The law enforcement officers in our communities pay a steep price for their chosen profession. From the daily stress of such a high risk career, to the fears they face every day to the prices they pay in their relationships – we owe them a true debt of gratitude.
And . . . we lose way too many of them each and every year to both deadly assaults as well as accidental deaths while on duty. In fact, the last time there was a year where fewer than 100 law enforcement deaths was the year 1943 . . . 73 years ago.
In 2010 an effort was begun to do something about that – it has come to be known as the “Below 100” project. I’m fortunate enough to live in the same community as one of the group’s founders and primary trainers – Cpt. Eric Dickinson. I have the opportunity to lend a hand with their firearms training – especially their new reserve officers. And, in turn, Eric invites me along on some of their training sessions. A few months ago he invited me to their local Below 100 training session for their department’s officers. Let’s just say it was enlightening.
Below 100 has five primary tenets:
· Wear Your Belt
· Wear Your Vest
· Watch Your Speed
· WIN – What’s Important Now
Virtually all of these apply to the civilian defensive shooter with the exception of “Wear Your Vest” but I have a thought on that. Let’s roll through each of these things and see how they fit into both the LEO community and the civilian defensive shooter arena.
Wear Your Belt
I actually grew up in the era before seatbelts, collapsible steering columns and air bags. Just down the road from my home when I was about 6 or so a fellow lost control of his car and hit a tree square on. Today things like our seatbelts, collapsible steering column and air bags act to protect us. In fact, two of those require no human intervention at all. In 1956 the driver plunged forward, the front end lunged rearward and the solid steering column impaled the driver on about 3 foot of rigid steel. We’ve come a long way.
And yet, one safety measure does require human intervention to be effective. The driver must manually secure their seat belt system. One of the major causes of death for a law enforcement officer that is involved in a vehicular accident is the fact that many times they simply choose not to “buckle up”. Today’s squad cars are filled with camera equipment – some with both internal and external cameras – not to mention body cams. Part of the training involved watching some very tough video of officers becoming involved in a car crash . . . and not walking away. It was sobering.
There are some familiar excuses that are used. “I’m just going to the court house – it’s not that far away.” “How am I expected to exit the squad car quickly with all this gear if I’m belted in?” “What I wear is uncomfortable enough let alone strapping myself in!” Bottom line – whatever the excuse – our nation loses a significant number of officers each year simply because they didn’t have their seatbelt system engaged. WEAR YOUR DAMN BELTS!!
From a civilian defensive shooter virtually nothing changes. I hear the same excuses – “It’s just a short trip.” I just can’t get comfortable with a belt on.” “I carry on my right/left hip, how can I draw with a belt on?” As with the LEO . . . you are not special . . . you are not magic . . . you may well finish your trip in a ZipLoc if you take a pass on your seatbelt system. So – for the majority of us who fall into the realm of a civilian defensive shooter . . . WEAR YOUR DAMN BELTS! Your family wants to see you next Christmas.
Wear Your Vest
Comfort seemed to be the issue here. They’re too bulky, too heavy, too hot, they don’t fit right, I get rubbed raw . . . so I’m not going to wear mine today. I can imagine the pain a wife or husband must feel being notified that their loved one has just been shot to death only to glance over and see their vest hanging there.
I would love to have a country where our officers could rest easy and not ever have to face a deadly evil. That’s simply not the real world. I know they’re hot, heavy, uncomfortable . . . but the last thing I want for a LEO to think at the very end of their life is . . . “Damn . . . should have worn my vest!? WEAR YOUR DAMN VEST!
My corollary for the civilian defensive shooter is . . .
Wear Your Gun
Yes – I realize a vest would be just as valuable to a civilian as a LEO. However, it “real-ville” I suspect a civilian wearing a vest each and every day is probably a “step too far”. Where the similarities do crop up though is that I hear many of the same arguments as to why someone chooses to not wear their defensive firearm as I do for a LEO to not wear their vest. “It’s too heavy.” “It’s too bulky to conceal well.” “I’m just running to the store, nothing’s going to happen.” “As long as I stay out of “that part of town” I’ll be safe.” We’ve all heard these. Some of us may have used them at one time or another. Reality is a bit harsher . . . it that trip to the store goes sideways in a really big way . . . and your defensive firearm is home in the safe . . . your day may well end badly. WEAR YOUR DAMN GUN!
Watch Your Speed
I gotta be honest . . . this particular part of the course was really heart wrenching. Painful. Awful. As I stated above – squad cars are fully equipped with video gear . . . gear that can easily capture those last few seconds that never should have happened. These accidents fell into a couple different categories. The first I’ll call “Have no fear – I’m a highly skilled cop!” Until they’re not. These seemed to happen during times that the officers simply wanted to drive fast . . . not because they needed to but because COP! In one the officer left his side of an expressway, crossed the median and broad sided a car with a mom and daughter in it. Everyone went home in a ZipLoc. He was going well over the speed limit, driving with one hand, talking on a cell and periodically checking his computer.
The second group was simply driving faster that road conditions allowed. One was at night and resulted in clipping a kid on a bike – killing him. Another was moving down a winding road where trying to follow the road while staying between the lines became impossible. The officer didn’t die but it took months to reassemble him.
There were others – dramatic, scary . . . and preventable. Watch Your Damn Speed.
As for the civilian side of the coin . . . do you see any difference here? We all know folks who drive beyond their ability, who are reckless when the highways are dangerous to travel. Who just “have to get home” when holing up for the night would make perfect sense. The same warning easily applies. Watch Your Damn Speed!
WIN – What’s Important Now
Being focused can save your life – whether officer of civilian. What decisions need to be prioritized? What choices, actions or events are important right now . . . and which are not? By focusing on What’s Important Now a LEO or civilian can attend to those things that need to be handled immediately . . . while keeping an eye on what may need to be handled in the future. Think of this as almost a “scan and assessment” process. What’s important now? . . . and now? . . . and now?
There is virtually no difference in the civilian world. If you manage your day, keep yourself focused on things that need to be handled in the moment . . . the possibility of you being taken total unawares decreases . . . it doesn’t go away . . . but it becomes much more manageable. Stay focused on What’s Important Now!
Remember: Complacency Kills
This last point rolls all of this material together. Murphy . . . karma . . . evil . . . all of it sits “out there”. It’s not necessarily targeting you . . . but it is opportunistic. And given the opportunity it will act on your life in some truly horrific ways. It’s not the training officer’s job to make sure you follow these tenets . . . it’s not the Chief’s . . . your partner’s . . . your wife’s . . . it ALL ON YOU!
Buckle up! Wear your vest! Carry your gun! Watch your speed! FOCUS! Every day! Every time you go out the door! Period!
If you’re a law enforcement officer and have not attended a Below 100 training session – please, schedule one in your department or travel to a training near you. I promise it will be worth your time.
So there you have it . . . five simple tenets that can drive down officer deaths as well as civilian deaths. Learn them, practice them and you will live with them.