The night before I wrote this blog, my editor sent a text telling me she was watching the movie Colors.
When I told her it was filmed (in large part) where I had worked patrol, during the time I was there, she said she couldn’t imagine what it was like to work there. Then she asked if I had ever been afraid.
Fear or No Fear
I pondered the question enough that I had a restless night—something that still happens on those occasions when the Door to a Dark Room is cracked open. Not surprisingly, I woke at 3:00 a.m., my mind racing with memories, and that stimulated the idea for this blog.
I’ve learned to not wait when ideas come at night because they surely won’t be there in the morning. I got out of bed and recorded my thoughts, and then I tried to go back to sleep. At 4:00 a.m., I gave up on sleep. I got up, made the coffee, and went into my office to write this blog.
As I thought back to the many dangerous situations that I encountered over the years—some in which I survived close brushes with death—there was only one time when I could remember being afraid while the situation unfolded.
The difference in that situation and other harrowing events was that I had plenty of time to contemplate life and death as I slid through an intersection in an uncontrolled, four-wheel-lock skid, headed directly for a major collision with another patrol unit. The second factor was that I had lost control of the situation, and my destiny was in the hands of God.
My partner and I had responded to an assistance call that involved armed suspects. I had been authorized to respond code 3, as we were the closest unit and would be first to arrive.
I was driving at a high rate of speed on a major, four-lane street (Compton Avenue). Other units were responding as well. Just before I arrived at the street I needed to turn onto, one of the other responding units sailed across my path. The driver was a young, inexperienced deputy, and he didn’t even slow down as he crossed a major street filled with traffic. That was when I slammed on the brakes. Apparently, back in the late eighties, we either didn’t have anti-lock brakes, or they didn’t work as efficiently as they might today.
Just before the collision, my training kicked in and I let off of the brakes—something that is counterintuitive when death seems imminent—and swerved hard to avoid the other radio car by feet, if not inches.
I can honestly say I was terrified during those moments before the near-miss, and shaken afterward. Not to mention very angry at a young deputy.
Training, Planning, and Preparation
With proper training and experience comes confidence. During the many violent situations I encountered during my career, I don’t recall fear ever entering into the equation, other than during the near-miss just described. At least, not until after the situation was over. (I have definitely realized fear after a situation has ended.)
When you are confident in your abilities and know that you are in control of the outcome, you act without contemplation.
When a batter gets brushed off the plate by a high, inside fastball, he doesn’t experience fear at that moment. He reacts from training and instinct to avoid being struck. He might, however, experience a level of fear as he returns to the plate and brushes himself off. However, if the pitcher makes it known he is going to be headhunting on the next pitch too, I would say any batter would be fearful.
I once had a man pull the trigger on a fully automatic machine pistol when we were only feet apart with nothing between us. The suspect’s weapon had malfunctioned, and if it hadn’t, I would have been killed. It was much later that night—once the work was done—before the fear of what had happened struck me. The memory of it hasn’t faded in thirty years.
“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne
When violence is called for in police work, it is (or should be) in reaction to a threat. In such scenarios, there is no time for fear.
The threat of violence is an accepted risk for those who choose to wear the badge. It takes special people to run toward the gunfire, toward the unruly crowd, into the center of violence and chaos. But that is exactly what cops do, and most of us relish the challenge.
Winston Churchill famously said: “Nothing is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” I agree with that, and I’d say a close second is surviving an angry cow on the fight.
When I retired and moved to the country, I fell in love with horses and horsemanship. I took up team roping and I also learned some of the skills of working cowboys.
One day, my buddy and I rode into a pasture and roped a cow that needed to be doctored. When we let her up, she was on the fight. She charged my horse and rammed her head into his side (and my leg). My horse reared up and I came off him. The cow then came at me. My buddy, Oliver, rode between us, saving me from being mauled on the ground.
Because I was inexperienced, and at times unprepared, I lacked confidence. As such, there were times I was fearful in certain situations. I often wondered how a horse could frighten me so when I had experienced far more dangerous situations as a cop.
The answer was simple: As a cop, I had been trained to deal with dangerous situations and I had confidence in my abilities. As a cowboy, I was “green,” a tin horn as they are called. So when something went wrong, I didn’t have the skills to know I could survive the situation.
Over the years I’ve gained the experience and skills to lessen those fears, though I still get pretty tight when a horse offers to buck.
Lt. Michael McAndrews – Officer Survival Expert
Pain and sorrow flooded law enforcement recently—especially past and present members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department—when the news of Lieutenant McAndrews’s passing spread through our community.
Lieutenant McAndrews was revered for his officer survival expertise and instruction, and several generations of cops spent their entire careers with his words seared into their brains: “Never give up!” “Fight or die!” “You don’t hurt, you won’t die, you have to get up and fight and NEVER let them kill you!”
I fondly remember his emotional speeches. One moment, he would have an entire class of cadets laughing at his sharp wit, and the next, he would slam a fist against the podium and shout those highly motivational words of wisdom and truth.
I would be remiss to not mention his legacy while writing about strength, courage, and officer survival. I would like to dedicate this blog to his memory, and to all of his family, friends, and students, whose lives he impacted profoundly. May he rest in peace.
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A GOOD BUNCH OF MEN
DOOR TO A DARK ROOM