A police officer's calmness in action

The first to respond to the mass shooting in Boulder, Officer Talley showed why the public looks to certain qualities in police.

A woman places a note that says, "Thank you police officers, our hearts are grieving," at a memorial for Officer Eric Talley, who was killed during a mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado.

Among the many heroes during the March 22 mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, was Eric Talley, the first police officer to respond. With calmness and courage, he ran toward the danger inside King Soopers grocery store, taking action against a lone gunman to save the lives of others before being fatally shot himself, said Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver. Other officials praised Officer Talley for different qualities that are essential during a volatile and violent crisis.

“When the moment to act came, Officer Talley did not hesitate,” said President Joe Biden. Boulder police Chief Maris Herold described his possible motivations, saying the 10-year force veteran was “a very kind man” who loved his community. “He’s everything that policing deserves and needs,” she said. 

One insight on Officer Talley’s character comes from a 2016 report describing an incident with a troubled young man. The man’s parents stated afterward, “[Our son] was combative when Officer Talley arrived. Officer Talley acted calmly and professionally and helped keep our son safe, despite our son’s aggressive behaviors.” They praised his understanding and patience in ridding their son of his immediate fears.

Police are trained to do many things, but perhaps one of the more necessary qualifications is staying calm. A community expects its officers to remain unruffled and stable whether they are facing an active shooter, standing in front of a riotous crowd, or deciding whether a suspect is holding a gun or a harmless object.

Calmness is so admired in police that the National Police Foundation, supported by the U.S. Justice Department, conducted a study of it after the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

The title said it all: “Bringing Calm to Chaos.”

The report details how police brought calm to victims during the incident, how they calmed the general public, and calmed each other, relying on trust, experience, training, and “a sincere concern for first responders and victims.”

Among the skills needed during a threatening situation are empathy, listening, and prudence. “The leadership necessary to manage even the smallest components of these events was critical not only to eliminating the threat but also to preventing additional casualties, informing the public, reducing fear in the community, and restoring calm,” the report stated.

Calmness is not the absence of fear but a very real antidote to fear. The best way to honor Officer Talley after the Boulder shooting may lie beyond praising him. For anyone who wants to be prepared for a crisis, the best response lies in emulating the strength and affection behind his great calm.

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