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Street Survival: The survival triangle

To survive their police career, officers should strengthen every point of the survival triangle


It is possible to survive the physical, legal and emotional challenges of law enforcement when you consciously take responsibility for your own survival.

Photo/Calibre Press

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.

The challenge faced by all law enforcement officers is to find a way to survive not just a shift, but your entire career in law enforcement physically, legally and emotionally.

To achieve this takes a commitment to total survival, from day one through to retirement. This is best done by constantly strengthening every point of the survival triangle, which consists of:

Even though there are only three points to a triangle, let’s put another right in the middle for good measure:

  • Equipment and tools.


Most careers start with recruits becoming “competent” in arrest and control tactics, building search tactics, communication tactics and vehicle contact tactics to name a few.

However, as these officers’ careers progress, these “basic” tactical skills deteriorate because they are not reinforced by ongoing training. Some officers even set aside good tactics, as they surrender to the siren’s song of complacency.

In contrast, the officer committed to total personal survival chooses to master the basics and expand their options by learning additional and advanced tactics.


If you check officer vs. criminal gunfight hit ratios, you will see the result of many agencies only requiring their officers to shoot once, or possibly twice a year. It is inconceivable how any boss could believe they have done everything within their power to ensure their officers’ survival by offering police firearms training annually.

Administrators arranging once-a-year training do this out of concern for their own liability rather than their officers’ survivability. Sadly, there are officers okay with this shooting schedule and others still who must be physically dragged to the range to shoot once a year.

Honorable gunfighting is a psychomotor skill, combined with knowledge of the law and a proper mind-set, that must be developed and maintained over a lifetime. This takes ongoing training, which includes:

  1. Marksmanship;
  2. Shooting while moving drills;
  3. Shooting at a variety of distances;
  4. Decision shooting;
  5. Shooting under a variety of lighting conditions;
  6. Shooting while properly using cover and concealment;
  7. Shooting and reloading;
  8. Shooting while incorporating malfunction clearing;
  9. Shooting under extreme stress;
  10. Force-on-force scenario training;
  11. Isolation exercises;
  12. Shooting with full duty gear and duty ammunition;
  13. Classroom training on ethical/defensible use of force and legal considerations;
  14. All the above done with all weapons available to officers.


All police officers should regularly engage in physical activities that not only improve an officer’s physical health, but also prepares them to control resistive suspects, capture fleeing suspects and prevail during any physical attack.

Recommended activities should be designed to enhance:

  1. Cardiovascular strength and endurance;
  2. Muscular strength and endurance;
  3. Muscular and joint flexibility;
  4. Psychomotor skills (controlling/fighting skills) training.

Police work is a contact sport, except that it is not really a sport at all. A police officer has much more to lose than a professional athlete and therefore more reason to train for the next unscheduled event. Skills training requires a level of repetition that builds in realistic intensity to prepare for those times when you must react immediately or be added to your team’s injured reserve list…or worse.

Few agencies can afford to pay an officer to physically achieve and maintain fitness as well as achieve a truly competitive level of physical skills on the street. To default on physical training leaves many officers not only ill-prepared for a deadly physical encounter, but also physically unhealthy.



Do your officers have the proper tools available to them and have they been trained to use them?

Photo/Calibre Press

Mental conditioning is a major component to not only surviving but also enjoying your career. We must prepare ourselves mentally for what we will see, experience and do in law enforcement.

As mentioned earlier, you must train to immediately react to a physical threat; however, you can be more deliberative with your mental/emotional response according to the late Viktor Frankl, a noted psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl described a space between a deed experienced and that person’s emotional reaction to the deed. This space allows time for the aggrieved to choose how he or she will react. Frankl called this “response ability,” which allows a person to decide to mentally/emotionally to react positively, or negatively.

As a young officer who read the book before entering my career I adopted this practice and chose in a world surrounded by cynicism and negativity to practice the discipline of staying positive every day. This practice helped me to stay active and enjoy my career right up to the day I retired.

However sometimes officers experience situations so traumatic they need to admit they need some help gaining a healthy perspective. An agency environment must be created where officers feel comfortable asking for emotional help.


Having the best tool for the task will lead to the best results and a variety of tools can give officers a variety of options. Here are two questions:

  1. Administrators, are you driven to acquire the best tools and equipment to ensure your officers succeed and survive?
  2. Officers, if you find yourself poorly equipped/trained by your agency, do you improve your odds of survival by pursuing additional training and better equipment on your own time and on your own dime?


You are in the best position to look at the survival triangle and determine your strengths, as well as where you need improvement. It is possible to survive the physical, legal and emotional challenges of law enforcement when you consciously take responsibility for your own survival.

By proactively acquiring the tactics, equipment, skills and conditioning you need when you find yourself suddenly thrust into that “mudroom” between life and death, you will be one of those many officers who live to declare, “I saw the flash of his gun…and then my training kicked in!”

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.