Familiarity Breeds Contempt

I grew up primarily on what had been my grandfather’s dairy.  My father harped on me when dealing with the livestock, “Familiarity breeds contempt”.

The meaning of that saying was just as soon as you started thinking one of the livestock wouldn’t hurt you, it would hurt you.  It was more than just words.  My grandfather was killed by one of his cows.

I ignored the rule at least twice.  I wound up unconscious both times.  The first words my father said to me on each occasion, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Today, I dealt with a guy whom we had arrested previously.  He has an active protective order against him.  In that encounter, he tried to bait me into an escalation.  Later in the day, I responded to a call with the same subject.  He entered a residence from which he is prohibited, and he busted out the windshield of a car on scene as well along with some other damage.

The subject fled to a nearby vacant house.  It was there that I confronted him.  He screamed at me to shoot him.

And then he shoved his hand into his jacket pocket.

I had a decision to make and only a split second in which to make it.  I was pretty sure that he was just baiting me.  I  was pretty sure that he didn’t have a firearm in his pocket, but in a moment of tachypsychia I heard my father’s voice..

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Later when I talked about the incident with the Sheriff, he said, “If you hadn’t just dealt with him and knew his state of mind, or if it had been another deputy who confronted him in that house, he’d be dead right now.”

I had to make a split-second decision as to whether or not to press the trigger.  Legally, I can articulate a justification for doing so, but if I had, I’d be the latest cop to be plastered all over the news as having killed an unarmed man.  If he had been armed, and my “pretty sure” was wrong, I would have been in initiative deficit, and I might be all over the news tonight for a much different reason.

While I have been able to wrap this whole thing around a saying from my upbringing, this type of incident plays out repeatedly for peace officers all over the country.  It really is that close of a call time and time again.

As another saying goes: It’s not the odds; it’s the stakes.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder. I work a Zone system for my county and you get to know your “frequent flyers” and what they usually do but there could be that ‘one’ time it will bite you in the ass.
    Again thanks,

  2. Your grandfather was killed by one of his cows. While I was not there, that “cow” could of very well come after you! At the end of the day it’s every officer’s duty to make the best decision they can, but I hope these latest incidents doesn’t lead more of you to make the decision based on them instead of your situation and training.

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