Sunday, April 16, 2006


The incident is months old. One of our officers was attacked at close range with a knife. He parried, pushed the threat away, drew his Taser and lit him up. This deputy talks about it, critiquing the incident. He wasn't there: he saw it on TV like everyone else. This deputy has opinions, strong ones. He's careful to be respectful, saying over and over again, "I don't want you to get the impression I think he did anything wrong, it turned out perfect. But..." Always a 'but'. Always a what if. There are always 'buts' and 'what ifs'.

He quotes from our use of force and survival training- aren't we taught to never go up against a threat with a lesser level of force? Won't you always react the way you trained?

I reply that we are required to use the lowest level of force that we reasonably believe will stop the threat. That you will react the way you were trained, maybe, until your fiftieth or hundredth Use of Force- then you will exceed it.

He lets that pass, going on about the things he will never do and what he WILL do if he is ever in that situation. Aaah.

I ask him how many fights he's had. He hesitates. He hasn't had any yet. Times have changed. Assignments have changed. The kid's been on five years. I think I was approaching two hundred by my fifth year.

So this is all theory, I say.
Am I wrong? he asks.

I shrug. Get fifty fights down and you quit using words like 'never' and 'I will'.

We teach, I teach, not to use a lower level of force than the threat. You shouldn't bring a knife to a gunfight or try to wrestle a knife away. The very fact that someone thinks he can reliably do it is a sure sign that he's too ignorant to let try. So, to keep the people from letting their fantasy skill levels endanger their lives, we teach them 'never'.

But the best and the most experienced go beyond their training. You get to a place where a vast number of variables are handled subconsciously. The right decision seems to be made by your body. You can, in an instant, choose the Taser instead of the gun or to push at exactly the right angle instead strike. You can take the knife away.

But only in that moment. The more moments you have, the more you realize that because something worked last time doesn't mean it will work next time.

I don't know who said it first: "In theory, there's no difference between theory and reality. In reality, there is."


Anonymous said...

Musculo-motor skills developed in isolation through multiple repetition and endurance training. Study and practice of varied tactics augmented by continuous scenario-izing. Stress situations that demand maximum creativity. Post-training introspection. And the two most important ingredients: time and experience. Then we can become writers or consultants and be considered great people. Aren't the greatest among us those who have had the luck to survive?

Rory said...

Exactly. And we must never forget how much luck it took to get here. It's easy to forget and decide that we are special in some way.