What’s your “bad day” scenario? Have you ever thought about one? How does it start, where does it take place and what actions do you take to resolve it? When you think about that “bad day”, are you on duty or off duty?
If you’re not following, your “bad day” scenario is a fictitious incident that you’ve created in your mind which will require your official intervention as a police officer. Its very name – “bad day”, indicates that there is an element of danger involved to you or someone else. When you add the twist of being off duty, now we’re talking about a time when your focus may not be at its sharpest. The goal of this type of exercise is to prepare you to effectively respond to such an event, if it were to actually take place.
Action beats reaction. In other words, an assailant can quickly plan and initiate a violent act against someone before that person can perceive and react to it. Time is the key. When the violence begins, any delay on the part of the person to recognize what’s taking place and decide on a response will place him or her dangerously behind in the confrontation. Law enforcement officers can never afford to be behind and must reduce the time spent reacting to a threat that spontaneously presents itself. Two ways to reduce reaction time are: regular proficiency training and engaging in Tactical Performance Imagery, which is the mental rehearsal of a skill we will use or a situation that we will encounter.
Mentally Rehearsing Events Requiring a Tactical Response
If you are in the practice of mentally rehearsing events requiring a tactical response, as you drive through your assigned zone, good for you. If not, try it once. It doesn’t have to be overly elaborate or “worst case”. It could be something as simple as this: You envision conducting a traffic stop. Prior to your approach, you do a quick size up of the scene. Based on your size up, you pre-load a response in your mind to be triggered by an action you observe. In this case, let’s say you observe the violator turn toward you with what you perceive to be a weapon. Your pre-loaded response was to first move there…wherever there happens to be, followed by a trained response. Thinking about what you will do in advance, not only prepares you to overcome the all too typical “What the (heck)?” moment, but it will theoretically put your adversary behind the curve – your action now beating his reaction.
The second part of your pre-loaded scenario was the trained response, in this case, a smooth draw, target acquisition and decision to use force. Speed in your response is critical, but how do we gain speed? Speed is gained through proficiency, not just fast hand movement. Proficiency is achieved through regular practice involving multiple repetitions that are technically correct. Over time, familiarity and smooth technique will increase your speed. A respected colleague would tell me: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
Okay, so why the concern over mentally preparing for incidents occurring off duty? If you embrace the concept, it’s easy to envision typical patrol assignments that will be responded to over and over – traffic stops, open door alarm calls, suspicious persons, etc. and then create scenarios with outcomes based on training and experience gained from previous calls. Not so easy when the uniform comes off. Your mindset and awareness are just as important as when you are on the clock, and even more so, because you may not be able to predict when trouble will come. A lack of mental rehearsal and practice of tactical performance imagery in off-duty scenarios is made worse if you do not commit to training and equipping yourself to respond.
So What’s Your “Bad Day” Scenario?
So what’s your “bad day” scenario? Let’s pick one that most can believe – the convenience store. You’re off-duty and standing at the milk cooler when you hear the unmistakable sounds of a suspect demanding money from the clerk. No uniform, no duty belt, no radio. How have you prepared yourself for this moment and how are you currently equipped to provide a trained response?
Before you mentally work the above problem, here are a few points to ponder:
Do you possess the means to take action? In a perfect world, every law officer would see the need to be armed regardless of duty status. Unfortunately, a variety of factors may cause an individual to make personal decisions regarding when and where to carry. What factors would affect your decision? Would you weigh the risk of an incident occurring against the perceived “safety” of a location? Does your attire create difficulty in secure concealment? What about weapon choice? These are issues that can be resolved if you possess a preparation mindset.
Such a mindset helps you to understand that there is virtually no place in public that is safe from the risk of violence, and even if there were, you’d still have to make it safely to your destination in the first place. A preparation mindset considers how you’ll dress for an occasion and go about carrying your equipment in a way that’s easily accessible when needed, yet not likely to draw unwanted attention. With regard to weapon choice, I find it interesting that our duty firearms possess the ability for high powered, sustained combat, yet some officers elect to carry smaller caliber weapons with low ammunition capacity off duty, believing that somehow, the conflict will be over much quicker and require less number of rounds. Do you carry extra ammunition at all?
Planning for the worst also means planning for the less than worst.
Planning for the worst also means planning for the less than worst. Have you considered how you would respond to a situation that did not require lethal force? Did you allow for the carry of a less lethal option? What about a method of restraint? Again, attire and location will likely dictate how much equipment you carry, but picturing in your mind how a scenario will play out can help you to remember the smaller details through the conclusion of the incident. If your “bad day” scenario went down in a movie theater, would you find it necessary to have your issued tactical light?
As difficult as it may be to accept, the prepared officer also knows that he or she may be in the company of family when trouble comes calling. How have you accounted for them? Some officers have had the foresight to “train” family members on where to sit in restaurants, or what prearranged code word will signal the need for them to take cover or move away from the officer.
Now go ahead and work the convenience store scenario. Start with a simple set of circumstances – one actor, no visible weapon, no other patrons, etc. You have time to call 911, find cover and challenge the bad guy with the appropriate force option.
Now run through it again and begin to add problems (second bad guy, crowded store, etc.) Adding difficulty allows you to recognize how those factors will affect your response options, and what other equipment you may need to prepare for the real life version of your scenario. Once you have the convenience store figured out, come up with a new threat and a new location. These exercises will sharpen your focus, reduce your reaction time, and allow you to avoid complacency during the other two thirds of your day – your personal time.
Nothing in this article is intended to replace your agency’s existing policies and training. For complete guidance on proper procedures, please consult your agency commanders as well as local, state and federal guidelines.