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Street Survival: When it comes to using deadly force, are you a P.O. or a C.O.?

All officers must ask themselves if they can take the life of another if that dire decision is thrust upon them by fate or circumstance


No matter what your job assignment, you need to continually prepare yourself for your “heads-up” moment.


This article is part of a series by Lt. Dan Marcou. Click here to access all of Dan’s street survival lessons.

In recognition of the release of “Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” I am writing a series of articles on street survival designed to turn the tables on the current generation of cop-killing criminals. In this series I will share the tactics I acquired during a career dedicated not only to ensuring my own personal survival, but assisting other officers in their quest to survive as well.

“Heads up!”

Remember that? When you were a kid, and you least expected it, one of your friends would shout that phrase and launch a football or a basketball in your direction. If your reactions were sharp enough, you caught it and, if not, you fumbled the ball.

That’s about how suddenly deadly threats develop at times for officers except without anyone having the courtesy to shout, “Heads up!”

Fumbled Balls

Two high-profile incidents recently resulted in – to continue the analogy – fumbled balls.

In the aftermath of these incidents, former officer Mohamed Noor is facing prison after being convicted in Minnesota for what has been deemed by a jury to be not only an overreaction, but “murder.” In the second case, former SRO Scott Peterson finds himself charged by a prosecutor for criminal neglect for an underreaction to the Parkland school shooting.

These cases have inspired me to discuss some impediments to making good decisions when an officer is suddenly thrust into a deadly force decision-making event.

Whether you are an entry-level officer or a veteran you need to be aware if one of these three conditions describe your psyche before someone’s life is on the line and your reactions mean the difference between life or death:

1. Conscientious Objector

For those of you who have read the book “On Killing” by Colonel David Grossman, you realize it is not a natural thing for a human to take a life of another human, even when there is clear justification to do so. Colonel Grossman explains how there is a natural resistance in most, to killing.

When a police officer has to use deadly force to save innocents from a killer, that officer must be unencumbered and purposeful in his mission. They must be able to seek out that killer, take aim and fire a bullet into a vital area to stop the threat.

To be able to do this while making the right decision in doing so takes not only a great deal of ongoing training, but also a quantum of soul-searching in advance to determine that the officer is a P.O. (Police Officer) who can do what needs to be done, and not a C.O. (Conscientious Objector), who can’t.

Now is a good time to do that soul-searching. Ask yourself if you can take the life of another if that dire decision is thrust on you by fate and/or circumstance.

As a career-long field training officer and survival trainer I have had officers on more than one occasion state, “I would rather take one in the chest than ever shoot someone.”

After hearing this, I followed up with this question in each case, “Knowing this, why did you get into law enforcement?”

Their answer was that they wanted to be a police officer to help people. They felt since most officers never have to fire their weapon the odds were in their favor that they might never have to shoot someone. One stated he would just count on someone else doing it.

At least these officers knew they were conscientious objectors. Not all officers are aware they are C.O.s until it’s too late.

If you know you would be unable to fire your duty weapon at a deadly threat, you should find another career.

2. Nervous in the Service

Another condition that can have a debilitating effect on an officer in a deadly situation is being “nervous in the service.” Now let’s be clear that I am not talking about the presence of fear. Fear is a normal reaction to many challenges and is felt by police officers universally.

However, being “nervous in the service” is when out-of-control fear is so debilitating that it causes an officer to freeze, over-react, or under react. All three can lead to unacceptable results.

Controlling and properly channeling fear is what great cops do well.

3. A Dulled Edge

Another situation that often prohibits an effective response in a deadly situation can be called the “dulled edged.” Some officers have been assigned to administrative duties, or “officer-friendly” positions for many years and have few, if any, recent critical experiences. In addition, because of their position they may be rarely offered survival-training opportunities. The survival edge that was once sharp and continually honed through training and experiences may be considerably dulled slowing their reaction time and hampering their critical decision-making capability.

This can also occur in the veteran street officer whose edge has been dulled by complacency and the failure to train.

Unacceptable Corrective Options

Officers, who suffer from these conditions too often:

  1. Seek out a position in law enforcement where they believe they won’t ever be put into a position where they will have to shoot someone.
  2. Deliberately avoid hot calls, or let others arrive first.
  3. Go about their day-to-day business of policing and hope a critical situation never happens.


No matter what your job assignment, you need to continually prepare yourself for your “heads-up” moment by:

  1. Mentally preparing for what you may someday have to do. If you are a C.O., do not accept any armed protective position in law enforcement.
  2. Making certain that no matter what your duty assignment is your survival training is realistic, repetitious, regular, recent and at the ready.
  3. Don’t pray that it never happens to you. Pray instead that when innocents are endangered by an evil predator, that it will be you that gets that call, because you realize that when things are at their worst, is when you are at your best!

With that said, heads up!

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.