Tuesday, December 4, 2012

“Invincible” and other myths.

There was a time in my career when I didn’t own a mourning band for my badge.  Cops getting killed were few and far between (in Minnesota at least)

I started working for a metropolitan area police department and was issued one after the death of an officer (in a surrounding metro area department). Still these happened far enough apart that I would lose the band and have to be issued a new one when an officer fell.

Before I sat down to write this I put on the band again.  It was right wear I left it last time I needed it a few months ago.

Another Officer was murdered in the line of duty.

Police officer fatally shot in ‘ambush’ in central Minn. town; suspect arrested

COLD SPRING, Minn. — A six-year police veteran described as a “hometown boy” has been shot to death in what authorities called an ambush killing.
Officer Tom Decker was responding to a report of a suicidal man late Thursday when he was shot twice after getting out of his squad car near an apartment behind a bar in downtown Cold Spring. He died at the scene.
Ryan Michael Larson, 34, of Cold Spring, was being held Friday on suspicion of second-degree murder. The county attorney’s office was considering criminal charges.
Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said his department got a call about 9 p.m. from Larson’s family members that he might be suicidal. Cold Spring police went to his home once and couldn’t raise anyone, then returned almost two hours later.
It was on the second trip that Decker was shot. He was wearing a bulletproof vest.
“It’s apparent to us the officer was ambushed at the scene,” said Drew Evans, assistant superintendent of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Police with dogs worked in an apparent search for a gun Friday near the site of the shooting in Cold Spring, about 20 miles southwest of St. Cloud. Brian Moen, who lives about a block from the bar, said officers who came to his door told him they were looking for a sawed-off shotgun.
Cold Springs Police Chief Phil Jones described Decker as a “chief’s dream.” Jones said Decker grew up on a farm south of town, and after graduating from college, worked at several small Minnesota police departments before coming home for what he called his dream job.
“He was a hometown boy,” Jones said.
He described Decker as the “department jokester” on a force with only eight full-time officers. Decker served as the department’s instructor on firearms and use of force.
“Not only did I have no problems with him, but he was the type of officer who accumulated six letters of appreciation and commendation in six years with us,” Jones said. “We lost an officer, the community lost a citizen.”
Decker leaves behind a wife and four children from a previous marriage — two daughters ages 8 and 7 and two sons ages 6 and 5.
Joe Decker, his younger brother, told The Associated Press that Tom Decker loved to travel and be outdoors. Joe Decker said his brother was shy and reserved as a youngster but became outgoing and gregarious as an adult.
“He was one of those people who’d be the life of the party,” Joe Decker said.
His mother, Rosella Decker, told the Star Tribune that the family knew Tom’s profession was dangerous.
“He had a lot of little close calls, and he would tell me about them afterward,” she told the newspaper.
Larson had drawn police attention before in the community of about 4,000, mostly for traffic-related offenses but once in an abuse case.
In 2009, he reached a plea agreement to settle a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge for engaging in behavior that could “arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others.” As part of the plea deal, he served a day in jail and had another three months stayed, but he agreed to undergo domestic abuse counseling. A no-contact order was issued. Court files indicated he violated his probation in 2010.
Civil court records show Larson was sued more than once over outstanding debt and was evicted from a rental property in 2008 for failing to pay his rent.
Larson’s relatives either couldn’t be reached or declined to comment. One said she wasn’t sure whether Larson had an attorney.
Larson is a second-year machine tool student at St. Cloud Technical & Community College, said Heidi Everett, a spokeswoman for St. Cloud Technical & Community College.
Condolences came from fellow police officers in other Minnesota departments and from elected officials, including Gov. Mark Dayton.
“Cold Springs Police Officer Tom Decker was senselessly murdered last night, while acting in the line of duty,” the governor said. “On behalf of the people of Minnesota, I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and to the Cold Springs Police Department for their tragic loss of an outstanding officer, father and friend. Officer Decker died, while protecting his fellow citizens. For his heroism, we will be forever grateful.”
Associated Press writers Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn., and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

I have posted after action reviews of use of force incidents on this blog several times.
I always start with a standard disclaimer:
  • I don’t second guess Officers from the safety of my key board miles and hours away from the threat
  • I was not there
  • The only information available at this time is from the media (take with salt)

I usually end the disclaimer with something like:
  • I post this here not to judge but so that we all can learn something from the incident.

After some hard retrospection I have to call bullshit on myself with that last one.
It is true I post incidents like this so we all can learn something from the incident.  However, while not being critical, deep down I think all Operators are looking for something to judge.

A friend of my wife’s commented recently that I am an aging cop with a narcissistic personality disorder.
What?, Me?, the only disorder I suffer from is an acute case of awesomeness.

All kidding aside if I didn’t have that cocky swagger, I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I have done and survived.  Because I have survived the things I have done I have a cocky swagger.

All Operators want to be “Invincible” so I have to admit I am looking for something that the Officer did, or a negative quality he possessed.  Something I would never do, something I would never be that would ensure that the circumstances that killed some else doing the exact same job I do would never kill me.

Never second guessing, but a voice in the back of my head whispers, that guy was fat, she can’t shoot, this guy’s tactics suck.  They died, I’d be fine.  I’m Kasey Fucking Keckeisen.  I’m kind of a big deal. (Narcissistic?)

Officer Decker was young (younger than me)
Officer Decker was fit
Officer Decker was his department’s firearms instructor (just like me)
Officer Decker was his department’s DT instructor (just like me)
Officer Decker walked up to the door on a check the welfare call (just like I have done 100’s of times)
Officer Decker was ambushed and assassinated.

So standard after action review disclaimer:
I don’t second guess Officers from the safety of my key board miles and hours away from the threat
I was not there
The only information available at this time is from the media (take with salt)
I post this here not to judge but so that we all can learn something from the incident.

There is no secret flaw to find comfort in.  Nothing I can point at and say I would never do that, but we can all learn from his fatal mistake.

So what can we learn from this?
How do you go on calls like this knowing that even the best of us can fall?

Open ended question really.  No good answers that I can provide.

Basically you go on those calls because someone has to go on those calls.

Chance favors the prepared mind.  Do every thing you can to be the best there is at what you do ahead of time.  Assume you will have to use the highest levels of force on every encounter and be pleasantly surprised when you don’t.

I don’t mean treat a lift assist like a hostage rescue operation.  Remember the lessons of the werewolf.  Hide this readiness and willingness to use force from the people you are helping until you need to show it.  But always have that readiness and willingness to use force, always assume you will have to use the highest levels of force on every encounter and be pleasantly surprised when you don’t.  The other way around is very hard to recover from.

Even with all of that sometimes even the best of us fall.

Chance favors the prepared mind.  Despite the officer friendly, community policing, social worker in body armor many would like law enforcement to be, it is still and will always be a warrior’s profession.

As such you risk death every shift. 
Are you ready?  Do you have your shit together?  Will your family be taken care of financially if you die?  Are you cool with your loved ones?  Are you good with your God if you have one?

If you answered no to any of the above, get your shit together.  Get your life insurance ironed out.  Hug the loved ones you live with before you leave for work, it might be the last time you do.  Do you really want to argue with your spouse about the pile of dishes in the sink?  Do you want your last word to your spouse to be do the fucking laundry? 

Do what you need to do to be good with the people you love. 
If you have religious beliefs do what you need to do to be good with your God.
Not only in the case of your death, but in taking the life of someone else as well.

You have a warrior’s profession and as such death is reality of your job.  Even the best of us can fall.  None of us are invincible (even the cocky ones that have their own blogs).  However, ironically, being ready to die (for lack of a more eloquent term) increases your chances of living. 

Having your shit together lessens the likelihood of freezing in conflict and greatly diminishes the length of a freeze.  Having your shit together, being prepared for death increases your quality of life.  (Don’t sweat the small stuff)

"For those who have fought for it, life has a special flavor the protected will never know"
A few words written by an anonymous Marine, taken from a now famous combat ration box in Vietnam

I remember a great story I read in a book called “Tales of the Samurai” given to me by Tom Moore Sensei.

The story was about a samurai that received a post protecting a Daimyo.  A political appointment as this samurai had very little training.  The samurai was terrified that he would fail his lord so he sought out a sword master and told him his situation.  The master made him tie a sword above his bed by a slim string and fall asleep every night knowing he could die at any moment.  After a certain time the samurai went to the master asking to be instructed in technique.  The master drew his sword and slashed.  The samurai no longer afraid of death simply moved out of the way.  The master wrote out the samurai’s certificate of mastery on the spot.  He said something along the lines of (and I wish I remember this exactly) you know how to die, come back tomorrow and I will teach you the sword.

Paraphrasing – having your shit together is more important to a warrior than any tactic or technique because it allows you to employ those tactics and techniques.  Skill in technique you are unable to do because you are unprepared to die is worthless

Tecumseh wrote:
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. 

Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.

Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

You go on those calls because someone has to.  God bless you for it, and bless the families that support you

None of us are invincible, even the best of us fall

My heart goes out to the family of Officer Decker one of the best of us

Train hard, Train smart, Be safe

Even though this a solemn occasion, it wouldn’t be the budo blog with out some sort of pop culture reference.  So even though this comes from a science fiction / horror television show Dean makes some good points about “having your shit together” at the funeral of a friend.

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