The loss of five police officers in a little more than a week here in the Puget Sound region made me remember how lucky I am to having completed almost thirty years of sworn service. It was close a couple of times. I observed over the years that my success relied upon two things, my own skill and luck. The more skill and preparation you bring to the table, the less that luck has to do with it.
So the loss of these five fine people was all about luck, bad luck. There was no defense for Seattle Officer Brenton as he sat in his car talking to his partner. Her own quick reaction to the attack and her skill saved her from a similar fate. One of the Lakewood officers fought with the assassin and the officer got a shot into him. There had to be considerable skill in that along with enough luck to have not been the first to die. but the bad luck won out.
I know about luck first hand. In 1974, I was pursuing a cocaine smuggler not far from the Canadian border. The car started fishtailing and I ended up hanging upside down from my seat and shoulder belts at the bottom of an embankment. In those days, the shoulder belt in the Plymouth Fury II was optional requiring a second step to hook it up. As I went out that night I thought it might be a good idea to take that second step. Skill on my part. In the car behind me as I entered that curve, did a 180, and rolled down the hill, was a constable of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (it was their crook). Mounties start their careers on the road and this was undoubted not his first serious traffic accident. He was first down the slope and he crawled in through the shattered window to unhook me. I dropped like a sack of potatoes to the crushed roof of the car and he pulled me out. Had I gone over with no one behind me it might be hours or days before someone missed me. Luck. I had six broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a paracardial contusion.
There were other incidents, none as close as that, that I have apparently suppressed, a natural defense mechanism I suppose to what might have happened. It serves no purpose to recall them at this point in life. I don’t propose throwing down on any miscreants anytime soon.
Civilans never hear about when skill and luck add up, when officers survive potentially fatal encounters. These incidents end up as a few lines in a report or even a charging document. An officer might speak of the situation to his peers or to a class of recruits, but there won’t be a celebration of skill and luck. The matter will slide into police oral tradition which is a major teaching tool in the profession.
The FBI keeps the stats on officers killed feloniously and by accident, and those who are are assaulted. Each number is a story and probably a lesson of some kind. All involve skill losing out to bad luck. Arnold Palmer is said to have remarked, “Golf is all about luck. The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
What is true about golf is true about police work, even life in general.