There are six things you can do before going on duty tonight that may save your life. The list is short, but critical to your survival.
1. Commit yourself mentally to survival - This is the most important, so I lead with it. You must mentally commit yourself to survival right now. If you are not mentally prepared for a violent encounter, all the tools in the world will likely be useless to you.
A mental commitment includes finding your weakest skills and working on improving them. Working the skills you are good at doesn’t do you a lot of good. Only by improving where we are weak will we improve our ability to win in a violent confrontation.
2. Wear your bullet resistant vest – This should be a no brainer, yet we have police officers killed every year because they were not wearing a vest. If you are in uniform, wear your vest. “Reasons” for not wearing a vest while you are in uniform are just excuses, and will be of little comfort to your family and fellow officers if you are killed.
3. Check your gear – Every day before hitting the street check all of your gear to make sure it is ready for immediate use. Is your gun clean and loaded? Are your extra magazines clean or covered with crumbs from last night’s meal? Handcuffs working? Radio charged?
4. Hit the gym – A good rule of thumb is for every mile you can run (not jog) you are good for one minute in a fight. You can run two miles? Well, you’re good for two minutes. I hope your backup is close.
Strength conditioning is important, but too many cops neglect cardio. Hit the track, treadmill or pool. Get your body used to extended stress associated with vigorous cardiovascular work.
5. Commit to wearing your seatbelt – We lose more brother and sister cops to traffic accidents than a lot of the other things we train for. Often these lives could be saved by simply wearing tour seatbelt. So, put it on. I know there is a time and a place to take off your seatbelt, but general driving, pursuits and call responses aren’t those times. Commit yourself to wearing it before hitting the road.
If you haven’t wrecked your car, don’t worry, you will. I’ve been in two on-duty wrecks: one in a pursuit and another when a citizen looking at the felony stop to her left rather than in front of her car T-boned me. The pursuit crash I was pretty lucky on and very little damage to the cruiser.
The T-bone was a little more intense. I bounced my head off the window (I think…) and was pretty rattled. The sergeant should have sent me to the hospital, because I was really out of it, though I don’t really recall all of it. But, I was kept from serious injury because I was wearing my seatbelt, which kept me from being a human pinball.
6. Get some sleep – I know this may be easier said than done for some people, but getting a full eight hours of sleep every day is absolutely needed for proper body function and alertness. Working odd hours is bad enough, but if you throw in sleep deprivation your reaction time and cognitive ability fall off sharply.
Additionally, without proper sleep you will not be able to physically respond to danger at the same level if you had gotten enough sleep. As hard as it may be, make time to get sleep.
Richard is a police officer with a medium sized, central Florida department, and previously worked for a Metro-Atlanta agency. He has served as a field training officer, court officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, watch commander, commander of a field training and evaluation program, and general pain in the butt to management-types looking to cut training hours.