In February of this year, a contract security guard working at a government building in Detroit found an “unattended package” outside the building. Apparently, without much thought, the guard picked up the package, brought it inside the building and placed it in the lost and found area. Three weeks later, an officer discovered the overlooked package and recognized the danger. The Detroit Police Department’s Explosives Unit was called in and ended up defusing what proved to be an improvised explosive device (IED).

The 10th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks will be coming up soon, which the 9/11 Commission said occurred in large part due to a “failure of imagination” within the law enforcement community and not connecting the dots. In response to the Detroit government building bomb episode, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said he thought, “Many were forgetting the lessons of September 11.”

Steep Learning Curve
The truth is, for law enforcement, the learning curve in responding to these risks can be steep and dramatic. Unfortunately, in many cases it is only after a loss of life that there is a commensurate adaptation to current threats or criminal behavior. Some of this adaptation can be the result of technology or tactics, but much of it comes down to remembering a basic law enforcement dictum—complacency can kill—and the key to victory is often simply vigilance. Vigilance is the key to survival, which should go into an officer’s mindset, thoughts, planning, training, tactics, choice of weapon, and choices that are made on the street.

It is common lore in the law enforcement community that the “felony tail light” results in some of the biggest arrests. Translated, in many cases a police officer stops someone for a minor infraction (tail light out, etc.), and that stop results in uncovering a much larger, often stunning crime. Oklahoma Trooper Charlie Hanger arrested Timothy McVeigh for not having a license plate. The trooper then saw a gun and the rest is history. That trooper’s actions resulted in uncovering the perpetrator who, at that point in time, committed the most vicious terrorist attack in American history.

Being constantly vigilant is a necessary mindset for an officer who hits the streets or secures a building. We often hear about the “combat mindset” or “being in alert status” at all times. Basically, you have to be constantly thinking about your job. It’s not only thinking about what you are currently doing, but what you will do or could do if faced with a scenario. Some call this “having a plan” while others call it “gaming out scenarios,” but whatever you call it, it never hurts to think about all the craziness you could encounter as a law enforcement officer and think through ways to handle it, or perhaps, should have handled it.

The necessity of vigilance also goes to the training and tactics used on the law enforcement “battlefield.” You can have the best plan and tools, but if you don’t practice with them or train well, it won’t matter when all hell breaks loose. Bad guys are practicing their trade more and more in recent years and those in the law enforcement world need to be prepared. In Detroit, the lack of vigilance of the improperly trained contract security guard could have cost lives. Obviously, whether or not the level of training or procedures they had in place was sufficient is immaterial—it simply should not have happened.

If we are entrusting these folks to protect a government building, their skills and training should be up to par, and enhanced procedures should be in place and vigorously enforced. The other option is to relieve these guards of their positions and put properly trained, sworn and heavily armed law enforcement officers in their place.

Either way, we live in dangerous times and the new breed of bad guy plays with no rules. Complacency or halfhearted efforts by people entrusted to protect others’ lives should not be tolerated. We need to ensure that whomever is at the front is ready, willing and able to engage whatever the enemy may bring.

Up Next

Don’t be a victim!

In February of this year, a contract security guard working at a government building…