While attending my first Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar in the late 1980s, the topic of deadly force was discussed. One of the things that I remember was them telling us to talk to those people who were important in our lives about our potential use of deadly force as police officers. The idea was to speak to those people, whether it be a spouse, parent, or religious leader to get their permission to use feadly force. The idea being that officers have hesitated in those situations wondering about how those other people in their lives might react to that use of force.
The same ideas have been promoted by Grossman, Artwohl, and others. By eliminating or alleviating those concerns the officer can then go into a situation without those intrusive thoughts or concerns.
It seemed like a good idea and one night while watching COPS (does this tell you I was a rookie) with my wife I brought up the subject and asked her what she would expect me to do in a deadly-force situation. Her response was short, sweet and to the point, “I expect you to shoot the son of a bitch and come home safe.”
I found that response very reassuring in so many ways. In that moment we made a commitment that I would do what needed to be done to come home and that she would be there for me. We have kept that commitment for the last 24 years.
As simple as it sounds that short conversation lifted the burden of a heavy concern I had regarding that issue. Those few words made my life as a police officer a lot easier, one less concern in those situations where I needed to be thinking about the here and now and not the aftermath. In just a few seconds, in a short conversation, those words made me a better-prepared police officer and warrior.
As I have gone through life I have found — with the help of so many people — that giving and getting permission can make a big difference. To my good friends and mentors I have given and gotten permission to speak, even if what is said may be difficult or painful. Those people have my permission to tell me the things that sometimes I don’t want to hear, to make me better, to fix what I have broken, to avoid making the same mistake again or to keep me safe.
I need those people in my life. They are open and they are honest. They don’t sugar coat it when they see me heading down the wrong path. Sometimes I don’t appreciate it in the moment but as time passes I see the wisdom of their words and the value it has in my life. Because they had the ability to look at things from outside my perspective they could see what I could not or would not and pointed it out.
To live up to my part of the bargain, I have a responsibility to do the same for them. It isn’t always easy. On more than one occasion I have failed to have that “courageous conversation” with officers that I know. I have seen them say and do things that I should have pointed out but didn’t. Why? It wasn’t the right time. It wasn’t the right place. It wasn’t my responsibility. It wasn’t any of my business. It wasn’t my department. I wasn’t their supervisor.
Despite the fact that I could see where they were headed I stayed silent. On too many occasions it was like watching them pull the pin on a grenade and then releasing the spoon. I just stood back and waited for the boom. The resulting explosive destruction on their personal life or career was far more painful and long lasting than that “courageous conversation” ever could have been. But, let’s face it, sometimes it’s easier to stay silent than to speak out.
On a few occasions I have spoken out and the results weren’t positive, feelings were hurt and friendships ended. Unfortunately, that is one of the possible results of having those honest open conversations and what makes them hard. In retrospect, I would rather have said what needed to be said and live with the unintended consequences than be feeling at least partially responsible for the destructive effects of not speaking out.
So as we proceed into 2012, find those trusted friends and mentors, give permission and get permission to point out mistakes and problems that you see. Make and keep those promises.
Try to promote a working atmosphere that makes it ok for you to critique others on a stop or a call with the promise that others will do the same for you to make us better, safer officers. That debrief may keep you or another officer from falling into complacency and paying a high price.
If you know a cop who drives too fast, doesn’t wear their seatbelt or vest, wave the red B.S. flag when they give you their excuses.
As you probably already know, traffic fatalities are usually the leading cause of police officer deaths. A high number of those are officers responding to calls for assistance. You aren’t of any assistance to me if you crash on the way to my location. It is not acceptable for you to kill yourself trying to getting to me.
I know what it feels like to hear that call for help. Ask yourself, would it be ok with the officer you are rushing to help for you to crash, seriously injure or kill yourself. I know what it feels like to put out that call for help and want somebody there right NOW. Ask yourself if you would want another officer to be seriously injured or killed en route to your call for assistance. Give the officers who assist you permission to slow down to a safe speed and arrive intact. Get their permission to drive at a safe speed to get you to them in their time of need. Insist on it.
We all know the unspoken promise that we make to each other. You are my brother, you are my sister... when you cry for help I will be there for you! The only way you can keep that promise is to get there. Not making it there is the only way you can break that promise.
This is what is known as a reciprocal relationship. I help you and you help me. It is part of what bonds us together as brothers and sisters. What do you need to do to make sure that you keep those promises? What are you willing to do to keep those promises?