Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sobering thoughts on gunfights and the police mindset

In a two part article at, Detective Jared Reston of the Jacksonville, FL Sheriff's Office discusses ten keys to winning gunfights.  He's brutally honest, probably uncomfortably so for those who've never thought about the reality of fighting for their lives, but I can vouch for many of his conclusions from my own experience.  Both articles are worth your attention.  (There's a lot of 'white space' above each article - scroll down until the article appears.)  To illustrate, here's an excerpt from the first article.

2.) Mentally Rehearse

Reston is a strong believer in integrating hours of mental imagery into your training regimen ... “Your mindset to win has to be constantly honed or you’ll lose it. Mental rehearsal is one way to hone it. Imagine yourself confronting and defeating every kind of challenge you can conjure up. Imagine yourself getting shot and how you’ll react. And don’t just imagine the stereotype bad guys. The assailant you have to kill may look a lot like you. They’re not always gangbangers or hardened felons. Anybody at any time may try to hurt you.”

Just be certain, Reston cautions, that in real life you can employ the skills you imagine yourself using to win in your mental scenarios. If candidly you have doubts, then that should identify your training challenge(s), because “in a crisis you won’t surpass your level of preparation.”

There's much more to read in each article.  Recommended as viable life-saving lessons from the 'school of hard knocks'.

Unfortunately, Detective Reston's articles also highlight what's become widely known as the 'us versus them' mindset of many law enforcement officers.  Let me explain it like this.  If your working day is spent among the dregs of humanity - those who prey on, assault, injure, abuse, steal from, and even kill others - you pretty soon begin to regard most, if not all, of those whom you meet as being at least potentially among those dregs.  After several years of such experiences, far too many of the 'thin blue line' tend to regard any 'civilian' (as they term us) as part of those dregs, and expect the worst of us.  They forget that they're civilians too - only those currently serving in the military are not civilians - and as a result, they can become overbearing, arrogant, and even uncaring in their interactions with us.

This carries over into their relationships as well . . . witness the appallingly high divorce rate among law enforcement professionals.  At least some of this is due to their inability to trust and interact normally with their families, or to deal with normal child behavior like disobedience and/or lying.  To them, both are symptoms of a criminal in the making, and that freaks them out.  I've served alongside law enforcement personnel, and I've seen this repeatedly.

Consider Detective Reston's words in the extract cited above.  "The assailant you have to kill may look a lot like you. They’re not always gangbangers or hardened felons. Anybody at any time may try to hurt you."  That's a bit like the (allegedly humorous, but in reality very serious) US Marine slogan, "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet".  Readers, Detective Reston is referring to us - the people with whom he may interact at any time.  He's speaking about us as if we may try to hurt or kill him at any time . . . and that should make you nervous.  It certainly makes me very cautious in my interactions with law enforcement personnel - and I'm carrying retired law enforcement ID!

Bear this in mind when you read about police over-reaction in dealing with the public - such as, notoriously, the LAPD's actions during the recent Christopher Dorner affair.  It doesn't excuse their incredible paranoia and incompetence - nothing can! - but it may, at least, help to partially explain it.  They were looking for a man who'd killed one of their own, and had publicly announced he was ready, willing, able and eager to do so again.  This put them under enormous stress, and they didn't know how to handle it except through violence - as clearly illustrated by their profoundly unprofessional response in the two incidents linked above.

I've been very fortunate in my friends in law enforcement.  People like Lawdog, JPG and Matt G. are shining examples of what police officers should be.  I'd entrust my life to their care anywhere, anytime, and I hope they'll feel confident enough in me to return the compliment.  Regrettably, I can't say that about all of their comrades (*cough*LAPD*cough*) behind the badge.



Anonymous said...

"Us versus them" works both ways.

Anonymous said...

One of the easist ways for officers to stay metally healthy is to have friends and activites with folks outside of the department.

Spend all your time with other cops on and off the job IMHO tends to build those walls.

FotoTomas said...

As a long time reader of your blog on this issue I must comment. As a working cop with 35+ years in and around the job I find you nailed it. Sad but true.

shovelDriver said...

As a member of the military, with some experience "enforcing Laws" in very violent areas, it seems to me that the mindset under discussion shares many symptoms with mental disease and deficiencies. As such, the department psychs should be working hard, but a little research will show that is not true in most departments. Given those "assumptions", it is truly "us versus them"
. Us being the "civilians" and them being the psych cases in police uniform. The solution is codified into U.S. law under self0-defense, and as we all know, the best defense is a good offense. So, identify in advance those psych cases in your local departments and have a plan . . .