How I almost "smoked a poodle" and learned about trusting my gut

Instinct serves you well, but what it tells you can change over time


Shots fired. Blocks away. You’re on scene within 30 seconds. You hear screaming from inside the house. It is a panicked tone, a hysterical woman. You hear no gunfire. 

The complainant was a woman, advising that her boyfriend had shot himself in the head. There is no thought process in your three-years-on-the-job brain. You’re an officer. You’re invincible. You run in. 

You run directly to the woman. She is kneeling on the floor and she is covered in blood. There is a gun on the floor. She does not appear interested in the gun and he is jerking. His body is convulsing and he is making strange noises. You have never seen this before. 

You pick up the gun, ask her if anyone else was there, and run out. After what seems like an eternity, you finally hear sirens over the woman’s screaming. You know they’re coming. 

Your backup arrives and you clear the house. This time, you have discipline. You move slowly and methodically. It is eerily quiet this time. 

You can no longer hear her screaming. 

You round the corner into a laundry room. It is dark and you hear a shuffling noise. As the stress rises inside you, you raise that duty weapon towards the noise...

Years Later...
I nearly smoked a pretty little dog with a giant yapper as it leaped from behind the washing machine, scaring the complete life out of me. 

Clearly, it was a delayed reaction from what I had just experienced. 

To this day, I still don’t like little white poodles.

We continued through the house and back to the woman. The man was no longer moving. Paramedics rushed in and collected him, rushing him away in a futile effort to save his life. The detectives arrived and my own panic set in. I had disturbed the crime scene. I removed the weapon. 

At the time, I had no particular thought process. I just did it. When I explained it, I understood what I had done. I was concerned she might arm herself and become a danger to us or she might shoot herself. 

After all, she was hysterical. 

The detectives seemed satisfied with my explanation. I was provided a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” pat on the back from the salty old detective sergeant in charge. 

Learning Experience
At 14 years on the job, I can say now that I would have handled it differently. I would not have gone in. I would have waited for my backup. 

Is it because I care less? Am I scared? I would argue that I am cautious. I have read ODMP daily, I have attended police funerals and I have watched people die. I have been the last face a man has seen before he takes his last breath. 

I remember how that made me feel. I value my life. Those 60 seconds could have meant my life. That decision ranks up there with the many that I would love to go back and smack the tar out of myself for (do you have any?).

People often ask me why I talk about my failures, my errors, and my “embarrassing” moments so much. I have made a lifetime of making an example of myself. 

From the moment my mom told me to oink at the girl on the bus who called me a “pig’s daughter” (and I actually did it), I had no problem showing everything to the world. 

Apparently the word “embarrassed” is not in my vocabulary. I would say that is a good thing in our field. 

Will you make a mistake? I hope so. Going through life being perfect sounds pretty boring. 

Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

A good friend once called me “nauseatingly optimistic.” I took that as a compliment. Dave Smith calls it my “Sunny Brain.” 

The important point is, you have to trust yourself. If you trust yourself, if you are full of confidence, you will prevail. You will do the very best that you can, and you will win. You will always win.

I am willing to bet each of us has learned something from every situation, success or failure. Trust your gut. It holds your will to win. 

About the author

Sgt. Nancy Fatura has been a law enforcement officer since 1999. She attended the University of Wisconsin/Madison before joining the US Army Reserves in 1993. Nancy became a Behavioral Science Specialist, and upon her return from deployment to civilian life she joined the Tucson Police Department in 1999. Her duties have included patrol, field training, and hostage negotiation.

As a trainer, Nancy teaches Mental Health Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Psychology of Survival, and Stress in Field Training for her agency, she is a subject matter expert for the online PoliceOne Academy, and she presents her signature class, “Unleashing Your Inner Warrior” at conferences and events around the United States. Nancy can be reached at nfatura@jdbucksavage.com

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