The Will to Fight
September 24, 2010
Ability is just one ingredient to prevailing on the street.
Department short of funds? You need to be willing to get additional training on your own to stay in top form.
A large number of officers working the streets these days were not even born when actor John Wayne died. The star of many great motion pictures and a true American icon, Wayne's last film, "The Shootist" was far and away my favorite. It's a poignant story of an aging gunfighter wanting to be left alone to die of cancer, and it mirrored Wayne's own real life story.
What appeals to me about the movie is the insight displayed as to how a gunfighter thought. In one scene, a young stable boy named Gillom, played by Ron Howard, displays shooting ability on par with the gunman and asks: "How have you killed so many men? I nearly tied you shooting."
Wayne's answer is one of the best lines ever written in a film and probably one of the truest statements ever made in regard to armed conflict, "Friend, there's nobody out there shooting back at you! It isn't being fast or even accurate that counts--it's being willing! I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren't willing. They'll blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger, and I won't!"
Buried in these words is the true secret to prevailing in--not just surviving--a gunfight. It's being willing to fight in the first place.
Over my three decades in law enforcement, I've known many men and women who were willing and displayed this willingness time and again; some even ached for the chance to fight, which I found to be a bit disconcerting at times as these officers would get you mixed up in a fray whether you wanted one or not.
At the same time, I knew officers who were not willing, and they scared me to death. I knew that if something happened, I could not count on them to watch my back. In once instance, I was involved in a pretty serious fight with an intoxicated man while the officer who was with me just ran around in circles screaming for help on the radio.
After the situation stabilized and I stood there in my shredded uniform with bloody hands, I asked her what she was doing. "Well," she said "I thought you were doing okay, so I called for help." Gee, thanks.
The fact is, willingness means more than just being willing to fight or shoot if the time comes. It also means that you might have to seek out and attend training at your own expense.
Recently I taught a High Intensity Pistol course that was supposed to be full. Then several police agencies removed their financial support due to shrinking budgets and the struggling economy, thus the officers who were enrolled backed out at the last minute.
Several officers told the class's host, "If the department isn't paying, I'm not going." One officer even used the lame excuse: "What if I am hurt attending a course on my own time? I wouldn't get workmen's comp."
Wrong attitude, folks, and I'll tell you why. When the time comes that you face an armed opponent who is trying to take your life, it is likely that your chief, sheriff, command staff or supervisor will be someplace else other than in the dark alley where you're fighting for your life.
This is not an agency problem; it is your problem as you willingly took this job and put yourself in harm's way. Sure, the agency has an obligation to train you, but it will never be enough. It is up to each and every one of us to make sure we are ready. Don't agree? It's your life.
It also means being willing to buy your own equipment if what you are issued does not work or fit you properly. When I was the training supervisor for my agency, I had a young female officer who was carrying the issued Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol in the issued high-rise holster. Because this young lady was shapely, she wore her gun forward of her hip at an odd angle and when she drew it during a range drill, she drove the hammer spur into her breast.
Tears welled up in her eyes from the pain, and I explained that she would be better served with a holster that rode lower on her belt--to which she responded: "Screw that. If the department doesn't buy it, I ain't carrying it!" If you won't help yourself, nobody else is going to help you.
It means being willing to stay abreast of new information, tactics and techniques that become available. I once had a deputy who followed me on duty in the same beat, and when I tried to brief him on what had occurred while I was on duty, he would hold up his hand and say: "I don't care what you did. Go away."
If there was an armed robbery with a suspect description, he didn't care. If a murderer or rapist was at large in our beat, he didn't care. If someone had tried to kill a cop, he didn't care. I guess he didn't care about his own safety either because he never was concerned about these potential threats to his well-being.
This same officer was never interested in learning about new issue equipment, either. His response was always, "I'll figure it out when the time comes." It's hard to believe people like this make it through the hiring process and the police academy, but they do all the time.
The fact is, it takes a great deal of willingness to enter law enforcement in this day and age as the restrictions placed on young officers by the courts and their own agencies just boggles my mind. No longer is the use of force measured by the reasonableness of the act; it is now judged by how minimal in force the act was.
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has established reasonableness of the action as the standard, agencies and special interest groups have watered down this standard to the point where many officers are afraid to confront criminals.
It takes a very strong chief or sheriff who is willing to stand up to such groups in order to save an officer from the anguish that a legal use of force may bring him and his loved ones.
We still have such individuals who are willing to do what is needed to keep the streets safe, and I am very glad we have these brave individuals. To those of you who wear the badge and aren't willing to do what is needed, please go somewhere else. We don't want or need you.