6 keys to coming home safely after every shift

No matter how many subjects you arrest or pursue, there will always be another

Before leaving for every shift, whether it’s at 0400 or 1400 hours, my husband has always made a point of kissing me goodbye and saying “I love you.”  Somewhere along the way I started saying, “Go get ‘em bad guys.” From then on, it kind of became our thing. What always went unsaid, but understood was, “then come home to me.” I was fortunate that I went into a law enforcement marriage with my eyes wide open. I understood the lifestyle and what to expect being the spouse of a cop. Not every spouse is in that situation. 

So, as the cop, always remember that you chose your career, and your spouse did not choose the career; your spouse chose you. You owe it to them to do everything in your power to ensure you return home safe after every shift. The concepts of Below 100 are familiar to most police officers, but here is a firearms instructor and spouse’s perspective on what these concepts mean to those of us left at home.

Effective law enforcement officers are hunters. You seek out the parts of society that the rest of us try to avoid. What makes a hunter great is a strong prey drive. But it is important to keep a check on that prey drive. It is all too easy to let that primal instinct take over, and in a rush of adrenaline, your better judgement goes out the window. You are not really involved in a game of cat and mouse. Instead, it’s more like catch and release, and no matter how many bad guys you catch, there will always be another. You cannot always expect to get a sense of accomplishment because there is always another bad guy waiting in the wings. You must remember that unstated promise to return home after every shift.

Always remember that you chose your career, and your spouse did not.
Always remember that you chose your career, and your spouse did not. (Photo/Pixabay)

1. Wear Your Seatbelt

Most of you will spend a great deal of your time in a vehicle, and you must always wear your seatbelt. This is non-negotiable. No matter how rushed you are, take that extra split second to buckle up. No excuses, no exceptions. Just the shear amount of time a patrol officer spends in a moving vehicle increases the likelihood of an accident. The best way to prevent an accident from becoming a tragedy is to wear your seatbelt. 

2. Watch Your Speed

Watch your speed and obey all applicable traffic laws. You will not be able to help anyone if you are unable to make it to them. Even in the direst sounding circumstances, slow down and arrive alive. And when driving Code 3, drive or talk. It has been proven time and again that no matter what we think of our own abilities, no one is truly able to multi-task. As soon as your take your focus off of the road, especially at high speeds, the likelihood of an accident is increased. Do what you can to mitigate the necessity of multi-tasking. Just like cellphone use has caused an uptick in distracted driving accidents, your equipment is no different – it’s worse. 

3. Wear Your Vest

It may sound over simplified, but make good decisions. This starts with wearing your vest. If you are armed and identifiable as a law enforcement officer, then you are a potential target.  I know vests are hot, heavy and uncomfortable, but they are the best insurance against the unthinkable. New technology is being developed regularly that is helping to make body armor more functional and more comfortable. If your department is still issuing an older model, look into getting some new equipment to test and evaluate. You may be able to bring some better equipment to your agency.

4. What’s Important Now? – WIN

Perform regular maintenance on your equipment. You spark test your TASER and check your lights and siren before every shift, but when was the last time you had a qualified armorer go through your handgun and rifle? Springs and other wear parts should be changed on a regular basis. The loudest sound you never want to hear is silence from your firearm when you really need it to go bang.

Those good decisions need to go beyond your physical wellbeing. You also owe it to your family to protect their financial wellbeing. This means that you need to do your homework. You are in the law enforcement business, so you should probably know a lot about the law. You need to know more than just the statutes you are there to enforce. Every officer needs to be fluent in use-of-force case law as well as the use-of-force policies under which they work (regrettably, they may differ). Unfortunately, you can easily lose a career, or worse, due to a lack of information or understanding of the law.

Take responsibility for your own training. With increasingly tight budgets, training is often the first and deepest cut. This means you now may bear the responsibility to seek and fund the training that you require. Don’t settle for the minimum amount of training required by your state. You are the one on the street, so you are the one responsible for your own preparedness. Don’t be the one they’re talking about at the funeral when someone says, “The department should have provided more training.” It’s your life, your training and your responsibility. Think of it as an investment in your career, your wellbeing and your loved one’s piece of mind.

5. Complacency Kills

Don’t become complacent. Never think of it as a “routine” traffic stop or a “routine” contact.  We all base our actions and reactions on our past experiences, and it is human nature to be lazy and take that short cut. Resist that urge with everything you have. That “routine” traffic stop can turn tragic in a heartbeat. And just because one of your regular contacts has always been cooperative doesn’t mean he will be this time. You need to treat every traffic stop and every contact like it is the most important thing. The bottom line is that at that time, it is.

6. Build a team dynamic

Finally, build a team dynamic. We like to say that those in law enforcement are like family. But, you are employed by a government agency. Don’t waste your love on a government agency because it is unable to reciprocate your love. However, the love and loyalty you feel for the people with which you work is not misplaced. Those are the folks that rely on you and you rely on to make sure you all make it home safe at the end of every shift. Building a team dynamic not only makes you safer, it will make you more productive and more satisfied with your job. Step up and be a leader. Build a cohesive work environment. It may even help extend your career. But you should never lose sight of the fact that the ones that truly love you are waiting at home.

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