I was at the shooting range today, qualifying for 18-US Code 926C, which gives retired Law Enforcement and military the ability to carry a gun wherever a cop can. I’m not a gun guy at all, I never shot a gun until I got into the police academy. They actually issued me right handed gear and when I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, it was discovered I’m left eye dominant. I eventually got left handed gear and I was better, but not a lot. When I was a cop, I was always super bored at the range and went kicking and screaming once a year to qualify. I’m embarrassed to admit, I missed paper targets on occasion. I really had to dig deep to get my mind right to train the way I should at the range, but fortunately for me, I was accurate when it counted in real life. Although I wasn’t so enthused about training at the range, I was addicted to ritualistically running scenarios through my mind about violent encounters and how I’d react and survive. This is classic visualization.
By rehearsing events, movements, skills and mechanics through a range of motion in our minds, we can actually induce muscle memory by simply thinking, not actually doing. I envisioned countless scenarios, especially K9 related ones. This is a technique I learned back in high school playing baseball. I’d hold rehearsals in my mind about hitting and throwing, non-stop and eventually got a chance to play baseball professionally. While I was at the range today, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my shooting incident a few years ago, from when I was a cop. It was almost like an out of body experience, as my body was completely on autopilot and I firmly believe it’s due to my habitual practice of visualization.
The incident Involved Ricky Whidden, a paranoid schizophrenic, off his medication, threatening to kill law enforcement and then himself. A type of call we know as “suicide by cop” A 40mm, less lethal bean-bag type of round was deployed, impacting him in the back and it only enraged him. As a result, he charged directly at me, with a 14” hunting knife, with every intention to kill me. I had my K9 partner “Zeke” with me at the time and being ambidextrous, I was comfortable handling him in either hand but I had a bad habit of mostly handling him with my left hand, which is my gun hand. I tell all the K9 handlers I train with, don’t come to me for tactical training, I’m not that guy, not even close. To complicate matters, the temperature was in the 40’s that night, which it might as well be Antarctica for Floridians. So I had thick mechanics gloves on, which greatly reduced the tactile sensation in my hands. With my leash in my left hand, attached to 90 pound agitated German shepherd wanting to get in the fight, my flashlight in my right hand, an individual wanting to kill me who was barreling down on me with a gigantic knife in his right hand, it called for immediate and swift corrective action in order to survive.
This is where my body completely took over, seeming to function without effort. In an eye blink I knew I was prepared to do what needed to be done in order to see my wife and my daughters again. It was me or Ricky and I had no choice. I dropped my flashlight, switched my leash into my right hand, unholstering and transitioning to my gun in my left hand. I discharged what I later learned to be eight, .40mm rounds right over the top of Zeke’s head, in Rickey’s direction as he was rapidly closing the distance on me. I never heard any of the gun shots as I was in the midst of auditory exclusion. Ricky was possessed and he seemed like he had the dexterity, coordination and the speed of an Olympic athlete. It was very dark out, with very little ambient light available. Ricky began to fall to the ground, slightly spinning clockwise. As he was falling, I could see a reflective material leaving his hand, which appeared to be him losing his grip on the knife. Forensics revealed I hit him 4 times, 3 in the chest and one on his side. In the moment, I had no idea if he was hit or not. Once he hit the ground, he was still moving and I could see his right hand was empty, without the knife. I holstered my gun and gave him standardized K9 announcements, to which he didn’t respond. I then deployed Zeke, commanding him to apprehend Ricky and he did without hesitation. My intention was to have Zeke make contact with Rickey, then use his long line to drag him away from where I believed the knife was laying so he couldn’t rearm himself. Once Zeke made contact with Rickey, it was apparent Ricky had just left us and was now deceased.
I removed Zeke and my back up deputies went in and cuffed Rickey and the knife was revealed again. As I turned around to bring Zeke back to my patrol vehicle, which was several hundred yards away, the first thing I saw when I turned was Rickey’s wheelchair bound mother, who watched the entire incident. I thought to myself, what a horrific and tragic thing for a mother to witness. This image is forever etched into my psyche. While walking back to my vehicle, is where I now felt like my body was my own again. From the time Rickey charged me, to the time I removed Zeke, I felt like I was functioning completely on autopilot, due to mentally rehearsing violent encounters, many, many times. During the hundreds of the violent encounters I was involved in as a cop, on many occasions, the world would come to a crashing halt, time slowed, things became very clear, which allowed my movements and decisions to be calculated and precise. Growing up in violence, addiction and dysfunction, these altercations on the street were normalcy for me and I had many repetitions prior to the badge. In a bizarre way, I’m grateful for what I endured as a child, as it certainly prepared me for Law Enforcement.
Visualization is a technique which I’ve employed from a young age and utilized for many different skill sets. If one’s interested, I highly recommend adding it to your training arsenal, you never know when you may call on it.

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