One of the most important things to understand about officer survival skills training, including firearms, arrest control and defensive tactics, is that while officers are training their bodies to perform a distinct physical action under stress they are actually preparing their minds first. During a quick search on the internet you can easily find video after video of law enforcement officers getting shot in a variety of circumstances. Their actions and reactions say a lot about their mindsets going into the deadly confrontations. From shock and acceptance of failure, asking another officer to tell your wife and kids that you love them while dealing with a non-life threatening flesh wound, to the absolute resolve to win after having taken physical punishment that could easily have killed others. The difference often lies in the officer’s mental preparation. The acknowledgement that no matter what happens they will win and be victorious. It is an inherent ability of the officers to find their victory.
A few decades ago law enforcement trainers began realizing how vital an officer’s mindset was and began training law enforcement officers in the concept of not accepting death. To hang on during the worst moments of their lives’ and refuse to die. To think positive thoughts about friends and family and how you will see them again.
While an “I will not die today” mindset is vital in law enforcement, a strong argument can be made that it is not enough. A refusal to die, while a good beginning, still leaves officers with an option to lose. It sets a minimum standard and not an ultimate goal. It allows officers to lay in the mud waiting for someone else to take control instead of pushing the officer to own the situation that they find themselves in and control their outcome.
When Deputy DeGrow from the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was shot six times while investigating a burglary in 2011, including being shot in the face and losing an eye, the radio traffic proves that he was able to remain calm and took control of his situation. Deputy DeGrow was not only able to call for help and provide fellow deputies with information on his assailant he seemed to realize that not only was he going to need medical assistance but that he was not in a good place for his help to find and assist him. Deputy DeGrow can be heard working his way out of his location to an area where help could get to him easier, thus allowing him to take ownership in his situation. When we can take ownership of these situations we can help reduce our fear, stress and anxiety. When we reduce our stress we can help fend off panic and the unconscious fight, flight and freeze response, allowing us to keep our conscious thinking minds in control in a time when we need it the most.
When Officer Osilka from the Loveland Police Department was shot in the line of duty at point blank range by a sawed off shotgun he suffered major trauma to his upper chest leaving a whole the size of his fist. While the round was stopped by his vest the physical compression into his chest cavity broke numerous bones and collapsed both of his lungs leaving him struggling to breathe to stay alive. After returning fire at the fleeing suspect Officer Osilka began a self-assessment in an attempt to determine the extent of his injuries. Not being able to see his injury because it was too high on his chest he reached up with his hand and found that he was now able to put his own hand inside of his chest.
Running out of air and with an extreme burning feeling in his chest Officer Osilka’s thoughts turned to his family and how he was not going to let his assailant win and take him from his family. Officer Osilka always knew that this day was a possibility and had pre-determined that he was not going to allow someone else to win. Quickly realizing that he was in charge of his own fate Officer Osilka told himself one simple thing. As long as I can breathe, even a little, I can stay alive. Officer Osilka was able to radio for help and begin broadcasting suspect information, eventually leading to his capture and conviction. Even while being rolled into the operating room Officer Osilka’s refusal to lose was apparent when he called his wife on a borrowed cell phone and told her that he had been shot, was going into surgery and would see her in a little while.
A victory under such circumstances does not always come with winning the gunfight but it does come when we take ownership of the situation and take control of our own survival. Both officers lived through their encounters after suffering life threatening wounds. Both officers got to see their attackers off to prison but most importantly they both took control, owned the situations that they found themselves in and found their victories at a time when they needed it the most.
Officers owe it to themselves, their friends, their partners, and most importantly their families to take a new look at their mental preparation and mindsets. It is not enough for officers to be determined not to die when someone is attempting to take their lives, they need to be fully committed to coming out on top and being victorious.
For more information about Rally Point Training Consulting or our O.O.D.A. Loop based Officer Survival seminars visit us at www.RallyPointTraining.com or like us at www.facebook.com/RallyPointTC. For more information about the author connect with Derek at www.linkedin.com/in/derekstephensrallypoint