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Monday, January 30, 2023

PERSPECTIVE: Preparing for COVID-19, from One Cop to Another

Having spent a lifetime in law enforcement I have been asked countless times over the years: How do LEOs put on their uniforms every day and face the daily uncertainty of returning home safely and in one piece at the end of their tour of duty? The answer to that question is both complex and very simple.

Starting on day one, hour one, of every police academy that preparation begins. In addition to learning about the law, police procedure, criminal investigation, accident investigation, report writing, first responder training and all the other things that are taught including weapons training and self-defense, you are trained to expect the unexpected. The old adage ‘prepare for the worst both physically and mentally, and hope for the best’ applies.

You are taught how to prepare and defend yourself against people who are prepared and determined to hurt you, and others using a multitude of weapons including guns, knives, hammers, broken glass, hands and feet. The one thing they all have in common is that the threat is usually visible, or at least assumed to be present, in every confrontation. The bottom line is, it is a threat you can see or use one of your other senses to detect. Scary? Sure, but unless you are ambushed, you can at least see it coming and have a reasonable chance to defend yourself. Not the case with COVID-19.

So how do you, as an LEO, prepare for a foe that you can not see or detect using any of your senses? An enemy and a threat so tiny that you will never know if that foe is anywhere near you. The first step is just like you were taught in the academy: assume it is there and all around you.

As we were all taught on day one, hour one, prepare. Rely on your training, your common sense. Be aware of your surroundings. Prepare mentally, just like those mental reps we were all taught to do. Imagine every scenario in front of you and what you would do in the event the unexpected happened. That teaches us to overcome the fear of the unknown. Training and preparation overcome. Fear paralyzes.

  1. Take good care of yourself. Prepare yourself both physically and mentally. Good exercise, plenty of rest, good diet which is and can be very tough for LEO’s
  2. Know your body and what your body is telling you. If you do not feel right and have some of the advertised symptoms seek the medical attention you need and make sure those in your close circle of loved ones are doing the same.
  3. Block out the media-imposed or self-imposed fear. Do not allow yourself to be paralyzed with fear. We all hear the grim statistics, the death rate, the hospitalization rates, the sheer numbers, woe is me we are all going to die. I do not know of one LEO who was ever killed by a statistic.

Note: In the early ‘80s I was a narc. We were all going to die because we were going to be infected by HIV/AIDS from needle-using drug users whom we dealt with every day. They were going to spit on us, bleed on us, or in the early days when little was known about that horrible disease sweat on us, and if we had an abrasion of any kind it was going to get into our bodies and kill us. We stopped thrusting our hands blindly into jacket pockets without checking to see if our hands were going to come out with open needles sticking out of our fingers. We gloved up and all began to carry bottles of Lysol and alcohol to wipe down our cars, our hands, and our equipment. Then it was hepatitis that was going to kill us all. Then it was SARS, any number of other things that was going to kill us. Bottom line: We did what every LEO from the beginning of our great nation has done. We strapped up and got the job done because that is what is expected of us and that is what we do.

  1. Use the PPE equipment you have been issued and follow the protocols established by your agency. Use it as much as you can but make sure it does not prohibit your ability to get to and effectively use your other tools. Practice with it. The other threats are still there and will always be there. As a trooper we were taught to always have our Stetson on. We were trained that way. We had a drill – we only had a few seconds after a traffic stop to slam our car into park, turn the wheel sharply to the right, set the parking brake, grab our citation book, flashlight, put our Stetson on and be up at the violator’s window. We became so concerned with following those steps to a T we did not consider what the violator was doing and most of the time were paying to much attention to our Stetson to notice. That was stupid and we learned the hard way after losing a trooper or two they died because they were more worried about their Stetson than they were their safety. They died without ever having their weapons drawn but they had their Stetson on.
  2. Do your best to practice the social distancing. No need for unnecessary risk. Be smart. You can still talk to people and keep your distance. I always worried more about what I was taking home to my family because of my job than I was about myself. However, the job still needs to be done and I know you will because that is what law enforcement has always done.

Over the years law enforcement has faced countless challenges that threatened our own safety and the safety of those we are sworn to serve. Right now, our nation and our political leaders are in a panic. A pandemic is new to all of us unless you were around 100 years ago. Most of our political leaders have not had the benefit of our training and dealing with threats both seen and undetectable like we do every day. The natural reaction is to try to legislate common sense and ask law enforcement to enforce what should be common sense. Often it calls into question, are we being asked to enforce well-intended legislation and directives that also violate the rights of the citizens?

That is a question that time will answer for us. However, we will all be held accountable for what we have done during this historic and unprecedented time. I leave you with this. We all swore an oath that holds American law enforcement to a high standard. That oath was not sworn to an elected person, although we have taken the oath to follow the direction of those appointed above us. We swore to protect and defend the United States Constitution and the constitutions of the states in which we serve.

The father of modern law enforcement, Sir Robert Peel, said, “The police are the people and the people are the police.” The two co-exist as long as we honor the principles of the oath we swore.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

David Reichenbaugh
David Reichenbaugh's passion for law enforcement started at a very early age which led him to seek a degree in criminal justice. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of North Western University Traffic Institute School of Police Staff and Command. David retired after 23 years service with the Maryland State Police as a Lieutenant and Barrack Commander in Cumberland Maryland. David's career started as a road Trooper and continued on as a criminal investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, major violators supervisor, homicide and high profile case investigator, and assisted in the development of the intelligence unit of the MSP post 9/11. He is the author of "In Pursuit: The Hunt for the Beltway Snipers."

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