Fear is an understandable human emotion when faced with danger. Of course there are different forms of danger out there. Unfortunately our bodies tend to be wired for the imminent danger of being gobbled up by a Sabertooth Tiger and biologically we are predisposed to the “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response. This flooding of chemicals and hormones into our system is great when we need to run away from a predator or fight off a fellow caveman for scarce resources. It isn’t great when this biological response causes us to literally become dumber. There is lots of research out there regarding the effects of stress hormones and adrenaline on cognitive functions. What does this mean for law enforcement?
Animals Wearing People Costumes…
It’s probably not a popular opinion, but the reality is, we aren’t that far evolved from our caveman ancestors. When threatened we tend to lash out with violence, run away or just freeze. It doesn’t matter what your education level is, your socioeconomic status, your race or religion. We are all human and are hard-wired to react the EXACT same way our ancestors were 10,000 years ago. The problem is that Society has evolved, but human beings have not. Society says when somebody cuts you off in traffic, you should take a deep breath and forgive the other person with divine understanding. The caveman says, “Fuck THAT shit, I’m going to kick his ass!” Society says that you get to go to jail afterwards because instead of acting like a fully thinking and rational human being, you succumbed to the caveman and acted like a damn animal wearing a person costume.
How much of law enforcement’s interactions with the public is nothing more than a people acting like a caveman? How many truly bad people do the police arrest? In my personal experience it is actually very few. The reality is cops arrest PEOPLE. People who reacted inappropriately to something they found threatening or upsetting. People who failed to act in a manner that society says they should. Laws are written to govern behavior. This is the behavior we all expect of each other in order to maintain a functional society. If people stopped following the rules and started doing whatever they wanted, society wouldn’t last very long. This is where the police, corrections, dispatchers, court systems and emergency medical services come in. It is the duty of these professionals to try to hold the fabric of society together whether the people want it or not.
Fear in law enforcement …Why we TRAIN
Many people seem to believe that becoming a cop somehow bestows upon the recipient some divine level of skill at firearms, supreme self-control, a Psychologist’s communication skills, the martial arts prowess of Bruce Lee and somehow circumvents the normal autonomic responses to fear and stress. I’m sorry to tell you, but that is simply NOT TRUE. Cops are still just people, the same as everyone else. When faced with danger and stress the cop or corrections officer’s instinct is the same as everyone else’s. To club the danger over the head with a rock ad drag it away from your cave. Obviously as already stated this doesn’t jive well with how society and the law expect cops to behave. So how do you counter this ingrained response to danger? You TRAIN.
Training is a way to condition your brain to behave a particular way when suddenly faced with that life and death situation or other acute stresses faced by criminal justice professionals every day. Sports teams, Soldiers and Cops have been studying the psychology of stress and performance for a long time. This is where I reiterate yet again how important it is to read On Combat by Col Dave Grossman so that you begin to understand the effect of training on fear, stress and performance…and it convinces you to constantly seek training outside of the minimum amount of training your department will provide.
Training gives your brain a set of responses that are different from the everyday “natural” response to stress. In spite of what the racists, anarchists and zealots would have you believe, most “bad shoots” involving law enforcement aren’t because of racism or a pathological need to murder everyone around them. Bad shoots or inappropriate use of force is usually because the officer behaved in a way that any other citizen would behave instead of how they were trained OR failed to read the situation correctly and used too much or too little force.
Training in things like Defensive Tactics and Firearms are perishable skills and the lower your current level of proficiency is, the greater your fear in a situation will be.
Science has already proven the greater your fear (or physiological arousal), the less you are able to think in a calm and rational manner and more you will revert to “what comes natural”…which is acting like an animal. The higher your skill level and the more comfortable you are with interpersonal violence, the calmer you will be and the more likely you will be to use appropriate force for a given situation.
Cops are NOT as well trained as you would believe
Ask most people how much training the average cop gets in things like firearms and defensive tactics and you will hear a large variety of VERY inaccurate responses. After the academy, which provides just enough training for a very basic skill level, most officers will receive at best 8 HOURS of defensive tactics training a YEAR. There are a large number of departments that provide absolutely NO training after the academy. How much training does even a fairly low level martial artist receive? No Martial Artist who trained for 8 hours a year would EVER get a Black Belt. Firearms also varies wildly with everything from the department that qualifies once a year, to those who shoot as often as quarterly.
Fear is GREATER for the cop than for the criminal
Criminals enjoy a very special advantage over the police: Criminals have a purity of purpose that only THEY know about. Yes going to jail is a stressor. However the criminal knows what the cops purpose is….To take him/her to jail. The law enforcement officer has absolutely NO IDEA how any member of the public they come in contact with is going to behave. Cops have been killed by children, little old ladies, clean-cut businessmen and everything in between. The officer also has additional stressors, such as toxic and ineffective administration, skewed and uninformed public perception of his or her actions and fear of being sued or fired for making a bad call.
This is a very difficult situation since Overestimating or Underestimating the amount of danger can both lead to death…or making that bad call and end up getting fired, sued and or thrown in jail.
The answer should be obvious. Training, training, training…specifically in martial arts. Have you ever seen an Officer who is a Jiu-jitsu black belt deal with a difficult or combative individual? I’m not talking about that swaggering a-hole who THINKS he or she is a badass. I’m talking about that officer who remains calm and unphased in the face of threats and erratic behavior because he or she KNOWS what they are capable of and has significantly less fear than any other officer who relies on the department’s once a year training.
Disagree with my caveman example or have some comments? Please feel free to leave your feedback and don’t forget to Like and Share!
Also published on Medium.