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Dying is ugly: Preparing yourself to fight for your life

The following is an excerpt from Way of the Warrior: The Philosophy of Law Enforcement by Bernard Schaffer, a sixteen-year veteran of patrol, investigations and narcotics work, and a second-generation cop. Way of the Warrior is both a biography and instructional guide for officers of all rank and bankground. With his clever prose and realistic dialog, Schaffer instructs not just how to enfore the law, but how to keep a level head while doing it. The book can be purchased here.

A police officer is being murdered right in front of us. His screams come out of the television and fill the class. Every cadet in my Academy class watches this happen with wide eyes. Nobody said it would be like this.

In the movies, when people get shot, they die with nobility. They might give a final speech and grab their partner’s hand. 

That is not what happens in reality, friend. Not by a long shot.

(Photo courtesy Bernard Schaffer)
(Photo courtesy Bernard Schaffer)

When a person gets shot and it isn't instantly fatal, it gets ugly and gruesome. There is screaming. There is whimpering. Try and imagine the sounds of a wounded animal dying in the woods.

And even if the person that gets shot remains quiet about the whole affair, the people around him certainly do not. Police officers or not, we are all still human. One of the videos showed a cop going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs when his K-9 got killed. You'd have thought he was watching his firstborn get fed into a meat grinder.  

In 1994 we didn’t have the internet. There wasn't any YouTube. I'd never seen anything like the videos we watched that day in class. This wasn't the kind of shit they showed on Cops. It had never truly occurred to me how truly frightening police work could be.   

Our instructor, Mark Flannery, turned off the television and looked around the class. "Do you know what kills cops in most cases when they get shot?"

I lifted my hand. "The bullets, sir?"  

There were a few chuckles, but most of the cadets were too attuned to what Mark was saying to pay me any attention. “Panic,” he said. “Panic is what kills you. It has been documented that cops shot in non-fatal areas have succumbed to their injuries because they started to panic. ‘Oh my God, I got shot!’ The heart starts pumping, and the blood starts moving. Next thing you know, it’s all pouring out of the wound.” He stopped speaking and looked around the class. “And then it’s all over. You don’t go home. Your kids never see you again. Any good you might have done in this world is cancelled.”

“Now,” he continued. “There are also been documented cases where cops have survived seemingly fatal injuries and continued to fight out of sheer determination and will-power. Hell no, I’m not going to let you take my life. Say that one with me.” 

“Hell no, I’m not going to let you take my life!” we repeated.

“I’m going home,” he said. 

“I’m going home!”

He looked at each of us very carefully. “You might be lying in a pool of your own blood someday. You might be shot to hell and the people who are trying to kill you might be coming your way to finish the job.  You get up. You get up and you kill any son of a bitch that wants to stop you from going home to your loved ones, no matter who they are, how bad they are, or how much you are hurt.  And that’s an order.”

Extracted from Way of the Warrior: The Philosophy of Law Enforcement by Bernard Schaffer. Buy a copy of the book, here. 

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