In my last article, Creating a Culture of Officer Safety, we explored the biggest threats to officer safety. We know that 53% of officers killed in vehicle crashes from 2010-2014 were responding to assist another officer. These were good officers, trying to help a fellow officer, but never made it to the scene. For every officer that was killed, it’s reasonable to believe there were many who crashed, who also didn’t arrive on scene. Every officer in the country knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt; the most important part of responding to an officer needs assistance call is GETTING THERE! So why do so many officers fail to arrive? Why do so many officers get killed? I believe it’s because there is a culture of speed in our profession, not just in how we operate vehicles, but how we perform many of our daily tasks. This culture of speed causes us to be in a hurry, which often times leads to less desirable decision making, often with tragic consequences. If we want a culture of officer safety, we can start by addressing the culture of speed that exists.
Rushing to our deaths
Why are there so many examples of officers rushing into situations which lead to serious injury or death? What causes this need to “get in there!”, absent any real exigency? Can you think of examples where a few extra seconds would have benefited you or another officer? If you’re being honest, there are most certainly times when you wish you had slowed down. So why do we rush? I believe it’s an unintended consequence of well-intentioned training, that may start as back as far as the basic academy.
Think back to your basic academy training. There are several examples of where we are unintentionally taught to rush. For example, basic driver’s training. Was the emphasis on accuracy or speed? Most driving instructors will insist that accuracy is the focus, but I think many of us would agree, it’s about getting though the course as quickly as possible. As a former driving instructor myself, I remember learning to tell students “you can hit up to five cones, as long as you’re under two minutes!”. That’s what I was taught in my instructor school, so that’s what I taught students. The unintended message is “you can hit a lot of stuff; as long as you do it fast enough!”. Hopefully times are changing, but I still see this type of training in almost every state I visit.
Another area I see speed unintentionally inserted into training is during scenarios (often called Reality Based Training). Scenarios can be invaluable, if done properly. If done improperly, there is the potential to create negative training scars that can last throughout a career. Often times, the focus during scenario based training is on the quantity of scenarios officers get through, not the quality of scenarios (an issue I’ll address in a future article). We put officers through a lot of scenarios, many times not allowing them to call for or wait for backup, not allowing them to pause behind cover to assess, and not allowing time for effective communication with the role players. There just isn’t enough time! We have to get 10 groups through this scenario the instructor laments. They complete the scenario, receive a quick debrief and then it’s on to the next group. This cycle continues through the training day, and severely impacts those officers who get to a scenario “close to quitting time”. They are really rushed through. What are the potential training scars for these officers? Maybe we should consider fewer scenarios, allowing for more time to perform in a desirable manner.
As simple as it sounds, the best way to counter the culture of speed is to slow down. Slow down when responding to calls. Slow down when we arrive on scene; wait for back up. Slow down when we are communicating with people in crisis. Slow down when responding to an officer needs assistance call. This isn’t to insinuate that officers should “go slow”. I’m not suggesting that we “slow roll” to back up an officer who needs assistance, but rather slow down enough to ensure we arrive safely. In the absence of real exigency, take a few extra seconds (or even minutes) to assess the situation, in an effort to improve the quality of decisions we make. Slow down and go slow are not the same thing.
Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden is widely considered one of the best college coaches in history. As head coach of UCLA, Coach Wooden led his teams to 10 National Championships in 12 years, including 7 in a row from 1967-1973. John Wooden has a lot of memorable quotes, but one in particular addresses the culture of speed. John Wooden taught his players “be quick; but don’t hurry”. I wish this quote was posted in every training classroom, roll call room, and patrol vehicle in the country. When I say slow down, this is what I’m talking about. When I ask officers to define the word “hurry”, the most common responses I hear are “rushed, chaotic, reckless, and out of control”. On the flipside, when I ask them to define “quick”, I hear “deliberate, purposeful, efficient, and fast”. That’s exactly what we are looking for in police officer decision making. Be quick, but don’t hurry. In training, in the field, and in our personal lives.
Be quick, but don’t hurry. It can save your life.