March 4, 2015

“Doing whatever it takes to get home each day” was the answer given by the wily veteran in the back of the room when asked, “Can you provide an example of Officer Safety?” I heard his response as a three-year officer, and it stuck with me throughout my career. His message was loud and clear. Avoid being placed on a stainless steal table at the county coroner’s office by any means necessary—even if it requires being unorthodox.

“Whatever it takes” is usually found in the Use of Force section of the policy manual described as, “other reasonable force required to overcome resistance or affect an arrest.” If your General Orders do not have wording to that effect, I would strongly suggest revising it, otherwise unorthodox could be defined as illegal by an aggressive civil rights attorney.

As a six-year veteran and SWAT officer, I participated in a high-risk search warrant service. While the justification for the warrant was aimed at a heroin trafficker known-to-be-armed, we also had reason to believe a suspect for attempted murder could be hiding in the home.

We made a dynamic entry that included various SWAT tactics. As we cleared the house, I found myself partnered with two guys carrying H&K MP5’s. I carried a shotgun loaded with “shock locks.” They were used at the time to breech deadbolt door locks and such. We confronted a hostile combatant in the kitchen. He charged and tried to forge through in his effort to escape. Since we each had a shoulder weapon, we were unable to effectively fight the guy with two hands. (This was also before Tasers were commonplace.)

After using one arm to keep him at bay, the crook surprisingly grabbed the pistol grip and barrel to the MP5 carried by my partner. The response was a butt-stroke across the forehead to get him to release his grasp. The blow to the head momentarily stunned him, allowing time to shoulder my weapon and place him in handcuffs. The alternative could have been deadly force, but this option worked fine and preserved his life. But it was clearly unorthodox.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” or so the hallway philosophers spout. In this case, it was true as the perp who had his life spared filed a civil suit.

In preparation for the  lawsuit, an attorney for the department interviewed me. “Why did you guys butt-stroke the plaintiff?” he asked.

“Because sometimes we are required to do whatever it takes to stay alive,” was my reply,  “and the alternative was deadly force, so this seemed to be the best option.”

“Bingo, you nailed it,” said my attorney. “Glad to see you are thinking in those terms.”

That was many years ago. I now watch from the sidelines in a coaching capacity while you do your job—and you do it well. I understand that discouragement has filled the ranks as recent surveys indicate more than 80% of today’s officers would encourage sons and daughters to pursue another vocation. That is unfortunate because we need men and women of character in the business.

Regardless of the blather making headlines, be certain the grandstands are filled with people who root for your effort and hope you do Whatever It Takes to get home each day—even if it’s unconventional.

Jim McNeff is managing editor of Law Enforcement Today where he has worked since 2016. Previous to this he served in law enforcement for thirty-one years. He retired as a police lieutenant after twenty-eight years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California. Prior to that he served the 3902 Security Police Squadron in the United States Air Force, assigned to the 1st Air Command and Control Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

Jim holds a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) course, Leadership in Police Organizations. He authored The Spirit behind Badge 145 (WestBow Press, 2013) and Justice Revealed (CrossLink Publishing, 2016). He has been married to his wife Jamie since 1983. They have three adult children and three grandchildren.

You can contact him at [email protected] or view his website badge145.com which is geared toward encouraging officers.