No matter what you are doing at the time, writing a report, driving on patrol or in the middle of a call there will be a shift in priorities when the call goes out. Whether it is an emergency tone triggered, a notification by dispatch or the panicked voiced of another officer. When the call for assistance goes out, whatever you were doing there will be a shift in priorities.
Your number one priority now will be to get to that officer. Your heart will race. Adrenaline will course through your body. Part of that added strength will be put into driving the gas pedal through the floor, hoping that you can get a few more miles per hour out of your squad.
Time will go into slow motion, and each second will seem like an hour. Your mind will fill with the possibilities of what is happening at the scene of the distress call. It will imagine the worst, as you hope for the best.
Along with your concerns, there will be a weight on your shoulders. Your responsibility to get there to help your fellow officer will fall on your shoulders. That weight will be immeasurable.
The engine will roar, the tires squeal, the siren will blare as you race to the scene. There will be only one ultimate thing on your mind, get there, now. Traffic, streets, traffic lights, pedestrians will all be a blur. Tunnel vision has set in as your mind focuses on that one thing, your promise. “I will be there for you.” “I got your six.” “You can count on me.” “I would die trying to get to you.”
You may come around a curve and feel the rear end break free and there will be a sudden shift in priorities.
It may be a 16-year-old girl on her cellphone, too busy to see your lights, too late to hear your siren who pulls out in front of you. As she snaps her attention in your direction, dropping her phone, as she screams her final word, “No!” Her eyes seem to grow larger and you’re not sure if it is because of fear or simply because you are about to drive through her car door. It doesn’t matter, it’s how you will remember that moment, forever. There will be a shift in priorities.
In that moment nothing will be more important. Getting your squad back where it needs to be will be your priority. “If you get me back on the road, I promise I will slow down.” “Give me room to swerve around this car.” Or perhaps a curse will escape your lips, as you blame yourself, your car, the other driver, or bad luck.
If your attempts fail there will be a shift in priorities. “Please, let me live. I don’t want to die.” “Take me but save her.” “Who will take care of my family?”
Other officers with one priority on their mind, getting to the officer needs help call, will hear the call reporting the crash or maybe even see the wreck. There will be a shift in priorities. Now, instead of one officer at one location needing help there are two at different locations.
Officers will need to make a decision. Which site do they response to? Will it be determined by location? Jurisdiction? Friendship? Or a supervisor’s discretion?
Regardless of what location they respond to they won’t be there. Not totally. Their minds will be on the location that they are not at. Worrying about the officer they can’t see. Worrying about the cop they can’t help. There will be a shift in priority. A split in priority. Their focus won’t just be on their location and the tasks at hand. They will be distracted. A cop who cannot focus on the task at hand is a danger. A danger to themselves. A danger to their partners. A danger to the community they have sworn to protect.
Drive too fast to an Officer Needs Assistance call, or any other call and you endanger yourself. Your health, Your life. Your future. Drive too fast and you won’t be there for them. The partner in need of help. Your family.
Drive too fast and you endanger your partners. The officers who will now have to try and respond to a situation, distracted by concern, stress and emotion.
Drive too fast and you endanger the community. Yes, the 16-year-old driver was driving distracted and failed to yield to an emergency vehicle and is at fault. That knowledge won’t bring her back, or you.
So, I am asking you to make a shift in your priorities. On each high-risk call make your priority driving no faster than you can arrive safely, every time. Make that promise today. Make it to yourself, to your partners, to your family and community. Make that promise your priority when responding to all calls. By keeping that promise, you will never break your other promise, of always being there, for them.
Duane Wolfe is a retired Minnesota Peace Officer with more than 25 years of service. During his career he served as patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., Use of Force and Firearms Instructor. He is also a full-time instructor in the Law Enforcement Program at Alexandria Technical College, Alexandria, Minnesota. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University, and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.