Law Enforcement is a family. We think of one another as brothers and sisters; Much like actual siblings we don’t always get along but when adversity strikes we stick together and stand as one. This concept is never more clear than in the aftermath of a downed officer. If you are active on social media and are friends with a Law Enforcement officer you will have likely seen background photos change or posts sharing the latest story of an officer down. In 2016 we lost 142 officers in the US and already this year we have lost 18. The outpouring of love and support is immense and so too is the outrage and determination to never see it happen again.
When an officer is killed during a violent encounter these reactions are even stronger. We rally around our sibling and praise their sacrifice. This is part of the healing process, it is necessary and it is healthy. At some point the incident video is released and eventually it makes its way into online media for review by the masses. Eventually astute law enforcement trainers will review these videos and incorporate them into their training regimen. Now this is where things get interesting… Remember that we are a family and as a family we protect our own. Some will stand in staunch resistance to the use of another’s sacrifice as a training aid. Others will watch and learn but refuse to comment. Those willing to comment will only do so in a guarded manner and are ever careful to show their reverence. “I don’t want to Monday morning quarterback but….” “I wasn’t there so I don’t know but it looks like….” These are the comments you’ll hear before someone offers their observations of a fellow officer’s actions. I don’t think this is wrong, as a matter of fact I think it’s perfectly normal behavior for normal humans attempting to cope with a loss.
The issue here comes when out of an attempt at reverence we miss the opportunity to learn. (There is a time and a place for these trainings and most importantly there is an appropriate audience) How would you as an instructor feel if your choice not to share a video out of reverence meant your officers were unprepared to face the same situation. As instructors we must sometimes be the bearers of bad news, be it telling a shooter their score isn’t passing or presenting boring but needed instruction on dry firing. We aren’t always the fun gun people everyone wants to come see and this is never more true than when we must present the ugly reality of our mortality. At a recent training we watched video of a Dallas area officer who was killed in the July 7th, 2016 attacks that made national news and left 5 officers dead. In the video one of the officers engages the shooter around some large structural pillars in front of a building and is eventually flanked. This video was shown to help cement the concepts of proper use of cover and appropriate engagement distances. I watched the video countless times over several months and every time I was left with a knot in my throat and a rage in my heart. It would have been much easier to turn the video off or leave that slide out of the presentation, I’m sure many of those in the audience would’ve appreciated it. Every time this thought overtook me I told myself one thing, “Hurt feelings are a burden far lighter than the body bag of a brother!”
“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”
Voltaire’s words are necessarily harsh, we find ourselves in a world where violence is an inevitability and the cost of failure is paid in blood. The balance of civility and reality is a conversation churning at the political and administrative levels, for the ground pounders there is only one option, reality in its harsh and ugly form is the truth we must all live with. You can cripple those you care about by hiding behind reverence or you can respect the sacrifice of those who went before us by using their loss to teach.