Learning From Mistakes

March 28, 2017

Mistakes. We all make them. Some are minor and require little correction, while others can be career-changing. Following is an example of one of my mistakes, and how I used what I learned to positively effect the police department where I worked.

Say It Ain’t So

At the time, I was the detective commander and the range master simultaneously, and I took my firearms training seriously. I made weekend plans to go shooting with my father at our gun club.

At the range, I decided to work on three skills: speed, reloading, and movement. I put on my duty rig and began as I always do, slowly increasing speed while ensuring accuracy stayed the same. (For you gun folks out there, I was shooting an Ed Brown 1911)

Next, I switched to my detective gear: a pancake holster, mag pouch, and cuff case. I continued shooting for about 20 minutes, when my father took out a new Blackhawk! Serpa holster. I had never tried one but several of my subordinates carried them, so I asked if I could try it. I put it on, inserted my 1911, and tested the fit.

My first thought was that it was a little tight, and I asked my father if he had the Allen wrench to adjust it. He said it was in the car, which was a ways away, and I thought to myself, “Eh. I can work through this, no problem.”

I began my shooting drills again, and started thinking about the next course of fire for the upcoming qualification shoot at work. As I was shooting, the pistol was getting quite warm—I had already put about 400 rounds through it—and as a result, it was beginning to stick in the holster, becoming difficult to draw.

I stopped to load my magazines, loading some of my old duty ammunition, a combination of various hollow points, including some old Black Talon rounds. I made a point of loading each magazine with similar rounds and inserted the Black Talon mag into my pistol. At the line, I chambered a round, engaged the thumb safety, and holstered.

On the next draw, I had trouble pushing the button release of the Serpa holster, and I had to jerk my pistol out of the holster. The amount of strength each of these actions required resulted in a draw where my finger was on the trigger and I had dropped the thumb safety.

Naturally, the gun fired as soon as those conditions were met. The resultant draw put the muzzle in an awkward direction and the round entered my hip, just below my belt. It exited the inside of my thigh, three inches above the knee. I had just shot myself …

Now What?

I will tell you something about being shot. It doesn’t hurt. You think it should, and it does eventually, but at that moment, I only felt my leg jerk a bit and saw the blood from the exit wound. I will admit that I had a moment of shock where I considered my mortality. I knew the femoral artery was right where I shot myself. It was a lot of blood. Then my training took over.

I immediately took of my belt and applied it as a tourniquet. I was wearing shorts, and the exit wound was clearly visible, so I could see that the pressure from the belt worked. I was still very concerned about internal bleeding and whether or not I had hit the femoral artery, but with every minute that passed, I was more confident that I would survive my arrogance.

A quick helicopter ride to the hospital, some x-rays, and 16 hours of observation later, I was released with nothing more than a prescription for some painkillers and a week off of work to contemplate what had happened.

I already mentioned the word arrogance, and this is the sole reason why I shot myself. I was very good with a pistol and I knew it. I had trained myself to work through problems as they happened in the field and despite the warnings my brain gave me, I arrogantly chose to work through them. I paid the price for that mistake, too.

You might be wondering what the cost of this mistake was, and that is really the point of this story. The first cost incurred was to my ego. Apparently, I was not as awesome as I thought I was. The next was a $25,000 medical bill. Fortunately, we in the police department have very good insurance. The remaining costs all manifested on the job. Loss of respect? Ridicule? Lower performance? The phone call to your boss explaining why you’ll be off for a week? All of these were running rampant in my mind. While some of them materialized, others didn’t.

I have always been one to learn from my mistakes and try to turn them into positives. Sure, I took a lot of flack from my coworkers, especially one of my subordinates, who took every opportunity to come up with something funny: “Hey boss? If anyone ever asks if you have been shot, now you can say yes!” 10 minutes later: “Hey boss? If anyone ever asks if you shot anyone, you can say yes!” Three minutes later: “Hey Boss? If anyone ever asks did you shoot the guy that shot you, you can say yes!”

I can still hear the laughter. But, the positives I took away from this incident are as follows: I had a major ego check. You might not need one, but maybe you do. Don’t be arrogant. Even if you’re good, stuff happens. I learned that my training took over under stress and that it helped me survive. I learned that I could sustain a gunshot and keep thinking, even keep fighting if I had to. These are powerful things that every cop has thought about at some point in their career.

I ensured the department offered combat first aid training to every officer, and lastly, I provided onboard medical kits for all of the officers under my command. This eventually became standard issue for every officer with spare kits in our patrol cars.

The moral of the story is that if we learn from our mistakes, aren’t afraid to talk about them, and actively pursue solutions to the problems our mistakes present, we and our departments with us will continue to advance and improve—even if we take some ribbing from our friends.


  1. GJNM

    Thanks for the honest discussion of your event and the lessons learned from it. I wish we’d all share more about our “oh Sh*t” moments as it helps the profession as a whole. Enjoy your retirement!

  2. Dmitri Kozlowsky

    Serpa is the contractor for US Army, USMC M9 pistol tactical holsters. They also work for SIGG .40 service pistols used by Navy, AFSec. Never had a problem, but I never qualified with , and never used M1911/A1 pistols. The modular holster I was issued at Ft. L. Wood , was nicely broken in by previous users. The M9 pistol I signed for , apparently stayed with holster and two are best of bodies. It has never fallen out, failed to draw, has just the right amount of ‘sticktion’ , no rattle, and saved me from juvenile latradectus, by trapping it inside and crushing it , without me never even knowing. I have never used in anger, and likely never will, and do not want to.
    These hollow points and Black Talon rounds are illegal. They are verboten in Guard, and RA mp companies! They are forbidden by international treaties. Why do you have them? This was NYPD lesson learned in Diallo Shooting. The one that got NYPD Street Crime unit shuttered, and its officers broken. One former officer did redeem himself by OIF deployment with USMC . Those rounds don’t stop, they kill. Given that centermass aimpoint is usually fatal, if hit by any round , short of .22lr vermin. A hollow point .45 hitting scapula will shatter that bone , with bone fragments and round spalling penetrating heart and lungs. The hydrostatic schock will probably damage spleen, liver, and renals. Nervous system will likely incur permanent damage. I hope you do not carry them on patrol. Unless you are patrolling in Mosul, even then they are unauthorized. In Diallo, there was no chance of survival for him, once the first round left. Over 40 rounds were fired, 19 hit. His organs were basically liquified. That you very much American LEO, and Mr. Diallo. Your sacrifice has made us all safer.

    • OregonCopper

      I think the author addressed your concerns of using these rounds by saying, “I stopped to load my magazines, loading some of my old duty ammunition, a combination of various hollow points, including some old Black Talon rounds.”

      Sounds like he was using up OLD ammo, not the stuff he carries on the job…why do all your posts seem to point out some type of police misconduct, even from incidents that occurred over (18) years ago? The shooting of Amadou DIALLO was reported as widely as it was came to be because the press and the CLINTON Administration actually failed to report many of the facts the officers at the scene knew in an attempt to smear then-New York City Mayor GIULIANI and his anti-criminal policies…again, only sensationalism sells in the modern media… It was a completely random act and I hope that it never happens again, however, you fail to mention that this incident occurred over (18) years ago (in 1999) and the involved offices were found not guilty…They were not guilty because ALL the facts were presented to a jury, not the hype that the mainstream media used to sell advertisement…

      Oh, and where did you get the idea that the NYPD officers used Black Talons that night? I remember the use of Black Talons being discouraged in the late 80’s because the word “Black” was used and some in the African American community felt that was a racist term, meaning those rounds were designed to kill only African Americans… all I can find regarding the ammo used in this incident was that NYPD officers were to receive additional training on the use of full-metal jacketed rounds…Not all FMJ rounds are Black Talons

      What does the DIALLO incident have to do with what Sgt. DALE is trying to impart? What difference did it make that he shot himself with a Black Talon round as opposed to a .22lr? The man made a mistake, owned up to it, took some pretty serious ribbing about it and, most importantly, talked about it in a national forum in hopes that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

      I hope your last sentence, “Your sacrifice has made us all safer,” was directed to Sgt. DALE because while the DIALLO incident was extremely tragic, I can’t think of anything that came out of it that made “us” safer…

      • Dmitri Kozlowsky

        Call it righteous anger.

        • OregonCopper

          Ha! Man, you are going to wear a hole completely through your gut…I hope this isn’t your only form of “release” because it doesn’t seem to be helping much…

          God Bless and Stay Safe Dmitri…

          • Dmitri Kozlowsky

            Just this week alone we had three incidents of obnoxious LEO initiated violence. The incident with United airlines, with LEOs dragging a passenger off the flight, not for any crime, but to make room for someone else.
            The incident in Sacramento, where LEO initiated contacted on a non-issue, and then escalated it to assault on citizen.
            The incident in Georgia, where LEO head stomped a handcuffed suspect.

            The LEO has become, or fast becoming, the enemy of People Of United States. You are a threat to safety and security of American citizens, and you, the LEO , need to be dealt with. If necessary by force.

          • OregonCopper

            I need to be dealt with by force if necessary? ME?!?

            And you’re advocating violence towards ALL LEO’s? A tad over the top, no?

            The United Airlines incident was pathetic and unnecessary, I’ll admit that, but LE was only on-scene to act as peace keepers and were not directly involved in the removal of that passenger…The person who dragged the passenger out was wearing blue jeans, my guess he was either the on-board Air Marshal or he worked for airline security…That was a horrible incident that should have been avoided, but it was initiated and continued by United Airlines, not Law Enforcement…I would definitely be just as defiant in leaving the plane as that man was had I not violated any laws, not violated any airline policies, not already been on the plane, and/or had not paid for my seat…the man was being booted so another crew could fly to their waiting airplane at another airport…there was NO reason for that man to be kicked off and the aftermath will cost United Airlines, but not any LE officer or department…

            The incident in Sacramento was not exactly as you described…a man was REFUSING to obey an officer’s legal order to stop after the man violated a traffic law…I don’t know why there was a traffic sting in-progress for “jay-walking,” but the officers were conducting legal traffic stops on violators…it was the VIOLATOR who caused that to happen to him…what is your proposal on how to handle people who don’t comply with lawful orders? That guy should have taken his cite and fought it in court, but he REFUSED to obey and got the business end of LE because HE REFUSED to obey a lawful order…

            C’mon Dmitri, shame on you for including this incident in your attempt to once again spew anti-cop rhetoric that is incorrect on every level…much like Rachel MADDOW’S attempt to shame President TRUMP’S tax returns, you calling out this situation just puts egg on your face…this was a situation that was handled exactly the way it should have been and I didn’t even mention the violator’s criminal history…

            Now, the Georgia incident…what do you want me to say? I’ve never been to Georgia so I don’t have all the facts…I can only go on what the local media reported and it reported the deputy was fired and that he broke the law…it doesn’t say charges won’t be filed and that he may not be arrested at a later time (that is not uncommon for anyone by the way)…he has the Right to a fair trial if charges are filed…he lost his job, will most likely never work in LE again if he is found guilty…sounds like at least initially that the situation has been dealt with…and that does not include the civil suits that will follow…

            What else do you want? Due process will take its course on the United and Georgia incidents…brown stuff happens and while it would be great if bad things could be avoided, life doesn’t always work that way…but again, these were (3) bad incidents out of how many contacts that were handled professionally last week, thousands? Too many for sure, but still clearly in the minority of all police contacts…Like I’ve said, the media only reports when bad things happen because the good stuff doesn’t sell…

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