Monday, September 24, 2012

A Day in the Life

The shift seemed to go really fast. The tension was palpable, and it was as though every mood and movement were set to music. There would be two dead bodies and one armed robbery before my shift was over.

I stepped under the crime scene tape to kneel at the lumpy white sheet, pulled it back and tilted my head to look at the gaping wounds on the dead man's face. Crime scene techs swarmed over the liquor store, carrying their sidearms gracefully as they balanced their fingerprint kits, light sources, and cameras flashing photo after photo. My partner, a rookie dete ctive, waited anxiously for my pronouncements.

The case seemed familiar. I think I knew who did it - but it was an old nemesis who should still be behind bars. "I don't think this is where he fell when he died. The body's been moved. See this entry wound? Looks like a nine mil but the gun here beside him is a .45". I pulled out my pen and slid it down the barrel to pick it up, then dropped it into an evidence bag presented to me by a technician stooping to help.

I stood up relying on my memory rather than wasting time taking notes and walked to a large warehouse in the back of the store. Two burly guys were pushing merchandise around and making notes on a clipboard. I interviewed them for a few minutes as they meandered around, pausing only to deliver a deadpan response. I approached the first worker. "You work for the guy in there?" I asked as I followed him around the warehouse. He paused and met my eyes. "Not anymore," he said, gruffly. Then he continued about his tasks while I asked him about the murder.

My rookie partner's cell phone rang. He answered seriously and looked at me before he flipped the ancient phone shut. "Another one?" I asked, prophetically. "China town", he said ominously as I followed him to the shiny black Crown Vic by the line of uniformed police holding back the crowd. The dancing red waves of light were still flashing from the magnetic red light on the roof of the unmarked car . Reporters tried to get in our faces with cameras and microphones, but we sped off yelling "No comment" over our shoulders. My captain's voice blistered on the radio: "Franklin on tac 3". I picked up the mike and rolled my eyes at the rookie. "Go", I said, holding the button down the whole conversation. "That other scene you're headed to. It's Gloria". I sighed, said "10'4" and turned off the radio in frustration.

With only the sound of the siren filling the car, the rookie knew better than to ask me who Gloria was, but he deserved to know. "She's a hooker. My best snitch. We had a thing once - don't ask. She knew something was wrong - tried to call - I didn't get back with her". And now she was dead and somehow I felt responsible. We'd left one dead body behind, with no suspects, and the clock already had burned up 17 precious minutes.

We roared up to the scene. It was almost a carbon copy of the one we had left, and like a million alleys of a million hookers and strippers who'd been murdered on my watch. Crime scene tape, uniformed officers, hordes of reporters and curious onlookers - one of whom may be the killer. Silently and as if on cue, my partner and I removed our Glocks, racked the slide back to see if there was a bullet in there, re-holstered and got out of the car. Unsure of the danger ahead, we nodded at each other, held our pistols vertical and up close to our faces, then thrust them around each corner like a periscope until we got to Gloria's body.

To my surprise I sensed the slightest pulse of life, leaned over, and heard her final raspy whisper. I thought at first she said "I love you", but when my head cleared and I said it out loud I glanced at my rookie with a flash of revelation and said "By Bellview!" I laid the hand I was holding back down to her now lifeless body and hustled back to the car. "Give me the keys!", I ordered, and the rookie tossed them to me without hesitation as we jogged to the car, our trench coats flapping behind us.

Again the rookie's cell phone buzzed against his pocket. He answered, looked at me, nodded, said "Right. Thanks", hung up and announced to me that the fingerprints and DNA on the gun from the liquor store had matched to Big Tater, a perp that I had put in prison the first year I had my gold shield. He left the state prison two days ago on an early release.

At Bellview Apartments, I ran up three flights of stairs, gun drawn, rookie slobbering like a puppy on his first rabbit hunt, and we stood to either side of apartment 45 - the same number as the caliber of the gun found a the liquor store! - and I rocked my head back and forth three times to signal to the rookie that we were going in on three. Standing center of the door I made one swift kick with the sole of my loafer and the door crashed down. The occupant, an ugly gang member of some nameless ethnic minority, was startled but still tried to fight. I slammed him against the wall while reciting the Miranda warning from memory. I looked at the clock on the wall. We'd been on the case almost fifty minutes, not counting commercials. I had just enough time to sit in the captain's glass enclosed office and explain how I had managed to solve the crimes without taking notes, writing a report, or collecting any evidence.

It was easy. It always is when you're a television cop.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Survival Mindset

I know I’m going to get letters on this one. Nasty letters. Letters that say I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m:

A.) an administrator

B.) not a big city cop

C.) just an academic out of touch with reality

D.) old

E.) not a true warrior

F.) etc, what-have-you, and so on

Misunderstood, Misapplied, and Misdirected

What I’m about to say may burst your bubble and make you so ticked off you can’t even finish the article through your angry eyes. I’m going to meddle with our collective and perhaps necessary cultural mythology. I’ll be branded a heretic to the religion of officer survival because I’m going to rail against cheap thinking that replaces reality in the minds of many of our police officers today. And I’ll even throw in a Bible verse to make the atheists and agnostics think I’m narrow minded and exclusive. All ready on the firing line?

The survival mindset is overrated.

Hold your fire. Maybe what I really mean is that survival mindset is misunderstood, misapplied, and misdirected.

Let’s do a little thinking about what sometimes passes for a survival mindset.

Are you overweight, out of shape, and full of junk food? Then you don’t have a survival mindset, you have a good luck charm. Your positive attitude isn’t going to push more oxygen through that extra few miles of blood vessels you’ve got weaving through your fat cells. If you had a genuine survival mindset you’d go for a walk every once in a while and stop popping buttons off your shirt.

Is your personal life a mess? Then you don’t have a survival mindset, you have paranoia and control issues. Your so-called will to survive is limited to not getting killed on any given day. A genuine survival mindset comes with a lot of reality checks and life balance.

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he,” says Proverbs 23:7.

How can you be a survivor in one area of your life and not all? Real confidence applies to every facet of your life, not just your swagger in uniform.

Are you as ready to sacrifice your life for a heroic cause as you are to survive combat? If not, then you have a strong sense of self-preservation, not a survival mindset. If you are quick to criticize officers who have died in the line of duty by spouting off that they just didn’t have a survival mindset that’s usually a sign that you’re whistling in the dark in denial about the realities of dynamic lethal encounters that you just can’t process. A deep survival mindset accepts death as a reality that does not deter what you have to do.

Do you approach your duties casually because you can handle anything that comes up? Overconfidence is not a survival mindset. It’s just cocky and stupid. Are you afraid of what other officers will think if you ask for a back-up? Do you rush in to prove you’re not afraid of anything? That’s posturing for your buddies, not solid police work.

Do you ignore advice of senior officers or cops from other agencies because you think you have the best, newest training? The survival mindset wastes no information. It seeks out small nuggets and puts together bits and pieces from every person, every trainer, every offender, and even people you don’t like. The officer who thinks they have arrived at their peak of knowledge and proficiency is not survival minded, but small minded. The true warrior is a humble learner.

Do you make light of death, tragedy, sorrow, and see emotion as a weakness? Then you’ve got a light-weight coping skill, not a tough survival mindset. Survival deals with reality and processes in a slow, mature way. Survival does mean suppressing your emotions appropriately — not ignoring them in yourself or others.

I recognize that I haven’t given a good definition of what a survival mindset is — just a few examples of what it isn’t. My goal is to start a discussion about whether we are really training today’s officers in that attitude, or merely brainwashing them to think that mindset trumps discipline and training.

It does not.

Bravado, posturing, boasting, pretending, and ignoring our fears are useful tools. Sometimes we do have to fake it until we make it. But as a lifestyle, they are poor substitutes for a survival mindset that will rise to any occasion, yields to learning, and balances the will to live with the will to live well, and with the courage to die.