When you put on the uniform and drive your patrol car out of the parking lot, you have no idea of what you will encounter on that shift. With a touch of good luck, the shift will be uneventful with little paperwork and a full meal break. However, things may be much worse than that.
With terrorism, assassinations of law enforcement officers and political unrest, the job of law enforcement is becoming more and more dangerous all the time.
So, here are five things that I have found can save your life. None of them should cost you a dime, but all will help you make it through the shift no matter what you might encounter.
This should be a no brainer, but the reality is many people struggle with their level of fitness. Unfortunately, law enforcement is one of those jobs where being physically fit is an absolute necessity.
Not only do you have to carry around a lot of gear, chase suspects and climb obstacles, you may, at any time, be called upon to defend yourself against a violent subject.
I come from a pre-Taser era when suspects were not easily restrained by remote control. Too many modern officers rely on the Taser and have no back up plan for its failure.
You must be strong to overcome an attack, and you must have the stamina to fight long enough to allow back up to get to you. A failure here can result in your death.
Additionally, many officers die from coronary disease or other medical conditions that can often be controlled through physical fitness. That life threatening attack on you may not be an assault. Rather it may just be a heart attack.
Physical fitness is just part of your overall well being. The other component is mental fitness. If you are distracted, emotionally distraught or even suicidal, you cannot do your job effectively and are a potential threat to your own survival.
On one end of the spectrum, simple distractions – be it an argument with your spouse before you left the house or your iPhone – can keep you from spotting pre-attack indicators of violence.
At the other end of the mental impairment continuum are serious psychological problems. Maybe you are suicidal or have a drinking problem. The job or your personal life has gotten to be too much and now you are doing, or are thinking about doing, something harmful.
There is no shame in admitting the job has taken a toll on you. In my career I saw many things that no one should ever have to. Yet, I did my job the best I could and helped people who needed assistance.
But dealing with violence, hate and death daily really worked a number on me. It wasn’t until I got out of law enforcement that I realized what an impact year after year of that environment had on my mental well being. I had changed.
If you ever feel like the job is too much, you need a drink to get through the day or you feel like there is no way out, please – ask for help. Someone in your department should be designated as a contact point for whatever level of help you need.
If you feel really pushed against the wall, and don’t feel like you can reach out to anyone in the department – or may not make it until you see them – you can also talk to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by clicking here or calling 1-800-273-8255.
The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can begin to feel good again.
Hand in hand with mental fitness is sleep. Too many of us are burning the candles at both ends – trying to make enough money to ensure the family is cared for. When you add in court time and household chores like mowing the lawn, its a wonder any of us get enough sleep.
Yet, sleep is exceptionally important. Without regular, uninterrupted sleep, we get irritable, make poor decisions and skip other important activities like working out.
According to some of the information compiled by the Force Science Institute:
- Getting less than six hours of sleep each night can lead to obesity, chronic fatigue, diabetes and heart disease. None of these are good for you in law enforcement and can lead to an early grave.
- Sleep loss impairs portions of the brain responsible for controlling behavior and making complex decisions. Both of these are critical to your job and staying alive.
Try to get at least six hours of sleep before each shift. Eight hours is even better. Working nights makes this harder than working days, but blacking out your windows, turning the air conditioning to a cooler setting and avoiding stimulants like caffeine can help.
Body Armor Use
Possibly the single greatest tool ever developed for police officers is the ballistic vest. Concealable body armor has saved thousands of officers. Safariland, just one of several police body armor manufacturers, has identified more than 1,950 officers’ lives saved alone.
At the time of this writing, the number of police officers killed by firearms has increased substantially this year as compared to the previous one. Even so, there are many police officers who choose not to wear a vest for a myriad of reasons.
Don’t be one of those officers who winds up on the memorial in Washington D.C. because you thought body armor was too uncomfortable to wear. Commit to wearing your body armor and encourage your peers to do the same.
Just like body armor has saved thousands of officers, so has the seat belt. Vehicle accidents are, and have been for a while, one of the top causes of death for police officers. Many times the officers could have survived simply by having a seatbelt on.
Yes, having a seatbelt on makes it harder to jump out of your car quickly. As silly as this sounds, practice taking your seatbelt off quickly if you think you are a bit slow. Better to practice a simple activity and become very fast at it than not wear your seat belt and lose your life in an accident.
Written by Richard Johnson