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Confidence vs. ego: How one of them can get you killed

I breathe case law. I eat tactics. I bleed policy. I know my job. I know my limitations. So how could I muck this up so badly? Ego got in my way. I sacrificed my safety over my pride.

Check your ego at the door. When you leave, don’t bother to grab it on your way out. Leave it alone and don’t ever look at it again. Why? It’ll get you killed, that’s why.

In this discussion, I’m speaking directly to:

The 20-year veterans that have been runnin and gunnin the same mean streets your whole career
The “I’ve seen it all” types
The ones the rookies look at and say, “That dude has seen some serious [bleeping bleep]”
The tactical operator that refuses to give it up and hand it off to the next generation
The rookie who has already been in combat overseas and thinks they know it all
The instructor who thinks his daily 10-200 doesn’t stink (guilty over here)
The “gym rat” or the martial arts expert that swaggers into roll call everyday thinking there’s nobody on the planet that can touch him

Confidence is a prerequisite. But over-confidence — that’s ego and it’s a detriment.

I just finished up a week long train-the-trainer class for ALERRT hosted by the FBI and some seriously switched-on gentlemen from Texas and Utah. It was a hard class, mostly because I thought they wouldn’t teach me anything. I was seriously humbled.

The master instructor for the class was a recently retired officer from Amarillo (Texas) who said, “Ego ain’t your amigo. Leave it at the door and open your mind.”

I started thinking, if that’s such good advice for training, how come we don’t talk about that for street tactics?

Yours truly just pulled his monthly LT traffic stop. What started as a stop sign violation at 0400 turned into me diving into his car and almost using an ECD to remove him. Eventually he was in handcuffs and my officers arrived to see the end. I did my job and the bad guy went to jail. No one was hurt.

It’s a win, right?


Reviewing the video afterwards (as I always do and recommend you do too), I noticed that my ego got in the way of my tactics.

I thought, “I breathe case law. I eat tactics. I bleed policy. I know my job. I know my limitations. So how could I muck this up so badly?”

Ego got in my way. I sacrificed my safety over my pride.

I reached out to my commander and told him that we needed to make that dash video part of our vehicle contacts training this year; ‘Here’s what not to do.’ Yeah, some parts were really good, but then once I was challenged it was off to the races.

“You’re going to challenge me? I’ll show you!”

We used to call that “contempt of cop.” I just call it what it is — stupid.

Here are a few ideas to help you through situations when you see red and ego starts to rear its ugly head. Ask yourself:

Should I continue alone?
Where’s back-up?
Why am I being challenged?
Is what I’m doing legal?
Even if it is legal, is it wise?
What’s the upside?
What’s the downside?
What’s Important Now? (W.I.N.)

Things to not be thinking:

I don’t need back-up.
I can handle this guy.
If I move fast enough, tactics don’t matter.
This should be no problem.
He looks weak.
I’m stronger than him.
I’ve done this a million times before.

As soon as I took the bait I knew I made a mistake. Soon I was fighting – and losing. Now I was thinking completely different thoughts.

Paulie — you dummy.
How did you get yourself into this mess?
I hope back-up gets here quick.
How did I end up in his car?
Why am I losing to such a skinny kid?
Time to retreat.
Get outta here!!
Where the hell is back-up?
Escalate or disengage but do it quick!

After further review, I assessed myself (rightfully so) as the village idiot for the night. It did not click why I acted so untactfully until two weeks later when my good friend from Amarillo laid it out for a room full of wanna-be tough guys.

“Ego ain’t your amigo.”

He couldn’t be more right.

There’s always going to be someone bigger, stronger and faster. You’re going to meet them — often. Do yourself and your other officers a huge favor. Keep that ego in check. Your true amigos are good tactics and a level head.

Lieutenant Paul Marik began his career working undercover straight out of the academy. He is currently a Lieutenant Commander with the Pleasant Prairie (WI) Police. Paul has been with the PPPD since 1997 and is the senior trainer for the department. He holds a B.S. and an M.B.A. He is an instructor for Firearms, Defense & Arrest Tactics, Use of Force, Honor Guard and he is a master instructor in Tactical Response and Scenarios. Paul is also a Certified Force Science Analyst. He has investigated several use-of-force situations in southeastern Wisconsin and is an active member of ILEETA.