Malone-NessOfficer Malone: Are you going home now?.

Elliott Ness: I was about to.

Malone: Well, then, you just fulfilled the first rule of law enforcement. Make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.

The Untouchables (Paramount Pictures 1987).

Officer safety is an important issue to police officers, and it should be.  When I was first hired, almost all officers were issued Smith & Wesson revolvers, usually in .38 Special.  If you wanted to carry something else, it depended on the policies of the local department.  My first PD allowed you to carry your own revolver, so long as it was either a Smith or a Colt, and had a 4 to 6 inch barrel in at least .38 or larger.  Many officers would carry .357 magnums, .45 Long Colts, and .44s instead of the issue gun because it made them feel safer.  We wore very heavy, inflexible vests, and pushed for safety equipment like cages for the vehicles, semi-autos, etc., all in the name of officer safety.

Just a few years before, an author named Charles Remsberg and photographer/producer Dennis Anderson, published a book called Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters.  This book and the two that followed† produced a series of seminars teaching officer safety to police across the nation.  One of the things to remember about Remsberg is that he founded Calibre Press, which published his books on street tactics.  A second thing to remember is that Remsberg was not a cop.‡  He was a journalist, with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Northwestern.  Almost every officer has read or been trained based on the trilogy.  I own all three and believed every word of the books for years.

The attitude was that so long as the officers went home OK, it didn’t matter that civilians were hurt or killed.  A typical response to criticism on this point was that “The most important thing, Calibre’s founders argued, wasn’t that 28 suspects who’d displayed life-threatening behavior had been shot, but that none of the officers had lost their lives.”  Scott Baltic, Be Careful Out There, Chicago Reader (Nov. 21, 1991).

Unfortunately, that attitude is now commonplace among police.

†Ronald J. Adams, Thomas M. McTernan, & Charles Remsberg,  Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters (1980); Charles Remsberg, The Tactical Edge: Surviving High-Risk Patrol (1986); and Charles Remsberg, Tactics for Criminal Patrol (1995).

‡While Remsberg was not an officer, Adams was a California police officer and McTernan was a New York police officer.