Law enforcement officer, LEO, Thin Blue Line, The Whiskey PatriotsWhen was the last time you starched your uniform or polished your boots?  Better yet, does your uniform even fit your body properly?  Do you carry yourself with a sense of purpose and an air of confidence?

These are important questions I want you to ask yourself, and if you are offended, then too damn bad.  Your appearance and how you carry yourself can be the difference between going home or going to the grave.  Now before you go getting too triggered, I’m not even going to get into asking if you are in shape; that’s for another article.

I was once told there are three rules to policing.  Rule number one:  look good.  Rule number two: know where you are at and where you are going.  Rule number three: if you get lost, see rule number one.

After my first knock-down, drag-out fight I added a new rule:  Do whatever you have to do to make it home, and figure out how to write it up later.  That became my first rule and the rest moved down accordingly.

But it wasn’t until several years later that I fully understood how important looking good meant; it was a day I will never forget.

I had stopped a car for a traffic violation, and as the stop unfolded I found a decent amount of heroin and a loaded handgun under the driver’s seat. I took the occupant into custody with no problem whatsoever. Hell, it was so easy I think he would’ve cuffed himself.  It wasn’t until I got back to the station and was booking him that I found out about his extensive history of assaulting law enforcement and resisting arrest.

While doing the paperwork I started chatting him up. I asked him, “Why didn’t you fight?  You’ve got at least seventy pounds on me, the gun was right next to you, and I’ve seen your history.  I just want to know why not today.”  His response has always stayed with me.  He said, “I was going to for sure.  But when you got out of that car I knew you weren’t the one.  Your uniform looks good and everything.  Hell, I think I saw myself in them boots.  And when you got to the car your eyes said everything else.  You were ready to kill me if you had to.”

Now more than ever we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to make it home to our loved ones, and it starts with our mindset.  I don’t care if you are overweight and your uniform looks like it just came out of a pile in the corner of your locker.  If you truly have the mindset that you are going home the same way you came in, then you are ahead of the game.  Having that mindset will ultimately give you that look in your eye.  You know the one I am talking about.  You see it in the salty sergeant who doesn’t talk much, and even in the hardened criminal on the street. The look that means business.

I’m not saying every copper out there has to take the uniform to the tailor and have a mirror-shine on the boots like I did — although if you do, it says a lot about you.  What I am saying is:  Do some real soul searching, and develop the warrior mindset that you are prepared and willing to do absolutely everything it takes to make it home. More often than not it is the little things you do that make all the difference. Remember that the criminals are sizing you up just as much as you are sizing them up, and there is no excuse to be on the losing end of that battle.  Stay safe out there, sheepdogs.

Brandon Smithley is a military veteran and former emergency responder with more than 14 years of experience in law enforcement and fire service.  He currently handles business development for U.S. Veterans Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps veterans enjoy the outdoors through hunting and fishing trips.