'The true Soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because He loves what is behind him.' -G. K. Chesterton

13 February 2012

Use Of Force, Mindset And Choices

On Saturday I mentioned that I'm reading a new book by Myke Cole. Today I was perusing his blog and ran across this post on Use of Force. I encourage everyone to go read it. It's short and very much to the point. Agree or disagree it's at the very least food for thought. I happen to agree with him.

I spent 33 years in uniform. 9 as a soldier (Army and UTARNG) and 24 as a cop. In all that time I never once badly hurt anyone. I know you tactical guys will look down your noses at me for such a confession but it's a record I'm proud of because my duty was to Protect and Serve first. No shootings, no stickings, no taser use. Heck, I never even used my OC/Mace. Lots and lots of hands on (we had a lot of bars and drunks are generally not open to logical dissuasion) but I never had to ratchet up the use of force beyond that and pointing my firearm at a very few. Close but only that. Why? I like to think it's because of my mindset and the choices that mindset triggered. Let me explain.

When I began my career as a blue suiter I was asked a question. What martial art would I study? I thought it over and chose.....none. I decided early on that my job, my duty, wasn't to beat someone senseless it was to control violent situations using as little force as possible. That's right there in the UoF continuum, use as little force as necessary to gain control and compliance. I decided on another direction. The gym. I became a power lifter. I got as large and strong as I legally could (no PEDs. Ever). Why? Again it goes back to the use of force continuum. The first rung on that ladder is presence. An officer by his or her very presence in a law enforcement situation is exerting force. The uniform, gun and badge. Don't think so? Think back on any encounter with authority you've ever had where you were either the focus or directly (or indirectly) involved with those who were the focus. Did you feel tension? Perhaps a bit of trepidation or even intimidation? That's force and the officer was exerting it on you. I fear that too many of my brothers and sisters make one of two mistakes in this area. Either they forget how intimidating their very presence can be or they rely too heavily on it's 'magical' ability to quell any situation, no matter how potentially violent. The former is a flaw in the veteran and the latter in the inexperienced.

Back to the gym and why it was my choice. In my experience bad guys run into three distinct categories;
Serious Felons
Psychosis/Hard Drugs
Everyone Else
There are some overlaps and it's not by any means all inclusive but it'll do for the purposes of this post.
With Everyone Else I wanted to give them every opportunity I could to recognize their error of their ways and realize that challenging me was probably a losing proposition and to not go there in the first place. Oh, there is always the guy who bristles and pumps his chest and is going to fight just because but they're the exception not the rule. Anecdotally it seems to have worked as I seldom got challenged and when I did...well, let me cover that further in just a bit. With Psychosis/Hard Drugs it's a crap shoot. Nothing is really certain except for the presence of Murphy and there's just no way to predict how they'll react. I've arrested guys on Meth/PCP/Coke who went readily into custody. I've arrested drunks that fought like madmen. I've also had skinny little crankers try to take knives to my tender hide so, like I said, it's anything goes.

Serious Felons are people for whom crime and a criminal lifestyle are choices. They are what they are. They will seldom reform (there are notable exceptions, one of whom reads this blog and to whom I tip my cap) and are always looking for easy prey. They are always watching, measuring and calculating. Take a tour through your local jail or better yet a prison. You'll see what I'm talking about pretty quick. When they have an encounter with law enforcement you can rest assured they're taking the officer's temperature. But they are not stupid, just narcissistic and coldly calculating. When they are contacted by an officer they go through a risk/reward analysis. I break them down like this;
1. I can't take him and if I try I'll get hurt.
2. I might take him but I'll probably get hurt.
3. I can probably take him but I'll probably get hurt.
4. I can take him but I might get hurt.
5. I can take him and I won't get hurt. 

It's simplistic but you get the idea. It's a classic OODA Loop, one that both Serious Felons and Everyone Else goes through if they have ideas about challenging the police. Now here's where my choice comes back in. By my obvious size and strength I have altered the Loop. They don't have to be concerned just with what hangs from my bat belt and my skills (or lack) with those tools, they have to consider what I might do to them with just my hands if they choose poorly. Physical power is something both the Felons and Everyone Else understands at a gut level. The Felons because they have been through one of the toughest Darwinian schools out there, prison, where the strongest and most ruthless makes the rules. It's pure intimidation, I readily admit that, but it kept both me and everyone I ever had contact with alive and relatively unscathed. And if the Felon, Everyone Else or Psychosis/Hard Drugs got frisky and tried me then I was in a better position to control them short of an ass kicking or terminal ventilation. Most went compliantly into cuffs even if they then went off as they were being put in the cruiser. It's all about face. Give most people, especially Serious Felons, a chance to save face and they'll usually react predictably and even reasonably. Back them into a corner and challenge them and you'll get a fight. Every time.

Anecdotal? Theory? You bet but here's my bonafides (besides my record). It's story time. Some of you have already heard/read this one. If so I apologize but it precisely sums up my points about mindsets and the choices that come from them

Many years ago, when I was right at that salty 5 year veteran stage, I had an encounter with a man who tried very hard to kill me. I was sitting on a street at odarkthirty, in a parking lot, watching for drunks to come careening by when I saw a car go flashing by with one of ours following closely. No lights yet but it was obvious the officer was interested. Now this particular officer was a slug. Ask Murphy's Law about them sometime. Slugs are the bane of any police department. They live to do as little work as possible, existing only for the promise of a paycheck and a pension. Every cop knows them and can tell stories. At first I dismissed him as simply Deuce hunting (DUI for the CVC section for drunk driving-23152). Then the little voice in the back of my head started screaming for attention. That small, usually quiet, voice that every veteran officer develops or dies. Mine started shrieking. He's a slug. He wouldn't even be taking any action at all unless there's a very good reason. Go. Back him up. Right now. I obeyed the voice and went after him.

By the time I got to him he had pulled the car over and was at the drivers door talking to the driver. I made a passenger side approach and shined my flashlight into the interior. Just to see and let the occupants know the slug wasn't alone. There were two in the car, the driver and front seat passenger. The passenger looked largish but I didn't particularly remark on it at the time. In just a few seconds it would become monumentally important to both of our lives. The slug suddenly looked up and said "Pat search that guy." He would later say he told me he'd seen a gun (as he indeed had) but he never mentioned that little tidbit no matter what he says. If he had things might have turned out much differently.

I opened the passenger door and asked him out. As he got out he just kept unfolding. He was big, much larger than me, both in height and girth. I'm 5-11 and at that time went about 260 so you can imagine the size I'm talking about. Significantly larger than yours truly. Still, I was in my prime, strong, well trained and experienced. But his bulk gave him an answer to mine. Was my choice going to fail me here?

I told him that I was going to do a short pat down, just of his outer clothing and if he'd just turn around....
I wasn't used to that answer. I went through it again. If you'll just tun around we'll get this over no muss no fuss...
"No." Flat, no emotion whatsoever.
By this time I'd lost sight of the slug and had focused in on the passenger. Tunnel vision. Now polite time and requests were over. I got insistent. I grabbed one massive arm and started to physically turn him and used my command voice. Turn around and put your hands behind your head right now! I was done with games.
Suddenly he wrenched away from me and his right hand darted inside his jacket (he was wearing a suit coat). As he did that he announced "I've got a gun! I've got a gun!"

Now I'm faced with an instant and life altering decision that needs to be made RIGHT NOW. Do I back off, pull my gun and almost certainly shoot him as he presents his own or do I take him on physically? For better or worse I chose to take him on. Now it's not as insane as it sounds (though if presented with a similar problem at my current age and physical level I'd probably do it differently). I was prepared, both physically and mentally for this very choice at this very moment. I'd trained hard, was fit and strong as an ox and full of the confidence that only comes from youth, training and experience. Some might say overconfidence but be that as it may.

I finished spinning him so his back as to me, wrapped my arms around that massive chest, grabbed both wrists in my hands and held on for dear life. I picked him up and slammed him face down on the ground just as hard as I could. It was pure pro wrestling..There I held him whilst I pondered my predicament. I'm sure you can all see the scene. Me and my opponent flat on the ground, me on his back and him on his face screaming about his gun and trying desperately to pull it free. By this time he had his hand on it and was trying really, really hard to pull it out. I later learned the hammer had snagged on his coat. A lesson for all you CCW holders. Hammerless revolvers are your friend. I've got my hands and my legs involved in keeping us both on the ground and bloody hole free. I've got no idea where my partner is and no way to get to my radio to holler for help. Stuck. Still, it was working. I had control of him and even if he'd managed to free the gun I was, and still am, confident I would have managed him. My choice was still valid. Then I heard that sweet music of approaching sirens. The slug's guy had caved immediately and been cuffed. Slug boy had called for assistance (but not rendered any himself you'll note, not that I'm bitter) and eventually the cavalry arrived. You want to know the longest time increment in the world? It's that time you spend wrestling with a mountain of a man for possession of a gun he wants to kill you with. Endless doesn't quite cover it.

In the end it turned out well for everyone involved. The backup arrived, the bad guys were cuffed and disarmed and everyone went home at the end of the shift (or after posting bail as the case may be). My guys chief complaint? Whether or not he could get his gun back (He didn't. He was a recent parolee, a felon in possession and with the charges relating to our encounter he went back to the big house for a bit). He never once considered how lucky he was that the incident didn't end up in a shooting. The issue for me in this incident was this; his life was my responsibility. Mine. His actions do count, I don't dismiss that, but I saw a chance to save his life from his own criminality and stupidity and I took it. It could have very easily resulted in his death, my death and even the death of my partner but sometimes the job requires risk. This is where the phrase "Big Boy Pants" is valid and apropos (not at tacticalninja school). If you're afraid of risk find another line of work. RAH (peace be upon him) said it best. My life was not mine to throw away in a vain reach for glory and not mine to keep if the situation called for me to spend it. More importantly his life was not mine to spend if I could find a way to preserve it.  I always felt that I wouldn't hesitate to shoot if it came to it (and I was oh so very near more times than I care to remember) but I also understood the awesome responsibility I carried every minute I served, whether in uniform or out. His life was as valuable as mine. I know a lot of you may disagree with that assessment in this case but ask yourselves this. How do I want my police officers to view my life? The lives of those I love and who are dear to me? It wasn't my right to choose whether or not his life was worth saving. It was my responsibility to make a determination of whether or not I could reasonably save him. Mindset and choices.

So back to the three categories and my choice/mindset. I decided to use brute strength and physical size to enable me to police effectively while carrying the least probability that I'd have to hurt anyone seriously (or wind up as the lead story on CNN). Did it work out? For me it did. I had the genetics to build and carry enough muscle and bulk to make it work and the mindset to trust to my training and strength. For others it may not be so simple. You'll have to find a different answer. For those who decry my blatant use of intimidation I say this. That tactic kept me and everyone I ever contacted, in 24 years as a street cop, safe and unharmed. The worse thing anyone ever experienced at my hands was a manhandling, a twisted wrist and a ride to jail. I treated everyone I ever met with politeness and professionalism. Even when I had to put my hands on them. I didn't bully or browbeat, I let my presence and carriage speak for me. For those who needed me it seemed to bring them a measure of relief when they saw me. For those who found my presence problematic it gave the clear message that I was not to be tried on for size and compliance was the better option. For those who resisted, for whatever reason, it gave me the opportunity to bring the encounter to a conclusion at the lowest level on the Use of Force scale possible, given the circumstances.

And that's my message, tailed on to Myke's. It can be done, indeed it must be done lest all our hard work and the sacrifices by those who came before us be lost in the lurid glare of cameras and horrific headlines.

Since then I've aged and retired. My body suffers from the afflictions age and a lifetime of honorable hard use have incurred. I no longer carry all that size and bulk but one thing has not changed a whit. My mindset. I'm retired so I avoid ugly situations when and where I can instead of seeking them out. Avoidance and de-escalation are my watchwords. I still carry and I'll shoot you in an instant if you force me to but you'll still have to go a very long way to get me to do that. I still carry myself confidently, my head up and my chest out. I still project myself as a man to leave alone (or at least attempt to). I still cause the bad guys to re-visit that OODA Loop and ask themselves if there aren't greener pastures somewhere down the road. That will end, sooner rather than later, but I'm confident I'll find a new answer.

Make no mistake about this. I'm talking about me and my choices here. My particular skill sets and gifts. My job as an American Police Officer. Nothing more. Some aren't so lucky nor are they called to my particular service. Lu is one of them and for her reliance on a tool is paramount to personal safety. To that end you must be a good judge of yourself and your needs, strengths and weaknesses. I'll have more thoughts on this when I post about her CCW choice and how it came to be a bit later (hopefully this week).



Murphy's Law said...

A most excellent post, Sir. Most excellent, indeed. Should be required reading for many a young rookie and "ROD" (Retired On Duty) old-timer.

Six said...

Thanks ML. I hoped I was actually saying what I wanted to say (if that makes any sense). Your opinion means a lot to me.

Sarge said...

A good Sgt. taught me the concept of "Maximum amount of compliance with the Minimum amount of force". It served me well for the 30 years of law enforcement. Like the Six I never had to kill anyone but there were times that death was just a trigger pull away. I knew in my heart of hearts that I could kill someone if necessary, but verbal commands and police presence worked for me. Thus it was a very interesting and rewarding career.

NavyOne said...

That is a fascinating post. . .

Six said...

Thank you Sir! I'm heart sick at what I see in the young cops who don't know any better and the veterans/administrators who damn well should. The militarization of our police has got to stop. Soldiers are soldiers and cops are cops and while there is a certain amount of inevitable crossover the mindsets each carries is, must be, different.

Blue said...

Excellent post, good Sir. :)

What has changed that makes some cops want to shoot first, ask later? If it's a "typical", or "common" mindset, it is arrived at through training or through selecting people with that mindset to be cops in the first place.

That scares me.

Six said...

Thanks Blue. I think Murphy's Law and I are of the opinion that's it's a little of both. Poor hiring and frankly negligent retention policies/practices and improper training. I've been very outspoken on the topic of officer safety training. We do it poorly and it's only getting worse. Throw in the general tendency toward militarizing the police and you get departments and cops who think soldier first, cop second. That's a bad combination, one guaranteed to widen the gap between cops and community. Almost like it was intended?

Blue said...

"Almost like it was intended?"


Yes, almost like it was intended.

The militarization of the police forces is crazy beyond belief. The common "reason" given is that the criminals are better armed than the police and that its the "war on drugs".

That may have been true in some of the bigger cities but it certainly isn't true everywhere.

Evansdale, Iowa, population 4500, has a police force that is better armed than an infantry platoon. Not sure why they need a .50 cal Barret sniper rifle?

Anyway, I think a lot of the guys just love the equipment and the tactical crap. Makes them crazy! :) When you have all the equipment, it would be a shame not to be able to use it.

Reading about "Officer Peters" the other day... 7 shoots, 6 kills in 10 years. Makes me believe that the department has a sociopath on it's hands. And a group of people who obviously think its ok, since each shooting was found to be justified. I think his ratio of "officer involved shootings" is about 20 kazillion times higher than the national average.

Anyway, I don't know how it got this way and I don't know how to fix it. I don't think it can be fixed until the agencies involved WANT it fixed. I think they like being soldiers first...

Keep writing, Six. We all need the bit of sanity that you provide in this crazy world. :)