Update Your Software

Tips for keeping sharp in a profession that thrives on the unknown & unknowable

By Greg Erie & Chris Gergen  |   May 19, 2016
Photo Courtesy Georgetown (Texas) PD.

There is a mind-boggling amount of information readily available to you pertaining to officer safety and survival. My colleague and I covered several of them in past articles and we hope they have helped some of you in one way or another—at the very least to make you think. We deeply appreciate being able to write these articles and we are grateful for the feedback we get from them.

Ours is a job that is as predictable as human behavior, meaning it is not very predictable—at all.  We must be prepared to deal with anything at any time in any environment. This is what makes our profession unique and demanding (and, at times, fun). Whether you’re in small town Iowa or an urban jungle, you had better be ready. We’re not talking about gear and bullets and tactics, but rather your mindset (gear, bullets and tactics are good too though!).

The Role of Software

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman had said, “Amateurs talk about hardware while professionals talk about software.” What does this mean? Your mind is ultimately your best weapon. If you have 1,000 rounds of ammo but don’t see the warning signs of an imminent threat you may as well have nothing. All the gear in the world means nothing if you don’t use it properly and that process starts in the brain.

De-escalation is a very hot topic in the law enforcement community these days (more in a forthcoming article on this topic). To us, all de-escalation has ever meant is talking: using your brain and your mouth to convey words that have meaning. Or in other words: communicating.

When you are verbally communicating with someone, by definition both they and you are not getting hurt. Sure, the communication may be heated, but when you’re talking you’re usually not physically fighting. Maybe the more time you spend talking the less time you’ll spend fighting …

Are there times for communication and times when it is not a viable option? Yes, and those are the times when your software (your brain) should be telling you it’s time to go to your hardware (hands, feet, duty gear), or simply get to safety and revisit the issue.

How to Keep Your Edge

Being a police officer isn’t easy. Let’s be honest: We lack in many areas and do so knowingly. There simply is not enough time for continuous training to put our officer at the level where they need to be. This is no fault of our own, individually. It’s simply a matter of time, money, and human capitol. If we spent all our time training in the areas where we fall short, there would be no one out patrolling our streets and highways, investigating crimes, and so on. So this isn’t an option. We are at a level we need to be at and what state standards mandate, but of course we could do better. What profession couldn’t?

How do you fill in the gaps? You read. There are thousands of books relating to the law enforcement professional, whether you’re interested in firearms, psychology, training or whatever you deem pertinent. Whatever you want to read about is out there somewhere. Take the knowledge you gain from reading and apply it to how you train, live, and work.

How do you think trainers get their information? They read, go to conferences, and have lots of experience in the topics they teach. Good trainers update their software (brains) regularly and pass that knowledge on to the masses.

Great books: For starters a book by Gavin De Becker titled The Gift of Fear is a perfect read for anyone, but especially for cops looking for an edge. I would encourage you all to read it and when you’re done, give it to someone you love and make them read it. It expounds on what we as cops know about behavior, body language and intuition. Another great read is Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley. They should sell these books as a package deal and put them in the “Survival” section at Barnes and Noble.

Attend training, on your own dime if need be: There are only so many things trainers can teach you. Some things you must experience and learn on your own. Don’t depend on someone else to teach you what you need to know to survive and thrive in this profession. You will be surprised how it will open your eyes to see and not just look at things. The world takes on a different view through eyes that truly see. That view might save you or someone else’s life.


None other than Socrates is credited with saying, “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.” Very true. Train hard, stay safe and be ready.

[Author’s Note: RIP Officers Susan Farrell and Carlos Puente-Morales. Des Moines Police Department.  EOW 3-26-16]