Honoring the Dead by Training the Living

How Below 100 seeks to learn from our most painful lessons

By Lt. John Bennett and Chief Investigator Laura King  |   Apr 17, 2017
Photo Dale Stockton.
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Below 100 owes its existence to a group of law enforcement trainers who realized that, with regard to line-of-duty deaths, it was time to say, “Enough is enough.” Too many of these deaths, they saw, were tragically preventable.

More than six years later, our mission continues. Although we’ve made progress, there’s still a lot of work to do, work that includes not only Below 100 instructors, but every single officer across North America. Without individual efforts, this program can’t succeed, and our culture of officer safety won’t change.

Honoring the Fallen

An essential component of Below 100 is learning from the actions and experiences of other officers—and this includes their mistakes. When we look at the actions of an officer who died in the line of duty, we aim to do so with the utmost respect and with the understanding that we too are prone to making similar mistakes. We live by the motto, “Honor the dead by training the living.” Dale Stockton, Below 100’s executive director, puts it this way: “It’s tough—really tough—to objectively question the actions of the fallen. But we must have the wherewithal to honor them by training the living.”

We are all human—which is to say, we are all fallible. We all make mistakes. Instead of becoming defensive about our errors, we—as individuals and as a profession—need to learn to accept our mistakes and learn from them. After all, the human experience is one of imperfection. There’s no shame in making an error. That being said, there is shame in allowing mistakes to be made repeatedly in our profession out of misplaced respect for the fallen.

As instructors and advocates on behalf of Below 100, and officer safety in general, our goal is to save lives, not to disparage or second-guess officers and their actions. To second-guess or Monday-morning quarterback is to be judgmental. To look at a particular incident from an objective standpoint in order to glean lessons is, on the other hand, our responsibility—to ourselves, our colleagues, those who love us, and the communities we serve.

It takes humility for us as a profession to take a sober look at the situation that lead to the untimely death of an officer and learn lessons, if there are any, from their loss. Humility is the difference between taking a critical look at the facts as opposed to criticizing the fallen officers. They are not the same. We have to distinguish between the two and be mindful of how we come across when addressing tough issues.

We all need to remember that we’re on the same team here. Addressing our mistakes—even and especially fatal mistakes—is caregiving for this profession and for the officer who lost his or her life.

We also have to remember to think and speak with compassion. Instead of saying, “I would have never made that mistake,” try to understand the line of thought the officer was following. Not just what they were thinking, but what were they feeling? When we reach a level of true understanding of the thought process and the tragic event, then we can begin to train our officers to think and act differently. Speaking of the fallen with respect is another way to show compassion to all of those touched by the loss.

Conclusion

It was best said by the Dalai Lama, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” The most powerful way we can honor our fallen officers is by learning from their missteps and improving our tactics. Together we can do this if we remember to stand together and strive to not repeat the mistakes of the past.