1. You and your partners go home safely at the end of each and every shift

2.The criminal goes to jail

3. Liability free

The three golden rules, first written by Dep. Paul McRedmond of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, must be the basis of all officer training. The fact that they exist, that they are explicitly taught, and that they needed to be stated so clearly says something about the profession.

Rule #1: You and your partners go home safely at the end of each and every shift.

In most professions, staying alive and uninjured during the workday is more or less expected. Statistically, this is true for officers also. Most days, most go home fine. But some days, they don’t. They are paid to sometimes deal with less-than-fully-socialized people in volatile situations. Officers are expected to walk (or run) into places where people with more common sense are running away.

Rule #1 is a pipe dream. The only safe way to do the job is to NOT do the job. Some officers do use this strategy and get away with it. The essence of Rule #1 is not to make the job any riskier than it is. Don’t take stupid chances.

You might die, but you should never die because of your own stupidity or bravado. You should never get your partner killed because you couldn’t keep your ego in check. And you should never, ever, die in such a way that other agencies use it for training films.

A short list of things to remember:

  • You are not Superman and bullets do not bounce off you. This is one of the Hollywood Effects. By the time you join a police agency, you have watched thousands of hours of television. In the television world, being the good guy seems to magically protect you from serious injury. This isn’t true. We all know it isn’t true, but seeing it a thousand times can hit the brain at a very deep level and rookies often act like it is true.
  • Keep your ego in check. This is a job, not an identity. Criminals will try to bait you, or try to make you angry. If you lose control, they can manipulate the situation. It is your job to manipulate the situation. You have to do everything in your power to stay above the game, so that you can see and think clearly.
  • Never take it (almost anything) personally. You are going to be interacting with people on their worst days. They will be angry, frightened, and indignant. It’s not about you. If someone needs to get his sense of masculinity back by calling you names, stay cool. It’s better than if he gets it back by beating his wife or children, which might be his normal method.
  • Don’t get too excited to watch your back. This is a hard one to teach and a hard one to do. When the adrenaline hits, you will get tunnel vision and physically be unable to see things in your peripheral vision. Another factor is that attention is naturally drawn to the point of action or the greatest perceived threat. You will want to look at what is going on. Sometimes it will be your job to make sure no one comes up from behind. Even if it isn’t, make a conscious decision to look around and see if the situation has changed.
  • Do not compete with criminals. You do not have to show that you are more manly than a wife beater. You do not have to be more clever than a con man.
  • You are not alone. Long nights on solo patrol it is easy to forget that you are part of a team. You have a radio, use it.
  • More than that, not just in the day-to-day stuff but also in a serious crisis, you are not alone. Your agency has decades or centuries of experience to draw from. Never be afraid to ask for advice or guidance, or just tips on how to do a better job.
  • You have a radio for a reason. That ties into the above. Just add—don’t get lazy. Call in every stop. Just because the last three hundred stops went fine is no indication that the next one will. Someone needs to know where you are and what you are doing. You will use the radio far more than you will use any weapon or force option. Get good at it.
  • It is not a game. There is no ref, no time limit, and the stakes are higher than any game. Do not go into this thinking in contest terms. The job gets done. There is no “I’ll be the best cop I can, and he’ll be the best crook he can, and we’ll see who wins.” There is no ‘see who wins.’ You get the job done. You are not permitted to lose or draw. You have a responsibility to the citizens.
  • You don’t need to prove your masculinity. I think I’ve said this three different ways now. Sinking in?

You have a responsibility to keep yourself safe. You have a job to do and you cannot do it if you are dead or injured. A dead officer is not just a heroic or tragic icon, a dead officer is also a wasted resource.

The most succinctly I have ever heard this concept explained was at Combat Medic training at Fort Sam Houston. The instructors drilled a simple truth into our heads: A dead medic never saved anybody. This simple truth is just as true for officers.

An officer who gets himself killed or seriously injured becomes part of the problem. He can’t help anyone else. He can’t save the damsel in distress. Worse, the people needed to save the damsel now need to allocate resources to saving the stupid guy too.

When an officer gets killed in the line of duty training units and individual officers all over the country will try to find out what happened in as much detail as possible. Hoping to find out where the officer made a mistake. Mistakes can be fixed. Bad luck can’t.

Long ago, an officer and friend sent a message out into cyberspace. A friend of his had been killed. The friend was a good officer: fit, alert, well-trained, good judgment. Everything you would want in an officer and a partner. He had come around a corner and been shot in the face. Game over.

When an officer dies, we always hope it was a mistake, because we might be able to protect ourselves and our rookies from a mistake. Getting our heads blown off coming around a corner … not much you can do.

The Immutable Order for Hostage Rescue

The “Immutable Order” was originally codified for hostage rescue. It is a cold and logical assessment of who is more important—the officer, the hostage, the bystanders, or the threat. It is not about love or duty or nobility, but simply a cold look at goals and resources.

The operator (officer)’s safety comes first because the officer is needed to save the hostages. If the officer becomes a casualty, not only is he out of the equation but also every other operator, accessory, and piece of equipment needed to save him cannot help to save the hostages.

Second come the hostages. They are the reason for being there.

Third come the bystanders and civilians. Yes, they are important. Yes, they shouldn’t be hurt … but they also shouldn’t be there at all. They should be safely away. Unlike the hostages, the bystanders have a choice and have some responsibility if stray bullets or collapsing buildings come their way.

Lastly are the hostage takers. All life is precious and all that, but the bad guys (BG) created the situation. The primary job is making sure that no citizen dies for the BG’s anger, greed, or stupidity. If the only way to ensure that is with the death of the bad guy … sorry, pal. You should have made a different choice.

Putting the officer first seems cold and it is—but do the math.

The “Immutable Order” is not a statement of value. It is not saying that the life of the officer is more valuable than the lives of the hostages. It is the way the resources, goals, and obstacles must be prioritized in order to get the job done. If an officer in a hot patrol area really valued his own life over even random strangers, he wouldn’t be in this business.

Columbine School Shooting Response

At the Columbine School shooting, the first responding officers started to go in and were called back by cooler-headed administrators. They were told to do what policy said: Set up a perimeter and wait for the SWAT team. More children died while they waited.

There was a huge outcry from citizens, the media, politicians, and even the officers themselves. Doctrine was changed, and, almost nationwide, the current standard for an active shooter scenario is to go in, immediately, with the first four officers on the scene. (This is changing too, and some agencies are experimenting with going in with the first officer or first pair on the scene.)

Everyone involved felt like they were doing the right thing: The first officers followed their instincts—very little hits you harder at a gut level than someone killing kids. The administrators who called them back were doing what they had trained, and what they had been taught was the best solution. The citizens and politicians and media were rightly outraged, and demanded change, and they got it.

But I have trained this scenario a lot—usually playing the bad guy. Every time, EVERY TIME, all of the responding officers die and I am free to go back to shooting kids. But it’s policy now, and that makes it officially the right thing to do.

This example isn’t about politics, or who is right or who is wrong.  It is about something you will see everyday on the job—screwed-up situations where every last person involved is trying to do the right thing.  I’ve trained this scenario.  I know officers die. But in my heart, I’m with the first group of officers who went in anyway.