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Columns by Craig Smith

Semper Paratus:
Attack Readiness

By Craig Smith
of the three. While skill is always comparative, depending on the relative natural abilities and training of the combatants, and luck is beyond our control (with the exception of "the harder I work, the luckier I get"), the element that is always within one's control is "readiness".

During my years on the job, as well as years of "extra-curricular" activities both before and after, I had occasion to both participate in and witness a great number of confrontations. Without a doubt, the element that proves the most decisive in the entire range of confrontations is that of readiness.

Readiness, in this context, is much more than just a passive understanding that violence can erupt. It is more than carrying the proper equipment to deal with violence. It is more than having received training in techniques to respond to violence. In order to be operationally effective, readiness must include an active anticipation of violence - almost an eagerness for it to start.

No doubt this will raise the hackles on those, both in and out of law enforcement, who prefer to maintain a pacific view of social interaction - the citizen who refuses to accept the need for a use of force under any circumstances (read, "Reasonable people should be able to talk things out".), and the law enforcement official who is proud to say they have never drawn their gun in all their years of service (read, "I'd really rather work the day shift, sir, and in the office if possible".). The first group have never been attacked. The second group never worked a district close to mine. However, I am not talking about a pleasurable desire for violence - rather, a simple assumption that an attack will soon commence, and a positive anticipation of it.

Readiness is a mental state which manifests itself in physical preparation and positioning. It begins when one first becomes aware of a potential conflict, and should end only when the conflict has been resolved with no possibility of resumption. Readiness can mean the difference between success and failure in responding to an attack, or whether or not an attack even occurs. In essence, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Conflict is inevitable whenever two personalities come together. In normal situations, conflict is resolved through compromise, disengagement, or the submission of one person's will to the will of another. However, conflict rises proportionately with the strength of the wills (or "won'ts") involved, the determination on the parts of the individuals to succeed in maintaining their life and freedom of self-determination, and the seriousness of the personal threat perceived as a possible result of the conflict. In the case of police/ suspect/subject interactions, those elements are often running in the red zone, and conflict can explode.

I recently watched a police defensive tactics seminar in which officers were being trained how to defend against such things as club and knife attacks. In the safety and comfort of the well lighted gymnasium, the officers deftly executed the intricate movements they were taught, successfully defending against the attacks being launched in slow motion by their friendly and cooperative compadres, and bringing those very same compadres to control and cuffing positions with one hand while taking the weapon from them with the other. I have no doubt that some of the officers enjoyed the training, as it got them away from their regular duties for a few hours. And I have no doubt that whatever organization ran the training benefitted greatly from it, especially financially. However, to anyone who tries to use these Steven Segal-type moves in real life, I can only say that I hope their widow marries someone who will treat their kids right.

Readiness is not a matter of waiting for an attack to be launched, and then responding to it in its full delivery. Rather, it is anticipating an attack and aggressively responding to its first manifestation before its full force is developed and delivered. It is much like a baseball hitter. Those who wait for the ball to be on its way to the plate before they start to react are usually poor hitters - they miss a lot, and when they do hit, they usually hit weakly and to the opposite field. Good hitters know that the pitcher's wind-up means the ball will soon be coming toward them. They begin to shift their weight forward even before the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. If the pitch is a good one, they can continue their swing and get power behind it. If the pitch is bad, they do not need to swing.

So it is with attack readiness. Each position and each movement of a subject relative to you should be seen as the potential launch of an attack. Each step, each movement of a hand, arm or foot, each movement of the shoulders, head or eyes, each shift of weight sends a signal as to attitude, intent and readiness.

I am very surprised by many of the officers I see in the field. Many times I see officers turn their back on subjects, allow subjects to move close to them, reach their arms into cars containing occupants, stand with their gun side toward a subject or subjects, or place themselves in all manner of positions from which it would be all but impossible to respond aggressively to an attack. Studies bear out my observations. Videotapes and interviews of officer attacks indicate that an alarming number of officers fail to recognize and respond to attacks in the controlled, aggressive manner required to maximize the officer's chance of success and survival. The reason for this is open to debate. However, I believe that, at the core, there is a basic feeling on many officers' parts that an attack will never be directed at them.

This form of denial is dangerous, and can be deadly. The fact of the matter is that attacks against police officers can and do occur. And when they do, they are rarely pleasant, rarely carried out in well lighted, comfortable surroundings, rarely executed in slow motion by helpful compadres, and rarely according to any specific training exercise you may have worked on. Instead, most attacks occur when you are alone in dimly lit surroundings, are executed fast and furious with numerous strikes, grabs and weapons-at-hand, and often with the subject's cohorts in closer proximity than your own. Immediate and effective response is imperative to ensure the officer's survival.

You are going to be attacked. The only question is when and by whom. Be ready. Always ready.

Law enforcement can be a dangerous business. Depending on assignment, a person in law enforcement can deal with more violent, personal threat and attack situations in a single day than many people will be exposed to in a lifetime. The outcome can depend on skill, temperament, luck or a combination