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Police officers are trained to protect lives and property. They’re skilled drivers, shooters, and fighters. They know how to arrest, how to testify in court, and how to collect evidence. They’re calm and cool when facing danger, and they’re protective of other officers.

But how about after transitioning from wearing a uniform to plainclothes? How do detectives, both real and fictional, prepare for and react to danger? After all, they don’t have the luxury of wearing all that fancy, shiny gear that’s worn by patrol officers.

In the fictional world, investigators have the luxury of their creators handing them whatever they need to survive. Real life detectives don’t have that advantage, therefore, they should follow a few simple unwritten guidelines. If you, as a writer, would like to add a bit of extra realism to your tall tales, then you should have your characters follow in the footsteps of living, breathing detectives. And, speaking of shoes …

1. Footwear

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Never bring a knife to a gun fight,” right? Well, the same is true for shoes. Detectives should never, ever wear fancy, expensive shoes to that same battle. Why not? Because shoes such as the $1,665 leather-soled, perforated Amedeo Testoni Derby shoes pictured below offer practically zero traction during a fight.

The same when running after a criminal suspect whose feet are clad in a pair of Solid Gold OVO x Air Jordans, which, by the way, are the world’s most expensive sneaker with a price tag of $2,000,000.

Remember, sometimes it’s necessary to retreat in a hurry, and you certainly want the hero of your story to make it to page 325, so practical footwear is a must. Detectives should always wear lace-up shoes, not loafers that could easily slip off the feet just when you need them the most. No leather soles, if possible. And female detectives should never, ever wear heels.

2. Handcuffs

TV investigators are often seen with handcuffs looping over their waistbands, with one cuff inside the rear of the pants and the other flopping around the outside. This is not an acceptable method for carrying handcuffs. They should always be secured in a holster of some type, such as the one pictured above. Carrying them improperly is an invitation for a bad guy to grab them and use the cuffs as a weapon against the officer.

The ratchet end of the cuff (above) makes for an excellent weapon. Imagine an offender swinging the cuff, catching an officers cheek and ripping the flesh away. It’s happened.

3. Pistols

Carrying a loaded firearm tucked into the rear waistband without a holster is a definite no. For starters, the weapon is not secure and could easily slip down inside the pants, which could be difficult to retrieve during an emergency. Imagine being on the receiving end of gunfire while pawing around inside your pants, desperately trying untangle your pistol from your Wednesday pair of tighty-whiteys. It’s not a pretty picture.

Besides, an unsecured weapon is easily taken by an offender during a scuffle. But even worse, it would be downright embarrassing to have to fish your gun out of your pants while standing in line at the bank. So wear a holster. There are several designs specifically for plainclothes and undercover officers. For example, Galls’ BLACKHAWK! Leather Inside Pants Holster.

4. Vests

I know this like beating a dead horse, but ALL officers, including detectives, should wear their ballistic vests. Wearing a suit and tie does not prevent an investigator from encountering dangerous people with guns. Suit jackets and shirts can be cut to allow a vest underneath (male and female). I know, they’re hot and uncomfortable, and I’m the perfect example of someone who’s been involved in a shootout and was not wearing a vest. I’m lucky the bad guy was a poor shot and I wasn’t. However, all it takes is one round to start the sound of Bob Dylan’s voice inside your head, singing …

“Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door”

Oh, and do tuck the tail of the vest inside the pants, like a shirt tail. It’s there for a reason! Never roll it up under the vest. Doing so allows the vest to ride up, exposing vital organs.

5. Badges

It’s a good tactic for Plainclothes officers to use their non-gun hand to hold and display their badges near the shooting hand while their weapons are drawn. You want it visible because people have a tendency to focus on a gun instead of the ID that’s attached to a belt. If an officer’s badge is not clearly visible the suspect may not realize the man/woman who’s aiming a pistol at them is indeed a cop no matter how many times or how loud you shout, “POLEEECE!. This includes other officers who may think the good guy is one of the bad guys and then shoots one of their own before realizing their little boo boo. #displaythebadge

Cops absorb lots of information during the months they spend in the training academy. Then, when they finally do hit the streets they’re required to ride with a field training officer for a few months, a time when the FTO crams even more important stuff into their brains, all while responding to crimes and complaints in real time.

Over and over again, academy trainers and field training officers drill information and practical skills into the minds of recruits. Over and over and over again. And then again.

And, among all the laws, facts, figures, running, pushups, sit-ups, shooting drills, defensive tactics, and on-the-job training, a common theme emerges—officer survival.

Here are a few tips to help keep officers safe

1. Remember these three words. You will survive! Never give up no matter how many times you’ve been shot, stabbed, or battered.

2. Carry a good weapon. You can’t win a gun fight if your weapon won’t fire.

3. Carry plenty of ammunition. There’s no such thing as having too many bullets.

4. Treat every situation as a potential ambush. This includes during meals, at movies, ball games, and church, etc. You never know when or where it could happen. This is why cops don’t like to sit with their backs to a door. Please don’t ask them to do so.

5. Practice your shooting skills in every possible situation—at night, lying down, with your weak hand, etc.

6, Wear your seat belt.

7. Wear your body armor.

8. Always expect the unexpected.

9. Suspect everyone until you’re absolutely sure they’re okay and pose no threat to you.

10. Trust no one until trust is earned. Even then, be cautious.

11. Everyone is a potential threat until it’s proven they’re not. Remember, bad people can have attractive faces and warm smiles and say nice things. But all that can change in the blink of an eye.

12. Know when to retreat.

13. Stay in shape! Eat healthy. Exercise.

14. Train, train, and train.

15. Take advantage of specialized training classes and workshops outside of the department police academy. For example, the blackbelt trainers at your local gym just might be police academy or military instructors who could address your concerns and weaknesses, and/or enhance your strengths. For example, some of the specialized training I’ve taught include standing, prone, and ground combat, knife and stick fighting, defending against the sudden attack, and personal and executive bodyguard training.

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16. Use common sense and remember your training, because your family needs you safely at home at the end of your shift.

17. Family first. Job second.

18. Make no judgements based on a person’s lifestyle, personality, politics, race, or religion. Treat everyone fairly and equally, from the homeless drug addict to the crooked Wall Street embezzler. However, remain on alert and cautious at all times.

19. Talk to people. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. After all, it’s often a bit tougher to hurt an officer they know and trust.

20. Find a release for your stress. Bike/exercise. Vacation. Talk to someone. Read. Write. Spiritual guidance. Hobbies.

Seek help the moment you notice a change/decrease in your work performance, increase in anxiety, excess use of alcohol and/or you consider drug use, change in sleep habits, you experience suicidal thoughts, or other drastic changes in your normal behavior.

Officer I. Gowj is on foot patrol in the lower east side of Deathtrap, Texas, where the rowdiest of all bars are located. The area there near the docks and strip joints is well known for its drug traffic and gang activity, and there’d been a number of assaults on police officers in recent weeks. So Officer Gowj is already on high alert as he passes a suspicious young man hanging out at the intersection of Kick and My Butt. The two exchange eye contact and, after mumbling a few words to himself, the cross-eyed beefy guy falls in step behind the officer.

Sensing danger, Officer Gowj moves to the side of the walkway and turns his back to the brick storefront of Slim’s House of Pawn, Porn, and Collectible Thimbles.

The large man stopped directly in front of the wary patrol officer. Unsure of the focus of the suspicious man’s gaze Officer Gowj prepared to defend himself and, as the officer suspected, the man attacked, delivering numerous punches and kicks to the officer’s head and body.

Is Officer I. Gowj expected, by law, to fight a fair fight? Must he stand there and exchange punches and kicks with the thug until the best brawler is left standing? No, of course not. Police officers are expected to win every single encounter. They should never lose a battle. Not ever. Their goal is to arrest all suspects and bring them in to stand trial.

But, suppose the attacker is bigger and stronger? What if there’s more than one attacker? If the bad guy is a better fighter, what then?

Well, all of the above are the reasons officers operate under the “1-Plus Rule of Thumb,” which simply means that officers, under normal circumstances, are allowed to use one level of force above the amount of force used by the suspect/attacker/adversary.

What about an encounter such as the one Officer Gowj was faced with in the paragraphs above? The man was unarmed and he began his attack at close range. What is Officer Gowj allowed to do to defend himself?

Well, if the officer feels that his life is in danger he is permitted to use deadly force. But in Gowj’s case he probably wouldn’t have the time or opportunity to reach one of the weapons on his duty belt. Not at first, anyway.

So here are some options officers may want to consider when faced with deadly force encounters while empty handed. The same tactics could be used by citizens to defend themselves against an attack.

Empty-Hand Defensive Tactics

Eye Gouge – Use your palms to guide the thumbs to the eyes, and always use the thumbs when applying this technique. Never a finger. Thumbs are capable of delivering more force than fingers. Besides, fingers break easily as opposed to the sturdier thumbs. But you can use the fingers to grip the head, which helps to provide even more force from the thumbs. A properly applied eye gouge almost always results in the suspect releasing his grip on you.

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Knee Strike – A knee strike to the groin, gut, or the large muscle of the thigh, can be a devastating blow. A huge amount of force is generated by this technique, and that force translates into lots of pain to your attacker.

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The Head Twist – This one’s a little tricky because you could actually kill your suspect if you’re not careful. BUT, if the officer is fighting for her life, then so be it.

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Kick To The Knee – It’s very easy to break a knee, therefore a good kick to it can put your attacker out of commission in a hurry. After all, it’s tough to fight while standing on one leg. It’s also difficult to escape custody with a broken knee. Not many suspects are able to successfully hop their way to freedom.

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Palm-Heel Strike To The Ear – This one is quite painful. Makes ’em see stars and bright white lights. It could also make them release the choke hold they have on you.

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Remember, these are NOT the techniques police use to control suspects—arm bars, wrist locks, and come-alongs. These are empty-handed tactics and techniques used when fighting for survival. Officers should ONLY use the amount of force necessary to control a suspect/situation. Never use deadly force in a non life-threatening situation.

Hell Week

Basic police officer academy training consists of many aspects of law-enforcement. But perhaps the most memorable course is the one our recruits often referred to as Hell Week.

During Hell Week recruits learn how to defend themselves from weapon wielding attackers, and they learn various techniques such as weapon retention, weapon disarming, handcuffing, baton use, how to effectively arrest combative and non-combative suspects, and the proper and safe use of chemical sprays and Taser deployment.

They’re also required to exercise and run. Actually, lots and lots of exercising and running. And when they’ve finished all that exercising and running, they run and exercise some more.

The training is intense, painful, and exhausting. Did I mention … PAINFUL!

Recruits learn to control and handcuff combative suspects by using pain-compliance techniques—wrist-locks and joint control. The tactics taught to police are based on the techniques used by martial artists. Aikido, founded byO-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, and Chin-Na, are two of the martial arts our academy used as a foundation for these highly-effective techniques.

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Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei, “The Great Teacher”).

Sticking to O-Sensei’s original teachings, Yoshinkan Aikido was first taught to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police in the early 1960’s. The Tokyo Riot Police receives Yoshinkan Aikido instruction to this day. Aikido techniques in American police academies are a bit less intensive, but are still extremely effective.

Aikido (The Art of Peace) uses the attacker’s own force against him.

The purpose of police defense tactics training is actually threefold—to protect the officer, make a safe arrest, and protect the attacker/assailant from harm.

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I served as a police academy instructor and instructor-trainer for many years, teaching basic, advanced, and in-service classes such as, Defensive Tactics, Officer Survival, CPR, Interview and Interrogation, Homicide Investigation, Drug Recognition, and Firearms. I also trained, certified, and re-certified police academy instructors.

Outside the academy, my wife Denene, and I, owned our own school/gym where I taught classes in rape-prevention, personal self-defense and self-defense for women, and advanced training for executive bodyguards. I trained others in stick (tambo) and knife fighting. The training at our school/dojo was extremely intense and designed for personal survival and the protection of others. It was not typical police training.

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Throughout my law enforcement career I maintained the rank of Master Defensive Tactics Intructor/Aikido and a black belt in Chin-Na, and Master Defensive Tactics Instructor/Instructor-Trainer.

As I stated above, the defensive tactics I and our other instructors taught to police recruits and to officers completing their mandatory in-service training was based upon Aikido techniques.

Basic Aikido For Law Enforcement

1. Develop a keen sense of awareness. Learn to observe the entire picture. No rear attacks!

2. Being able to quickly move forward, backward, side-to-side, and diagonally… all without losing your balance.

3. Verbally calm down any potential aggressor.

4. Knowing the right time to arrest or detain a suspect. Avoid any escalation of violent behavior.

5. Having the tools to cause pain without causing injury—use of pressure points to safely effect the arrest.

6. Always use the minimum amount of force necessary to make the arrest.

Remember:

– Unbalancing the suspect is key to reducing their resistance.

– Control the head and the body will follow.

– Move the suspect into a position where their chance of reaching you with an attack is greatly reduced—controlling their arms, wrists, elbows or shoulders.

Officers are taught a variety of techniques, such as:

A wrist turnout, for example, applies intense pressure to the joint in the wrist while forcing the suspect off balance. The proper grasp to begin the wrist turnout (Kotegaeshi Nage) technique is pictured below.

A wrist turnout applies intense pressure to the joint in the wrist, forcing the suspect off balance.

Proper grasp to begin the wrist turnout (Kotegaeshi Nage) technique. To complete the technique the officer maintains his grasp, rotates the suspect’s hand up and to the rear in a counter-clockwise motion while simultaneously stepping back with his (the officer) left leg. The suspect ends up on the floor on his back (see picture below). Any resistance inflcts excrutiating pain in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

Combative suspects are normally forced the ground for handcuffing. From this position, a quick turn of the suspect’s wrist and arm will force him to roll over on his stomach. Any resistance causes extreme pain and could severely injure the controlled wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

To effectively control the wrist, the elbow must be stationary. From this position, the suspect is easily handcuffed.

This wrist lock can cause intense pain in the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder. Forward and downward pressure forces the suspect to the ground.

Chinese Chin Na can be categorized in five general areas. They are:

Fen Chin – techniques which tear apart an opponent’s muscles or tendons. Techniques in this category of Chin Na is illegal in all competitive sports.

Ts’o Ku, translated loosely, means misplacing the bone. These techniques are used to position bones in unnatrual positions by manipulating  and applying pressure to joints.

Pi Ch’i, “sealing the breath,” refers to techniques that prevents an opponent’s ability to inhale.

Tien Mai are the techniques used for sealing or striking blood vessels.

Keep in mind, the last four techniques listed above are NOT taught to law enforcement officers. Nor are they permitted as part of arrest and control situations. However, in a life or death situation anything goes, including the use of deadly force.

To see a demonstration of a few techniques taught to law enforcement, please click to start the video below.

You. Will. Survive. Three of the most important words I heard during my entire time attending the basic police academy.

Several years later it was I who was drilling the phrase into the minds of hundreds of recruits. After all, thoughts of my survival speech, and many others like it in academies across the country, could be the catalyst that gives the much-needed shove after an officer is badly wounded and is teetering between giving up and pushing on to live another day. Indeed, three very important words to remember.

You. Will. Survive.

Sure, rookies know it all, or think they do. They’re fresh out of a lengthy and grueling training period that prepares them for whatever could come their way. Well, almost everything. The world still toss out surprises.

But there they are, shiny faces and short hair. Ill-fitting uniforms and new scratch-free equipment on their brand new duty belts that still smell of freshly-dyed leather and oil. New information fills their brains (“Do this. Don’t do that. Watch this and look for that.”).

The’ve just completed Hell Week (defensive tactics where pain rules the day) so arrest techniques are fresh in their minds. Their shooting and driving skills are sharp. They are nothing short of walking, talking, hyper-vigilant cop machines who can run fives miles while drinking protein shakes, cleaning their sidearms, and reciting Black’s Law Dictionary in reverse order, from ZZZZ BEST to A FORTIORI.

The point is, rookies are probably far more alert than the officer who’s been on the job for several years.

Why is it that more experienced officers have a strong tendency to become—here it comes, the dreaded “C” word—complacent?

Well, like other professions, doing the same thing over and over and over again becomes a bit tiresome, especially when that same-old, same-old involves the same two people time and time again (“He hit me.” “No, he hit ME!”). Unfortunately, it’s often the 300th time you respond to Junior, Jr.’s trailer out on Route 5 that he decides to shoot a cop. It could be the meth or the Jack talking, but dead is dead. There “ain’t” no coming back from that mistake.

Complacency kills cops!

So remain alert, even after you’ve been on the job for 30 years. Charm and your good looks will only get you so far. Not everyone thinks it’s adorable that your spare tire loops over your gun belt in several places.

Watch the Hands!

Always watch the hands!

Sure, the eyes are sometimes telling and they telegraph intentions, but it’s the hands that kill, not the eyes. Watch the hands. If you cannot see them then it is imperative that officers consider the person to be armed.

Clues

A suspect’s actions and even clothing are often strong indicators of their intentions. I know, the “action” part is self-explanatory, but how could a person’s dress be an indication of future intent to commit a crime, or to assault an officer? Picture a man wearing a long coat in the middle of August, in Atlanta. That’s an indicator that the man, or woman, could be armed and are using the coat to hide the weapon. Or, suppose a person refuses to show his hands? He may not be armed but there’s no way an officer could know until the hands are seen.

Officer line of duty deaths in 2017 are currently up 8% over this time last year. Deaths by gunfire are up 4%. Of those gunfire deaths, if the past is any indication, there’s a strong possibility that at least some, if not most of the officers didn’t have their weapons unholstered at the time they were shot. Those who didn’t have their weapons drawn were most likely approaching a house, a suspect, or a vehicle to make initial contact. Remember complacency? Happens to the best of us.

Never relax too soon!

When is the time to relax and let down your guard? Easy answer. When the call is complete and you’re safely away from the scene.

Time

There’s an old saying that goes something like this (I apologize if the wording is off), “Waiting buys time. Distance buys time. Time buys survival.” I’m not sure where or when I first heard the phrase, but it’s stuck with me for many years, and I imagine the words, as sparse as they are, saved my rear end a few times over the years.

So …

  • Call for backup. And then wait for them to arrive!
  • Never rush into a scene. Assess it first. Be certain it’s safe to enter.
  • Until backup arrives, if possible, it’s imperative that the officer maintain a safe distance from a suspect (I know, this is not always possible). Remember, you cannot be stabbed from a distance and chances are the bad guy couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when firing a gun (however, he might be an expert), so keeping your distance and finding cover are vital.
  • Maintain focus. Thinking about your kids ballet recital is nice, but save those tutu thoughts for after the shootout. FOCUS!
  • Keep your back to the wall! By this I mean to never allow anyone to move out of your sight, especially behind you.
  • When conducting traffic stops at night, if alone, circle behind the patrol car and approach the suspect vehicle on the passenger’s side. Doing so gives the advantage of surprise because the driver is typically watching to see the officer in his side mirror and then at his window. This slight advantage allows the officer time to see what, if anything, the driver is holding, hiding, reaching for, etc. Passing behind her patrol car prevents the officer from becoming illuminated by headlights, making her an easy target should someone in the car have bad intentions.
  • Political correctness. I’m sorry but a citizen’s inconvenience is not as important as the lives of people, including that of the officer. Sure, it’s irritating to be the subject of a traffic stop and to have the officer ask that you keep your hands where he can see them, but it’s more important to the officer that they live another day. He/she doesn’t know you or your intentions. And you don’t know that the officer received a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) for a car description matching yours, telling him it was involved in an armed robbery of the Piggly Wiggly in your neighborhood, the reason he stopped you.

Think about that for a moment. The officer stopped a car, believing the driver was armed and wasn’t afraid to use his gun. He stopped that driver fully aware that he was placing himself in danger to protect the lives of others, yet the driver complains because the officer asked to see his hands.

Keep in mind that it was political correctness that contributed to the shooting deaths of five Dallas officers and the wounding of nine others. The shootings occurred during a protest where officers were ordered to not wear protective gear because some people thought it appeared too scary and militaristic. So those lives were taken and the others affected for the rest of their time on this earth because leaders didn’t want to offend someone. The lives of the officers obviously meant nothing to politicians. So no, officers are not keen on political correctness when it compromises their well-being and the safety of citizens, and the very people handing down these stupid orders.

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To sum up, officers should remain alert, take nothing for granted, assume nothing, trust no strangers (and some friends), watch everyones’ hands, stand with their backs to a wall, any wall, all while calling for backup, unholstering their weapons when necessary, clearing their minds of everything other than the scene before them, running toward gunfire to save the lives of others, and remembering that …

You. Will. Survive!

*To learn more about officer survival click the highlighted link above (You. Will. Survive.).

 

1. Never underestimate suspects. The little ones are just as capable of inflicting enormous amounts of pain as their larger peers. In fact, the hardest I’ve ever been hit with a bare hand was by a woman who didn’t take too kindly to me arresting her extremely combative adult son. The young man, by the way, had just committed an armed robbery and I’d chased him on foot for several blocks. The chase ended inside dear old, sweet little (225 lb.) Mama’s house, a woman with a fist like steel and a punch like a jack hammer.

2. Crooks sometimes make really stupid comments So keep your ears open. Listen to your suspects and witnesses. After all, you just may hear a few comments like I did back in the day. Such as …

“Come on, man. I spent my last twenty bucks on that rock. At least let me smoke it before you take me to jail.”

“I didn’t rob that guy. The one I robbed had blonde hair.”

“He was already dead when I shot him. I think he had a heart attack or something when he saw my gun.”

“I was not driving that get-a-way car. The one I was driving when we robbed that store was a Mustang.”

“He couldn’t have recognized me. I was wearing a mask.”

3. Never engage in a foot pursuit when you have a perfectly healthy rookie riding shotgun.

Delivering the “Hot Sauce.”

4. When you and your partner are in the process of arresting a combative slimeball-scumbag, always know who’s spraying the “hot sauce.” It’s a real pain in the rear when the buttwipe ducks at the precise moment both of you squeeze the button. Ever try arresting a guy when neither you nor your partner can see anything? It’s not pretty. There’s nothing like watching two crying cops wrestle an innocent waitress in the middle of bar fight while the bad guy calmly walks away.

5. If you have to return gunfire more than 6 times, the bad guy can still see you. Move to better cover.

6. The raincoat in your trunk is meant for the rookie riding in your passenger seat. No need for both of you to stand in the downpour. Besides, someone has to man the radio and finish the coffee. Waste not, want not.

7. Flashlights are dual-purpose tools. The handle is great for ending confrontations. When the delivery is just right, at the precise moment the battery-filled tube connects with a forehead, it sounds kind of like an aluminum baseball bat hitting a softball. The other end is perfect for helping you see (in the dark) the crook’s eyes spinning like windmills after the little “love tap.”

8. Never rush into a fight-in-progress. Instead, wait a few seconds. Let the two goons wear themselves out. Then, like a lion after its prey, you can grab the one who’s the most tired and perhaps a bit wounded, while the rookie gets the still-fighting and extremely angry and massively-strong gorilla.

9. Never leave your patrol car, even for a second, with the keys in it. There’s nothing worse than chasing a bad guy on foot, wrestling with him for ten minutes, then marching the handcuffed thug back to the empty spot where you just know you left your car. I promise you’ll hear howls of laughter from the bad guy, who, by the way, will remind you of “the day you lost your police car” for the rest of your career. He’ll shout it from the curbside, the jail cell, from his prison window, and from his mother’s front porch.

10. Be sure you never, ever write a check with your mouth that your rear end can’t cash. Nothing worse than talking a big game only to find yourself sitting on the pavement looking up at a laughing bad guy who’s now holding your only pair of handcuffs.

A bruised ego hurts far more than a black eye.