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Why officers should be prepared, but not paranoid

They say in a crisis situation you will subconsciously revert back to the way that you have trained

By Mike Burg, Police1 Special Contributor
Rittman, Ohio Police Department (ret.)

It was just three hours since the shootings in Chattanooga had occurred, I was leaving a meeting in a fully marked patrol car in the largest city in our county headed back to my city; the day was beautiful, sunny and warm — no rain for a change. I was stopped at a traffic light behind another car in the straight lane; to my left was the left turn lane with no vehicles in it. I was loving life in Condition Yellow (thank you, Colonel Cooper).

I looked into my driver’s side mirror and suddenly went into Condition Orange. A motorcycle had pulled up behind me. The rider, still astride his bike, began to walk the bike up along the side of my patrol car — not in the left turn lane — beside my patrol unit.

I quickly glanced into my other exterior mirror to see if anyone was coming up along the passenger’s side — nothing. I looked back and saw that he was still coming. I remember looking close to see if both of his hands were on the handlebars … they were. I quickly formed a plan that if I saw a weapon I would turn the unit to the left and punch it, hoping to knock him and the motorcycle over as I exited the kill zone through the left turn lane.

My mind flashed back to the early ‘80s when I attended a survival seminar and they showed a picture of an outlaw biker who had mounted a single shot shotgun into the handlebars of his bike — he wouldn’t have to take his hands off of the handlebars and my head and upper torso were right in line with his handlebars.

He was getting closer. Briefly I gave some thought to pushing myself back in my seat so that my upper torso and head were provided some protection by the B Post but changed my mind so I could get a better view of him and his actions. The guy was now close to my window.

I was sliding into Condition Red and reaching for my pistol when he reached my window and said to me, “Officer, I want to thank you for your service, I know it’s rough out here for you guys.”

I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting an ambush. I thanked him and told him I appreciated his comments. The light turned green, he went left. I went straight.

I left that intersection with a great deal of mixed emotions. I was happy that an ambush hadn’t occurred and happy that the rider had taken the time to say thanks, perhaps not in the best way, but he did none the less. What pleased me the most was that after nearly 38 years on the job, seven of them in administration, I still had that survival mindset of sorts — to recognize a potential threat and prepare to take evasive action or confront the threat.

I was kind of proud of myself actually. They say that in a crisis situation you will subconsciously revert back to the way that you have trained, and I guess I did. I recalled later how rapidly the thoughts of what to do were going through my head.

I was sad that our profession has reached a point that, now more than ever, we have to be suspicious of everyone, their movements and their motives. But we must.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many younger officers might have just assumed that the rider just had a question or wanted directions, and that scared me.

In these times it is imperative that we stay armed both on and off duty. I’ve heard officers say, “When they pay me to carry off duty I will.” What a ridiculous statement. It’s a benefit you have both as an active and as a retired officer. Use it.

But don’t use it without some forethought. Have a quality weapon with quality ammunition and train, train, train. Know how that gun functions, how it shoots and keep it clean. Sadly in today’s world you can’t even enjoy a movie without the threat of an armed attack.

Be prepared, but not paranoid.

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