In September of 2005, Newtown Borough, Pennsylvania, Police Officer Brian Gregg was shot and killed by an assailant when the suspect disarmed his partner of his duty weapon. The suspect also shot Gregg’s partner, wounding him in the chest, and then fled the scene. This assault on two law enforcement officers occurred in the emergency room of a quiet suburban Philadelphia hospital. The suspect was brought to the ER for what some would call a “routine” blood test for a suspected DUI arrest. The suspect was caught a short time later by a local SWAT team while he was hiding in the parking garage of the hospital. He was later tried, sentenced, and currently sits on death row waiting for the call.
This tragedy should be a reminder to all officers to keep an ever-ready mindset while performing their duties, whether they are sipping coffee at the convenience store during a slow moment on the graveyard shift or pulling over a suspect vehicle that was taken in a carjacking. When I began a new assignment as an instructor at the Philadelphia Police Academy, I was pleased to learn of a technique implemented for recruits to start these young men and women thinking about the warrior mentality they will need for their new profession.
It is a simple method for each recruit: wearing a red sweatband around the wrist of his or her dominant hand, or “strong” hand, that they use for a handgun. From an early start of the police training, this instills a good habit of carrying their backpack or gear bag with their “weak,” non-dominant hand. This goes across the board for other tasks, too, such as opening doors and holding a drink. The idea is for our recruits to carry on these good practices when they start their assignments in patrol. When they approach that 3:00am car stop carrying their flashlight in their weak hand, their gun hand will be free or placed on the holstered weapon—primed to react to any threat.
When I was in the Academy, now almost 20 years ago, we did not wear wristbands like this. To learn this valuable lesson, I had to be corrected as a rookie by an old-timer, who was breaking me in on street operations. This veteran cop watched me exit the coffee shop one cold night holding on to a hot cup of coffee and said in a slightly scolding tone, “What are you doing, kid?”
I replied, “Drinking a coffee.”
He proceeded to tell me that if a confrontation occurs and I needed my sidearm, quick, fast and in a hurry, that drink I was holding with my gun hand might slow me down just a second too long. That hesitation may cause me to lose the fight or fail to effectively respond to the threat. “Keep that gun hand free whenever you can,” he said.
Is it being a little paranoid? Well, to a certain degree you need to be a little paranoid in police work, because the simple fact of life for cops is that there are people in the world that want to kill you, and they will not hesitate to take away your life to keep their freedom and avoid arrest. When you chose this most honorable profession to “protect and serve” and place a badge on your chest, you essentially agreed to place your life on the line, ready to save others. It is definitely a higher calling.