Complacency Kills Police Officers

Complacency Kills Police Officers

Curiosity killed the cat, but it’s not curiosity that is killing police officers, it’s complacency contributing to flawed situational awareness. What does it mean to be complacent? I could offer you the Webster’s dictionary definition, instead, I’d like to offer you a definition based on my observations of those who suffer from the affliction.

Complacent

To believe that bad things only happen to other people; To fall into a comfortable rut of apathy – laziness; To have enjoyed success for so long as to believe all actions will result in successful outcomes; To rely on knowledge and skills that have grown stale for lack of practice and renewal; To develop a sense of indifference – to lack concern for – one’s safety and well-being. Let’s break this down now by expounding on each component of the definition.

In Law Enforcement, we are very prone to becoming complacent on the job.  As a matter of fact, most police officers die in the middle of their career.  According to Kevin Gilmartin, author of Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, most police officers die feloniously on duty between year 10-15 of their career.  Complacency is a big contributing factor to this.

Some of the ways I have shown my complacency on the job have to deal with traffic stops and alarm calls.  I remember making traffic stop after traffic stop and using good tactics and nothing ever bad happened.  Until one time when I let my guard down and used poor tactics.  I stopped an individual and causally walked up to the car thinking to myself this is just another routine traffic stop, when he opened his driver’s door, hopped out and started screaming “just kill me.”  Thankfully, he did not have a weapon on him and I was able to deescalate the situation, but he definitely caught me by surprise and had the tactical advantage on me from my being complacent.

I can also remember going to a lot of alarm calls in my career.  99% of the time the alarm calls were false alarms, were set off by the cleaners, or animals inside of a home tripped the alarm.  However, one time I was called to an audible burglar alarm covering glass break.  I arrived thinking this would be just another false alarm.  To my surprise it wasn’t, it was the real deal.  Someone had done a smash and grab at one of our local gas stations and took the cash register.  Here again I did a poor approach to the building and was being very complacent which could have got me killed.

Believing Bad Things Only Happen to Other People

This is often rooted in a mindset of judgment. While watching a video or reading about a casualty incident, the complacent police officer becomes a judge. The mindset is not one of trying to understand the root cause of what happened and to extract the lessons behind the lessons.  Instead, the complacent police officer wants to ridicule and offer judgment upon the misfortunes of others. One who is judging, cannot learn. This causes the lessons to be missed and perpetuates the belief that bad things only happen to other people.

Falling into a Comfortable Rut of Apathy – Laziness

The energy required to develop and maintain competency is immense. It requires both a cognitive and physical effort to develop the knowledge and skills essential for top performance. Any deviation from being exceptionally prepared will result in a consequence, right? Hardly, in fact, the vast majority of cases with large deviations from top performance have no consequence.

That is both a blessing and a curse. If such deviations always resulted in casualties, the results would be catastrophic. For that, we are blessed. Yet it is the same lack of consequence that promotes apathy. The proof that one needs not work as hard, rests in the successful outcomes achieved despite a reduction in knowledge and skill development/maintenance.

Relying on Knowledge and Skills That Have Grown Stale for Lack of Practice and Renewal

For skill and knowledge to be retained and useful, they must be practiced over and over again… and then over and over AGAIN… rinse and repeat. The process of learning and relearning skills is never ending. The pathways that access knowledge in our brains are strengthened through repetition. Just because something was learned in school 10 years ago does not mean the skillset is still flawless. Every expert in every field practices incessantly to keep their skills sharp. So must police officers!

The complacency within an organization is often a byproduct of the organization’s culture, undisciplined leadership and individual member mindsets. This can change. The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step. Do something today… take a step toward reducing complacency.

Everyday life

Complacency happens in everyday life all the time.  This can be dangerous when working with power tools or using knives in your kitchen.  Think of the last time you were operating a chain saw.  Did you get complacent as time went on?  How about the last time you were slicing up some food.  Did you cut yourself because you became complacent?  We need to stay focused so we don’t become a victim to complacency.

Discussions

  1. Discuss what ways you combat complacency.
  2. Discuss what training you implement in your department to avoid becoming complacent.
  3. Discuss how you can assist your partners if you notice they’re becoming complacent.

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Active Shooter Part 2: Collaborating with Fire and EMS

Active Shooter Part 2: Collaborating with Fire and EMS

When I was in the police academy and went through Active Shooter training it was designed solely for police officers. There was never a mention of EMS or fire department response and how they could assist in these situations.  It took approximately 8 years into my career until I went to a training that involved the assistance of EMS and firefighters.  It really opened my eyes as to how much value EMS and firefighters can add to these catastrophic events.

In the most recent trainings I have participated in, we have incorporated using EMS and firefighters to assist with rapidly evacuating people that have been injured and it significantly improved our efficiency.   We set up a rescue team where police officers provide protection and guided a group of EMS and fire personnel through a building to get the injured victims out.  Training as a single unit in these rescue teams and working in collaboration with each other has been very beneficial will save more lives.

One of the things I noticed that firefighters do well is they are very good at setting up incident command and being able to communicate well with each other on the radio.  Ever since I have been a police officer I have always been really impressed with how fast firefighters mobilize incident command and run their incidents so efficiently.  As police officers this is something we can definitely learn from our partners in the fire service.  This works well when an Active Shooter event is unfolding, and teams need to be organized before heading to the hot zone.  Firefighters have a lot of experience in incident command and it definitely shows during these collaborative training events.

WORDS OF ADVICE TO SURVIVE AN ACTIVE SHOOTER

Active Shooter events are becoming more and more common throughout the United States.  It’s a good thing to reach out to your fellow agencies to conduct joint training so that everyone is on the same page if one of these events were to ever unfold in your jurisdiction.  It requires coordinating a lot of moving parts and when we train together in a stressful environment we will be better prepared for when real event occurs.

If you’re a firefighter or EMS worker and you find yourself on a routine call that rapidly becomes an active shooter event there are a few things you should know and practice.  First, if you can safely do so, RUN!  Get out of the situation as fast as possible.  You’ll improve your chances of knowing where to run if, in advance, you are thinking about your way out far before you have to flee (think pre-plan). Once the event turns hostile, you will have little time to think about your escape route.

If running is not a safe option because the shooter too close then you should hide.  I’m not talking about hiding under a desk. That, in fact, may be your worst option.  Hiding under a desk makes you a sitting duck. Hiding under desks may work in the movies, but it’s a bad plan in real life.  When I say hide I mean actively barricading behind cover. If you cannot find cover, then find a way to conceal yourself.

Think of cover as a barrier that can stop bullets (e.g., the engine block of a car or a brick wall).  Concealment, on the other hand, is something that will conceal (i.e., hide) your body, but bullets can still penetrate through (e.g., drywall or a wood door).  When you hide, barricade and lock the door if possible. Put large heavy objects such as tables, computers, or desks in front of the door so it cannot easily be opened.  Wait there as long as you need until law enforcement arrives and the officers retrieve you.

Lastly (and only if the first two options don’t work) you will need to fight.  As a firefighter or EMS worker you can improvise weapons (e.g., SCBA, oxygen tanks, fire extinguishers, scissors).  If you are by yourself, your best option is to hurl any object available to you at the shooter and try to get away to cover or run out of the building. Use any means you can imagine to slow down the shooter.

If you are with a group, your best chance of survival is to improvise weapons and throw them all at the shooter all at the same time.  Once you are able to distract or confuse the shooter, try to incapacitate the shooter until law enforcement arrives.  Think of Flight 93, the group of passengers on that plane used improvised weapons (e.g., hot coffee, carts) and subdued a group of armed terrorists.  A group effort is the way to go, it requires training and leadership but will give you the best chances of survival. Keep in mind that acting aggressively toward the shooter is your last resort option.

DOS AND DON’TS OF RESPONDING TO AN ACTIVE SHOOTER

I always knew when I arrived on a house fire or accident scene that this is the fire department’s jurisdiction.  I also knew that when I arrived on a medical scene it belonged to EMS and I was there to provide support.  For my fellow brothers and sisters in fire and EMS I have a question for you:  Does it frustrate you when a police officer parks in front of a working house fire?  How about when a police car blocks your access where someone was having a heart attack and you can’t back your ambulance into the driveway?

I would be lying if said I’ve never done this. It took a few reminders from fire and EMS to help me remember not to do that.  Well the same applies for police officers when it comes to a dynamic shooting scene.  Make sure on an Active Shooter scene you’re parking far enough away to allow law enforcement personnel to be able to access the scene.  Our job is to take out the shooter and establish a safe perimeter as quick as possible.  Blocking our routes with fire trucks and ambulances makes are job more difficult – and dangerous.

Also, do you have a member that loves talking on the radio?  (We have those people in law enforcement too.)  During a rapidly evolving active shooter event, we would all serve each other better if we keep radio traffic to a minimum (i.e., only transmit the most essential information).  Early on, the scene is going to be chaotic and confusing. It is very important for law enforcement to keep lines of communication open and accessible. Non-essential chatter is distracting and can draw an officer’s attention off-task and increase their risk.

KEY TAKEAWAY

Situational awareness is key for survival and saving as many lives as possible in an active shooter situation.  Consider mentally rehearsing active shooter events thinking through, in advance, what your actions would be if you found yourself in that situation. Conducting simulated active shooter training (under stress) and practicing rapid response techniques, can improve a firefighter’s and EMS crew member’s ability to predict what may happen in these events and help you prevent bad outcomes.

Not all law enforcement officers have advanced training on how to handle an active shooter situation. Do not depend, entirely, on the officers to keep you safe. Use situational awareness best practices to improve the safety of your crew. (Here’s a hint: There’s more to situational awareness that paying attention and keeping your head on a swivel.)  Be prepared to take quick action, if necessary.

One final note: According to the FBI, from the years 2000-2018, 98% of active shooter incidents had only one shooter.  Statistically speaking, chances are your event will only be one shoote.  However, there’s always that chance there could be more than one. History also shows that when there are more than one shooter they are, most often, together.  But, as you can imagine, there are no rules for active shooters to follow.  Put yourself in the mindset that anything is possible and anything can happen.

Discussions

  1. Discuss what you would do if an active shooter situation were to evolve unexpectedly during a fire or medical call.
  2. Discuss how you could work more collaboratively with your local police departments to prepare, train and coordinate during active shooter events.
  3. Discuss ways you could build stress into active shooter training to improve realism and to ensure you are prepared for the stress you will experience during an actual event.

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Master Instructor in Situational Awareness and has a passion for training his clients in this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.

Fatigue Can Impact Police Officer Safety

Fatigue Can Impact Police Officer Safety

Research has shown that fatigue can impact situational awareness in disturbing ways. Some police officers think if they take a “safety nap” it will help. And in a small way, it may help. Any rest is better than no rest. However, a nap does not resolve systemic fatigue. Rest is a critical component to brain function and when there is not adequate rest or disrupted sleep cycles, the impact can be real and measurable.

Some scientists have described the behavior of research participants suffering from fatigue as displaying the same qualities as a person who is intoxicated. When you think about the critical nature of police officer decision making, fatigue can have catastrophic consequences.

The schedules of some police departments are not conducive to adequate rest. I remember working 12-hour shifts from 6 pm – 6 am and then having to be at traffic court by 9 am.  Sometimes court would run from 9 am – 12 pm and then I would have to go home, try and get some sleep, and be back for my shift at 6 pm.

This schedule significantly impacted both my mood and my job performance.  Other times, I would work 6 pm – 6 am and be informed from a supervisor that a day shifter had called in sick and they needed me to cover the shift until 10 am or noon.  This would make for some long hours awake and, thinking back, it severely impacted situational awareness, my decision making, and thus, my safety.

There is a reason truck drivers and airplane pilots are required (by law) to get a certain number of hours of sleep between shifts. Yet, police officers have no such requirement. Police Officers are expected to make high-risk, split-second decisions that could possibly take someone’s life and we aren’t required to have a certain number of hours of sleep between shifts.  I believe this is something we need to work on changing.

Police officers may believe if they feel physically rested, they are mentally rested. When the body rests, physically, the brain does not rest. In fact, the brain is surprisingly active while the body is resting, suggesting the body rests so the brain may have access to the glucose (energy) to do its heavy lifting. And what is the brain doing while you sleep? The research of neuroscientists tells us our brains are sorting through all the data from our previous waking period, cataloging the events into memory for future use. Hence, fatigue can not only impact short-term performance and memory, it can also impact long-term recall.

Got a perplexing problem? Sleeping on it really does help! 

KEY TAKEAWAY

Police officers who work long hours should be provided with opportunities to rest their brains. It’s not a matter of being lazy as some uninformed people may suggest. It’s a matter of personal safety and quality of care to the citizens they serve.  Ask yourself who you would want taking care of your community, a well-rested police officer or one that is mentally fatigued?

Everyday life:

Sleep is very important in our lives.  Think of the last time you didn’t get enough sleep.  How did this affect you?  Find some time in your busy schedule to wind down and get some rest.  Try to avoid watching TV at night and instead read a book or listen to soft music before bedtime.

Remember, the consequences of fatigue impacts you as well as others around you.

Discussions

  1. Discuss a time when your situational awareness and decision quality was impacted from being fatigued.
  2. Share some ideas about how to obtain adequate rest while working extended shifts.
  3. Share some tips for getting adequate rest when off-duty?

 

Written by:

Drew W. Moldenhauer, M.S, has 15 years of Law Enforcement experience with two police organizations in Minnesota. Some of the titles he has held in his tenure are Active Shooter Instructor, Use of Force Instructor, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Instructor and Field Training Officer. He is currently a full-time licensed police officer that works part-time with the City of Osseo Police Department. He holds a Master’s Degree of Science in Public Safety Executive Leadership from St. Cloud State University. He is a Certified Master Instructor for Situational Awareness Matters and has a passion for training his clients on this very important subject.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander.  His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.  He is the founder and CEO for Situational Awareness Matters, a teaching and consulting organization located in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He can be reached at [email protected]