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What's Important Now?

By Tracy Barnhart

W.I.N. is a simple but powerful acronym that comes from the famous Notre Dame Football Coach Lou Holtz. It stands for "What’s Important Now?" Holtz instructed his players to ask themselves this question 35 times a day. He wanted them to think about it when they woke up, and while they were in class, study hall, the weight room, the practice field, standing on the sidelines during a game and while on the playing field at a game. Holtz wanted his players to be able to learn to focus on what mattered most at any given time.

As law enforcement professionals, we should ask ourselves this same question 35 times a day. In doing so, we are forced to focus on what is important at a particular moment in time, enabling us to prioritize our mission, the threats and our actions. If we have the correct mindset, we will focus on what we need to do to win that particular confrontation.


It’s critical to examine our training programs to determine if there are gaps where we fail to allow the officer to take the situation (or action) to its conclusion. For example, during scenario-based training, do we stop the scenario as soon as the subject gets shot? In reality, the situation is far from over at that point. Trainers should have officers ask:

· Is the threat actually stopped?

· Is the officer in the most desirable tactical position?

· Does anyone else know where the officer is and what has happened?

· Is the officer injured?

· Are there other threats the officer needs to address?

If the training does not address these and other critical issues by having the officer complete those tasks within the scenario, it is incomplete. The result may be less than desirable, or it may be tragic.


Another area of concern is a close-quarters, violent encounter where the officer faces an attacker who is committed to killing the officer. These kinds of encounters may take many forms such as edged weapons confrontations, officer hostage situations and gunfights. They can happen in the confines of narrow hallways and small rooms. What is important at that moment in time is for the officer to use overwhelming violence to destroy the attacker. The officer must be the winner.

This may mean:

· Violently attacking the subject’s eyes, making it impossible for him to see and reducing his determination to fight;

· Using a utility or rescue knife to stab the attacker, hopefully eliminating the threat;

· Firing the officer’s handgun at the subject’s head until the threat is stopped.

· If we accept that ferocity of action and overwhelming violence is "What’s Important Now" for the officer to win and go home to family, then we must ask ourselves, “Are we mentally and physically prepared to accomplish this?”

Sadly, the answer is often "no" because that element is overlooked in use-of-force training. In many agencies, the closest an officer ever gets to a target that will be engaged with a handgun is about seven feet, and headshots are only used on command or in a pre-determined course of fire. The officer never practices striking a violent attacker in the throat or eyes. He is never taught to use weapons of opportunity (pens, knives, etc.) in these situations. Worse, many officers have never imagined being in a close, violent fight for their life. Therefore, there are no programs or files in the subconscious mind that the officer can fall back on in these situations.


Time and safety are common excuses for not conducting this training. This is unacceptable. A drill can easily be built into existing training time in control tactics, weapon retention, defeating edged weapons attacks, weapon disarming (officer hostage), and/or building clearing. Safety in training must be of paramount. Start slowly and build on the principles and concepts during the training program. When training officers to make close-in head or body shots, the officers can safely train with peers acting as the subject by utilizing plastic training guns (make sure they go through the motions of pulling the trigger).

The officers can then progress to using training dummies or photo-realistic targets using Airsoft weapons or weapons configured for nonlethal training ammunition (NLTA). From there the officers can proceed to carefully controlled and scripted live-fire exercises. Striking dummies can also be used to teach attacks to the throat and eyes and create the opportunity for officers to strike these areas with power.

Instructors must stop making excuses and start doing the training. Excuses get people killed; realistic training saves lives.


The first indication you might have that you are in a gunfight could be when you get shot. Getting shot doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, nor does it mean that you are dead. If you are dead, you don’t know it. If you have been shot and are alive to realize you are wounded, "what’s important now" is to get focused, get aggressive and win the fight. Once that is accomplished, move to a better tactical position, get help on the way, and assess and treat your wounds.

In order to engrain this response into the subconscious, officers must be trained in these tactics by "walking" through them. They must imagine being in the situation, being shot and doing whatever is necessary to win the confrontation. Remember, officers can be put in realistic, winnable situations in training where they are also shot with NLTA and continue to function and win the fight. When these steps are completed, the officer is programmed to win. And they will do just that.

The same mindset training needs to be provided for edged weapons attacks. They must be conditioned to continue to fight and violently defeat the threat, even if they’ve been cut.

The challenge to every single officer is to continue to ask, "What's Important Now?" What is important is that we set aside our egos, take a step back and examine how we train ourselves:

· Does our training reflect reality?

· Are we training officers to win, or inadvertently setting them up to fail?

· Do we train with imagination and emotion?

· Are there gaps in our training?

W.I.N. – three simple letters with a powerful message for all of us.

Author, Tracy Barnhart is a Lieutenant for OhioHealth Police Agency. He has authored many "Tactical Tuesday" training for officers not only with OhioHealth system but for law enforcement in general. Many of these training articles can be adapted for those who are on church security teams and for personal protection. Beller Tactical has permission to share these training blogs.

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