POLICE OFFICERS LOSE DEADLY ENCOUNTERS
daily we read it in the newspapers, hear it on the radio or see
it on the Ten O'clock News -- a police officer killed in the line
of duty. Why is it so widespread? How can such an awful thing happen
so often? Well, aside from the fact that police work is dangerous
-- something too many people don't seem to realize -- the answer
is deceptively simple.
Just like anyone
else, they make mistakes.
trained, you say. They go through academies and receive ongoing
instruction in various police functions on a weekly basis. They
must qualify with their weapons and be regularly re-certified in
various skills. All of this is supposed to make a difference, right?
Well, it does
make a difference. If they weren't trained, it would be much, much
worse! The problem is that police agencies are, of necessity, bureaucracies,
which means that everything must be written down. Once this is accomplished
and everyone is familiar with the operational policies and routines
that result, the organization becomes resistant to change or innovation.
that which already exists must be scrapped, policy and procedure
rewritten and retraining accomplished. This takes time and costs
money, something no police department has enough of. So, the tendency
to remain with the status quo, especially if it has been in effect
for a long time, is quite strong. In fact, it usually takes something
spectacular, like an officer being killed, before the problem is
highlighted enough to warrant corrective action. It isn't that the
departments don't care about their officers -- it's that the political
aspects of instituting change often have pronounced consequences.
In other words,
it must be politically expedient to make the change and it often
takes a catastrophic event to make it so. A department may have
requested that same change or improvement many times, only to have
it disapproved by the City Council or County Commissioners, who
felt the expense wasn't justified in relation to the need.
and other equipment falls into this realm. Often, a particular policy
on the use of Deadly Force or a certain kind of handgun or tactic
is retained, simply because no one every really examined it -- until
it causes problems. As a result, some ideas remain in force for
decades, eventually becoming legitimate by their own longevity,
rather than any real superiority. This is where the "this is
the way we always did it," routine comes from.
training is better than it has ever been. But, before we all cheer,
it must also be added that, in most cases, it runs about a full
decade behind the state-of-the-art. Comparatively, the military
runs even further behind, with around two decades being the norm.
The bigger the bureaucracy, the farther behind the state-of-the-art
So, why do cops
get killed in Deadly Encounters? Specifically, they have:
1) An institutional,
rather than an innovative, mission-oriented approach to weapons,
tactics and training.
2) A constantly
demonstrated attitude seeking shortcuts rather than basic skill
building as a solution to their problems.
3) A work-environment
that, while high-stress, tends to build tactical complacency and
insulate officers from the other parts of society.
talked about the institutional approach to weapons, tactics and
training, but let's add one additional caveat -- institutional or
not, resistant to change or not, one thing is obvious: most police
officers don't handle firearms especially well. Why? We're no longer
a rural society, meaning that as the generations pass, fewer and
fewer new officers have any firearms background. An increasingly
urban upbringing leaves little opportunity for young people to learn
about guns. They don't hunt or fish, or spend much time in the great
outdoors. If they spend their entire life in the city, how can they
possibly know about guns?
part of the problem is that, since 1976, compulsory military service
is no longer the norm. This produced several generations of people
who not only understood firearms but had a more mature, mission-oriented,
less self-serving outlook on life than young people today. Now,
police departments routinely hire new recruits with no real-world
experience of any kind; people who lack this kind of background
This leads into
the second reason listed above -- the tendency to seek shortcuts
to success instead of building fundamental skill. Shooting and weapon-handling
demand the mastery of basic skills to achieve success. There aren't
any shortcuts! Every attempt at creating shortcuts to weapon skill
and tactical proficiency has resulted in failure -- from "instinct
shooting," to large-magazine capacity self-loaders ("firepower")
to "whiz-bang" weapon-handling procedures (reloading and
They all failed
because they attempted to substitute something non-related for basic
skill. Because they're now using large-capacity autos, cops are
shooting more, but they're not hitting more, thus increasing all
three forms of liability: tactical, criminal and civil. This happened
because the police community simply refused to address the fact
that their training methods -- not their weapons -- were antiquated
and inefficient. When officers miss their opponent six times with
a revolver, it seems silly to expect them to do any better with
a 20-shot Glock!
And guess what?
They aren't! All the "trick" bullets in the world, big
magazines and other so-called "shortcut" methodologies
won't keep you alive when the chips are down if you don't hit what
you shoot at.
What has the
large capacity self-loader really accomplished? Virtually nothing.
Due to misplaced concerns about safety and liability, the police
have shunned the Condition One (Cocked and Locked) SA auto, mostly
in favor of DA autos that aren't any easier to use than a DA revolver.
Claims that the SA auto is unsafe or requires special training are
hogwash, something that too many people accept without challenge.
And if you don't believe it, come see me at any CTASAA course and
I'll prove it to you.
complacency and being insulated from the rest of society have killed
many officers. Policemen perform essentially the same functions
day after day and it is easy to understand how they become complacent.
You hear it often, "nothing happened yesterday, so it won't
happen today either," or, "I've responded to 499 burglary
calls and nothing happened, so why should number 500 be any different?"
Wrong! Each call, even if similar in nature, is a completely new
situation, requiring officers to be alert and careful.
Because of their
difficult and often terrifying jobs, too many police officers these
days have also fallen into an "us and them" attitude towards
people, meaning that anyone who isn't also a police officer is in
the same category as the criminals. This has resulted in further
alienating policemen from the society they serve and creating a
police sub-culture that is becoming less and less responsive to
citizens, whose support they need desperately in order to perform
their jobs! In fact, the problem has reached sufficient proportions
that a number of Federal, State and even several local agencies,
have instituted studies to determine how and why this has happened.
I hope you won't
misunderstand. No one in the world is more pro-law enforcement than
I. However, too many officers are unwittingly setting themselves
up to be injured or killed because of these problems -- problems
that cannot be corrected unless we address them honestly and objectively.
Gadgetry, shortcuts and unrealistic attitudes have failed and always
will. Egos aren't bullet-proof. Only professionalism, genuine concern
for the community and skill, including skill with their firearms,
will produce the efficiency upon which the modern police officer
can willingly bet his life and expect to win.