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Will to win: Sometimes we have to hurt people

Sharpening your skills for conflict resolution begins with your mind and your mindset

We law enforcement officers are responsible for dealing with and resolving conflicts, some of which can be quite violent. This takes four important things:

Specialized equipment
Skills and training
Physical ability / physical fitness
Proper mindset — the ability to put yourself in harm’s way to make a case or arrest

For most officers, we excel at some of these, and have deficiencies in others. Some of these deficiencies are due to our background — or in some cases, just plain laziness. Others might be due to department budget deficiencies that make training or equipment inaccessible.

Taking Care of Business
What I’m getting at is that you can be a monster in size and strength, but lack the mindset to carry out a needed defensive task. You might carry a sidearm, but are not required to carry less lethal options.

We need to be able to recognize our deficiencies so that we know what skills to polish, what equipment/resources to push for, and what sort of mental preparation we need to strive to achieve.

It is my belief that we law enforcement types tend to get a false sense of security.

We have a tool belt full of options that we may think can get us in and out of any situation “I’ll just get ‘em with the baton or TASER”
We believe that our academy training is enough to give us the skills to protect ourselves, “We’re the best”
We hit the gym an hour every other day “I’m in excellent shape”
We tell ourselves “I’m prepared for any situation”

Where this turns to reality is a lone officer involved in a “fight.”

In this business, it is important to differentiate between a “fight” and wrestling match. As a law enforcement officer, I’ve been in plenty of wrestling matches — usually with a drunk or other arrestee that doesn’t want to go to jail — but I’ve only been in a handful of “fights” where the attacker wants to really hurt (or kill!) me.

It is during these fights that you realize that batons and pepper spray are not as effective as you thought (if you can even get to them), fancy arm bars and academy tactics aren’t that effective, you are not in as good a shape as you think, and mental preparation can easily change to fear as you are getting your ass handed to you in a violent attack.

At the risk of hearing the sound of laptop screens slamming shut from several states away, dare I say that law enforcement is not a grueling profession?

Sure we get precious little sleep, deal with some real interesting folks, and regularly resist the urge to strangle some citizen yelling for your badge number, but do we perform hard labor for 8-12 hours a day, every day we work?

It would be safe to say that most cops’ level of fitness does not bring us to “warrior” status. Yes, there are many cops out there who are in peak physical shape, but there are also many who are not — particularly when compared to the opposition.

Facts of Life
To understand this more fully, you need to profile the people we deal with.

Only a few are flabby white-collar types. Most are laborers who spend all day, every day, in constant motion, lifting heavy things other activities which keep them in shape.

Many came out from the “correctional” system (uncorrected), where they learned to defend themselves from law enforcement.

Many grew up in areas where fighting was a way of life.

In the rural areas in particular it’s also not hard to find people right down to young kids who are extremely proficient with firearms or adults who have been working hard labor their entire lives.

Combine these factors with the “Don’t tread on me” or “I ain’t going back in” attitude, and you might find that treadmill time, an annual shooting qualifier, and that stuff you learned in the academy years ago probably won’t get you out of these attacks unharmed.

On the flip side, look at the profile of your modern day law enforcement officer.

For many agencies, they now possess a four year degree, may have been previously employed in another profession (likely more white collar than blue), grew up never firing a gun, and was never in their lives in a fight.

Some simply don’t like to use force — they think of themselves more as public-service oriented “educators” or some other such thing.

Keep in mind that while these have become the traits most desired for new hires, many of the “positive attributes” that interview panels look for these days are the same characteristics possessed by victim officers in the FBI LEOKA summaries.

We need to put a realistic spin on the potential situations that we find ourselves in. We can’t go walking around thinking that calling an attacker sir/ma’am and following up with a baton strike or dose of pepper spray will have instant results.

As people who deal with conflict, we have to have confidence that we can handle an attack should we not have access to our tool belt or a small army of officers coming to save us.

It’s important for officers to be in the right mindset and understand reality.

It’s important for officers to be reminded of what has slowly become law enforcement’s dirty little secret — they we will be put in harm’s way on occasion, and it can be a little scary. And if you work alone, it can be real scary.

And because all the stuff you have on your belt might not work precisely as you hope it might, you might have to use your hands, legs, and feet and do things we might not have learned in the academy.

Sometimes, when we’re in a life-and-death struggle with someone whose intent is not merely to get away, but to leave you there dead, we may have to get mean and hurt someone. That’s okay. It’s okay because that action is what keeps the community and ourselves safe when things get really and truly ugly.

Why Bring This Up?
If your average officer with police defensive tactics training was an unstoppable force, you would see criminals, cage fighters, and the general public lining up to get into LE classes around the country practicing wrist locks, arm bars, and weak side kicks.

They are not. They are learning mixed martial arts, boxing, and spending time on free weights to make themselves powerful. They are training both mind and body to put the hurt on somebody, occasionally us.

I’m not trying to start an Internet brawl with all the tactical instructors out there, but there is an element to our standardized training that is meant to protect the agency from getting sued and the bad guy from getting hurt.

For the officers who work alone, we need extra tools in the tool box for those times when things go really bad and we no longer care about either one.

A little-known fact about me is that I spent about one day a week as a kid in a boxing match with my grandfather (who knew a thing or two about boxing) and learned enough to keep my hands up, and to take, block, and throw some punches.

Perhaps as important is that a close look at my face and side of my head will tell you I’ve also failed to block a few over the years so I know that even if I take a solid hit and need to get sewn up, I’ll not only live, but can win that fight.

That’s a valuable confidence builder. It’s simple “training” that can have long-term positive results.

Obviously, we should only resort to these extra skills when our other options are ineffective or inaccessible. But it is important for all law enforcement officers to be able to feel confident enough that if they find themselves in a violent “fight” with no backup available— and that baton got ripped out of their hands, or your firearm jammed or only one ECD probe took root — that we possess the mindset and physical ability to defend ourselves & stay alive.

In most cases this is going to be a train yourself situation, whether you need to put cash aside for martial arts or other lessons, add a heavy bag routine to your workout (or in some cases, add an entire workout to your routine!).

If you can get a small group of officers to hit the gym or participate in some sort of outside training together then you are well on your way to a solid training program. Over a career it is possible to take numerous classes and add quite a collection of new tools to your options.

When an officer is at the top of their game this is the best job in the world. A cop with proper mindset who is fit, and has an array of skills to protect themselves regardless of the situation is more likely to stick their nose into things, make good arrests and not only go home, but go home satisfied with the shift they completed and look forward to the next one.

It is okay to smile, educate and be friendly. Just don’t lose sight of what this job may expect of you at some point. The time to start is now, learn a variety of skills, develop your ability to “flip the switch” and go from negotiation to quick, effective action.

Rest assured that there is a person on the other side, training for their next contact with law enforcement. Are you prepared?

Patrick (Pat) Novesky has spent most of his life working in a rural environment not only in law enforcement, but also has been employed as a wildland firefighter working several states and as a guide for a hunting outfitter. Pat’s law enforcement background consists of a 20 year career ranging from positions as a sheriff’s deputy, ranger, and police officer holding assignments as intelligence officer and investigator. Pat has also been assigned to two narcotics task forces. Pat has served as a police firearms and Verbal Judo instructor and has been involved with various training for all types of law enforcement & other users of the outdoors and remote areas. The past several years of Pat’s career have been spent working as a conservation officer in Northern Wisconsin. Pat’s goal is to bring a common sense approach to issues that pertain to the rural law enforcement officer. Contact Patrick Novesky