I never wanted to be a cop. It’s a lot of thankless work. When I was growing up the police were, while not quite the enemy, at least an adversary. I remember shaking my head as I saw the police in my home suburb militarize. I grew up in a neighborhood that barely qualified as a melting pot. There was some low-income housing close by, and many of the children who lived there attended school with me. The rest of the students were privileged upper middle class. I failed to see the need for the tech and gadgets that the local Police Department was investing in. I saw my peers get up to a little trouble, but for the most part the crimes being perpetrated by my fellows did not warrant military response. There was some gang activity in the area, but not much, and most of the violence I encountered as a result of that was in the schools, and was handled by administration and school resource officers, not beat cops.
I never felt like the police in my hometown were there to support me. I never felt like the police in my town were there to look out for me or my well being. For my own safety, I felt a need to learn my rights, and how to interact with Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) of all kinds.
Two weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a police training in New Mexico. The course was designed to introduce LEOs to the basics of tracking and tactical movement and response. The course was built around chasing armed suspects through rough terrain while ensuring the safety of the tracking team by applying the basics of tactical movement. Abe and I were asked to be rabbits, that is, we were the suspects, sometimes armed. We would run off into the woods and the team would follow our track until they encountered us, and we would either comply and they would make an arrest or we would be non-compliant and we would open fire on the teams.
I learned a lot about just how difficult it is to deal with well trained and coordinated teams of armed individuals. All I could do was prolong the chase and fight; there was very little I could do to effectively maneuver against six or seven people. That was an eye opening experience, and I was brought down in a hail of bullets on more than one occasion. The firefights lasted between a half a second and two minutes depending on how far and how fast I moved and how well I concealed my position.
During my few days as a rabbit, I got to know a few of the cops a little bit. They were good men and women who had volunteered to do a job that I would never want. Growing up, I had always wondered why the police I had known and encountered had been so quick to make villains out of not just me, but also the communities that they encountered and worked with on a daily basis. But acting as an armed suspect explained a lot of this to me. First of all, it is very hard to tell who is going to make a stupid decision and when. These men and women work with people who make stupid decisions everyday. They have to be on their guard. They told me more than one story about responding to incidents and having to use their sidearms to defend themselves. Most of us live in a reality where the thought of using a gun to defend ourselves is foreign, even gun owners and collectors like myself. These folks live with it constantly. Their firearms are their last line of defense against the juggernaut of human stupidity. They need them, especially since large portions of the population are placing the responsibility for their defense in the hands of their local police. Their guns carry the weight of responsibility for defending more than their own lives, and their mindset must reflect that.
We, speaking as a member of the sheltered masses, are quick to pass judgement on how we would like our local police to behave, but the reality is that their behavior is a necessity for their own survival. Through hyper-vigilance and constant suspicion, these people do the job that most of us could never dream of. And they are faced with daily realities that very few of the privileged rest of us can comprehend. I caught a glimpse into what it means to be a police officer and I would never want that job, but I am very glad that folks like the ones I encountered are willing to walk the line.
Ideally, we as a community could work to make the world a better place for ourselves and our LEOs. In reality, they need skills that most of us would never dream of using for their very survival. It is very possible that the skills that we helped these officers to learn could mean the difference between life and death for them. I have walked away from the experience with a new appreciation for exactly how sheltered my life is, and an appreciation for those who are willing to risk their lives to do a necessary job.