies to reduce line-of-duty deaths.

Train to win gunfights. Simple, but not easy.
The easy thing to do is to continue going to the range once a year and train to qualify. The easy thing to do is stand flatfooted on the range, go through the motions and shoot holes in paper targets. Creating new dynamic programs takes time and effort. It means rewriting existing lesson plans and possibly course training standards. It requires reaching out to trainers from other agencies to see what they are doing. It requires attending conferences like ILEETA and networking with progressive-thinking people in the law enforcement profession. It requires work, which means it is not easy, but it is simple. If you are not a firearms instructor then invest in yourself and attend training that will teach you to win gunfights, then continue to train on your own.

What type of training do you need to do to win a gunfight? Consider the following:

Gunfights involve at least two people with guns both
Gunfights involve officers being shot at and sometimes shot
Gunfights involve movement by the officer and the subject
Gunfights occur in all lighting conditions
Gunfights require shooting into and from vehicles
Gunfights do not always take place with the officer on their feet
Gunfights are often won by an officer shooting one handed, and sometimes with their non-dominant hand

Wear your seatbelt. Simple, but not easy.
Wearing a seatbelt is something almost every officer does in their personal vehicle. You make your kids wear their seatbelts because it is the law and because it keeps them safe. You ticket people on the street who do not wear their seatbelt. If you are like 50 percent of cops you then get into a police vehicle and refuse to wear a seatbelts because you believe it is tactically unsafe.

In fact, you may have been convinced that wearing a seatbelt will result in your being trapped in your vehicle and dying when you are ambushed. While there are cases of officers being ambushed and murdered in their vehicles, cases where the officer was trapped by the seatbelt in those ambushes and died because they were wearing a seatbelt are rare, if they even exist. More than 300 officers who were not wearing their seatbelt however, died in traffic collisions between 1980 and 2008.

Train to win up-close-and-personal violent confrontations. Simple, but not easy.
Easy is standing at the three-yard line and shooting holes in a piece of paper. You need to train to shoot a subject from inches away. You need to train to shoot a subject in the back. You need to train to shoot a subject who is engaged in a contact range deadly battle with a fellow officer. This can be done with red guns in the combatives room, in a car and in confined spaces. Train with the subject and the officer(s) in a variety of positions including on their feet, and on the ground.

Slow down. Simple, but not easy.
Speeding has become a habit, and even a sense of entitlement for many in the law enforcement profession. Cops speed to minor calls, to emergency calls, to coffee, and to the station at the end of shift. Cops speed in the police vehicles and cops speed in their personal vehicles. Are you one of those who speed because you can?

Why am I talking about this? Because speed kills cops. Speed has killed hundreds of law enforcement professionals over the years. There are numerous examples of officers driving over 100 miles per hour to minor calls and killing themselves, their partners, other officers and innocent people on the roads. The time has come to say enough is enough. The time has come to slow down. Care enough about yourself and your family to slow down. Care enough about your brother and sister law enforcement professionals to have the courageous conversations with them concerning their driving habits.

Train for the crossfire scenario. Simple, but not easy.
Not easy because officers have been told to never place himself or herself in a crossfire situation with another officer. In most cases this is sound tactical advice. What if the subject places you in a crossfire situation? Have you trained to fix this problem and win this fight? This happened in the coffee shop in Lakewood, Washington. This happened in Maryland following a bank robbery. This happens numerous times every year around North America. The training can be done with red guns or non lethal training ammunition but you have to do the training.

Wear your body armor. Simple, but not easy.
The easy thing to do is to keep making excuses (too hot, too uncomfortable, nothing will ever happen here, etc). The simple thing to do is throw your armor in a ready bag so you have it when you need it. Body armor has saved thousands of officers’ lives since the mid 1970s yet a large number of officers still refuse to wear body armor.

Are you one of them? Are you willing to continue to make excuses and put yourself and your fellow officers at risk unnecessarily? Wondering how your refusal to wear armor puts others at risk unnecessarily? I will guarantee you that if you go down because you are not wearing armor other officers will put themselves at huge risk to come and save you.

Prepare your mind for where your body may have to go. Simple, but not easy.
This great saying from LAPD officer Stacy Lim is simple, but not easy. You need to imagine being in and winning those gunfights. You need to imagine shooting someone from inches away. You need to imagine shot, stabbed or otherwise injured, staying focused, staying in the fight and winning the fight. The easy thing to do is tell yourself it will never happen to you. The easy thing to do is make excuse that you are not going to imagine getting shot or stabbed because that means you screwed up.

Getting shot does not mean you screwed up. It simply means you have been shot. The realities of action versus reaction are that the first indication you may have that you are in a gunfight is when you get shot. The same with getting stabbed. Training your mind can be as simple as closing your eyes and imagining yourself in a variety of these situations. Imagine responding the way you would most like to and imagine feeling good after knowing that you performed well and saved a life.

If every officer and every trainer in North America focused on these simple strategies, the number of line-of-duty deaths would drop dramatically. In 2012, are you going to focus on the simple, or the easy?


About the author

Brian Willis is an internationally-recognized thought leader, speaker, trainer, and writer. Brian serves as the Deputy Executive Director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) and is President of the innovative training company Winning Mind Training. Brian was a full time police officer with the Calgary Police Service from 1979 to 2004. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his contribution and commitment to Officer Safety in Canada and was named Law Officer Trainer of the Year for 2011. He is also editor of the highly-acclaimed books W.I.N.: Critical Issues in Training and Leading Warriors , W.I.N. 2: Insights Into Training and Leading Warriors, and his latest work, If I Knew Then: Life Lessons From Cops on the Street , are all available through (www.warriorspiritbooks.com). Brian is a member of NTOA, ITOA, IALEFI, and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. Brian can be reached through his website at www.winningmindtraining.com.

Brian can be reached via e-mail at brian.willis@policeone.com.





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