by Cindy Frost
Fear is chemical. Biological.
Read that again: bio logical. Fear = Life/Body Logic. A physiological response within our body before we rationalize or ponder the situation. It is a prompt occurring ahead of “weighing the evidence”.
This emotion with strong physiological signaling can be likened to a revved up vehicle ready to move us out of harm’s way.
Conversely, anxiety and worry is a rust bucket with a blown out engine. Those emotions are pure destruction!
During the late 90s, I was a twenty something year old police officer serving on patrol in one of America’s most violent cities. It was there I learned on repeat: that though invisible, fear is a powerful tool. Intensity that snakelike coils up within your stomach; it causes the hair on the back of your neck to rise up. The more dangerous that cause, the more surface area affected!
The amygdala (which is part of the limbic system and though only the size of an almond) raises a lifesaving, silent scream if you will, internally. This too is purely primal. That “silent scream” flags the motor cortex to then respond to that threat.
While on evening patrol in an area of town known as the “War Zone”, dispatch radioed for available units to respond to an attempted kidnapping at gunpoint. I was just blocks away from where it had occurred. After running code I was able to make contact with the distraught reporting party just minutes after the call went out. The victim stood behind the reinforced door of the convenience store, trembling in tears. There were raised scratches on her arms where she indicated the attacker had grabbed her.
While visiting her mother, this daughter learned she was in need of milk. Considering it was a nice evening for a walk, she set out to run the errand for her. A few blocks out a man emerged from the shadows. He told her he was looking for a “girlfriend”. She knew he was really looking for a sexual encounter. Her eyes filled with fresh tears and her voice raised with strong emotion as she relived screaming at him, “I am not a prostitute!… I was just trying to walk to the store! He wouldn’t listen to me… he pulled a gun from behind his back… He grabbed me by my arms; I let my jacket go in his hands and I ran as fast as I could!”
In a flash memory, I remembered playing the game of chase with boys during recess. I had performed that exact evasive maneuver to avoid capture. This kinship of experience coupled with the vibration of absolute fear she was emitting provoked me to offer her the safety of my police unit. I turned on the heat to subside her trembling and got a complete description of her attacker. Together we searched the area but did not locate him. I took her to her residence north outside of my assigned sector.
By the time I returned back to my beat it was near the end of my ten hour shift. Taking the back roads, heading towards the substation allowed me to make one final search of the area.
Sure enough, I spotted a man who stood over six feet, had a very large belly, silver combed back hair and was wearing a flannel shirt. He was walking in the middle of the street. The hair at the back of my neck rose higher with every confirming detail. This very likely was the offender I was looking for.
The street lights in this area of town are spaced far apart and serve little assistance. I employed the spotlight as well as the police unit high beams to gain visibility. Quickly, as I brought the car to a stop I also called out to dispatch, I would be out with one male subject matching the description of my prior call. Presuming he was still armed, I requested backup and indicated the need for them to step on it.
Our encounter was initiated by me from a distance that would allow opportunity to respond to whatever might follow. I maintained a calm exterior as we discussed the many dangers of this neighborhood, especially at night. In that dialogue I learned that indeed he was still carrying the revolver at his waistband behind his back. As he made a move to show it to me, I called out that wasn’t necessary and for him to keep his hands clear of it! My cover officer arrived simultaneously.
His arrival encouraged the offender to behave appropriately and without further incident. The offender was stripped of the revolver he had used to terrorize in a fair trade with us: a pair of matching silver bracelets and a one way ticket to jail.
I would handle many calls and traffic stops independently without backup during my nightly tours of duty. However, the totality of that situation: the involvement of the gun, the manner in which he used it to terrorize a woman in a violent and sexually motivated manner, the disparity of my size also vs his… Add in the department’s directive that felony calls for service be handled by two officers at minimum– Each of these contributing factors required that I asked for help.
Those fear indicators experienced by me while locating and then stepping out with the offender simply could not be missed! These types of scenarios occur regularly for members of law enforcement. It is why we are armed with several use of force options and why we undergo extensive training. We debrief to share knowledge so that others may learn from our experience.
Society credits the medical profession with the understanding that it is a “practice”. I propose that policing is no different in that regard. It deserves similar considerations. Criminal tactics are evolving and enhanced, escalated by whatever drugs are providing the current influence. Continued education and support are needed, not defunding the police!
Let’s return to the topic that fear is an indicator. Members of law enforcement know this. And the law abiding populace might learn from members of law enforcement who practice using it as a tool. Fear exists as a directive for you also. It is a God given asset not to be discounted. As you learn to observe your fear indicators, allow them to move you. Create necessary distance. Distance equals time. Time allows opportunity to access additional tools necessary within a crisis.
My experience and debrief goal is that you understand, fear is a time sensitive directive. It is your call to action, now!
Train to respond accordingly to threats. Lived-in fear is nothing more than anxiety and that becomes disease. I don’t know what the likelihood is that you will encounter evil. I have on several occasions.
Seeing fear as a motivational vehicle has saved me more times than I can count. It has earned my respect. I hope you receive your body’s logic as a gift and then honor it.
Give no harbor to the emotion of fear. Be motivated by it. Book a class, train correct technique, maneuvers, and the strategies to help you overcome adversity. The world needs more of that and far fewer victims.