Author: Betsy Brantner-Smith

3 keys to improve your safety and success

Betsy Brantner Smith

I’m disappointed — but not surprised — to report that at least 25 percent of the women officers in my “Winning Mind for Women” class report that they are carrying handguns that don’t fit them.

In addition, female officers — and their male counterparts! — are still being injured and killed in vehicle incidents in which a seatbelt or a slower speed may have kept them safe.

And too many officers are filling their heads with negativity, which stifles their growth and endangers their lives.

Here are three keys to improve your career and enhance your officer safety.

Best of all, you can start doing each of these things right now!

1.) Make Sure Your Tools Fit You
Carrying a firearm that doesn’t fit you not only affects your scores on the range, but more importantly your confidence in your own ability to win a gunfight.

The fix is seems to be an easy one (carry a firearm that fits!), but most women and many of their smaller male colleagues are working in agencies which have a “one-size-fits-all” policy when it comes to firearms.

If the department won’t buy you a pistol that fits, ask permission to purchase your own. If that’s not an option, start documenting why you need a different handgun and provide several options for the agency to consider.

Document — in writing, with photos, and in person if possible — how an ill-fitting pistol affects your ability to shoot.

But remember to keep your demeanor positive and keep all emotion out of it. This is what Dave Smithcalls “The Power of Positive Annoyance.”

Don’t give up, be persistent, and carry a back up gun (which you should be doing anyway).

Also, make sure your shotgun and your patrol rifle (if you have them) fit as well. Youth stocks or collapsible stocks make long guns easier to handle for smaller people.

2.) Assess Your Driving
Driving and related activities are perishable skills which need to be practiced. Regularly assess your habits — good and bad — behind the wheel.

Do you tend to drive too fast? Do you spend too much time with your head down, looking at your computer screen, your ticket printer, or your smartphone?

Do you wear your seat belt each and every time you operate a vehicle, and do you practice taking it on and off?

So many officers still claim that “seat belts aren’t tactical.”  If you’re having difficulty getting out of your seat belt, you need to properly configure your gear, get a hard practice seat belt extender and practice.

There is never a reason for a cop to get hurt or killed because they refused to buckle up, on or off duty.

Slow down, wear your seat belt, and stay focused.

3.) Look in the Mirror
What do you see on the outside? Does your uniform or your suit (or whatever you wear on duty) fit you properly? Do you look like a professional? Are you as comfortable as possible? Do you have good boots or shoes?

Does your body armor fit well and provide good coverage?

After you assess the outside, take a look at the inside. What’s going on behind your eyes?

Does your “self talk” help you or hurt you?

You should be your own best coach and motivator —don’t fill your head with negativity. If you make a mistake (who doesn’t?) fix it, learn from, and move on, but don’t shirk your responsibilities.

You are responsible for your own officer safety as well as your own career satisfaction.

Embrace “personal responsibility” in everything you do.

Whatever your assignment is, law enforcement is an incredible challenge and a wonderful adventure, so make the most of it!


About the Author:

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates.

Is your life really balanced?

Betsy Brantner Smith

When I first became a field training sergeant, we had a young male rookie on my shift whose wife was pregnant. She gave birth too early and then she and the baby had to be flown to separate hospitals for advanced treatment. It was a scary time, especially for the young family.

Within a day or two, this officer was back at work, much to the shock of me and my lieutenant. We sat him down in the office and asked him why he was back so quickly.

He told us, “My first priority is to the agency and to my fellow officers. My personal life comes second.”

“There’s Life Outside of the Job?!”
My boss and I proceeded to deliver one of our best, most passionate “this-job-is-not-your-life” speeches and we sent the newbie back home. At that time, I also had a little one at home and the situation got me thinking about my own life and my own priorities.

Although my “baby” is now grown, I still struggle to maintain balance in my life, and I’m guessing that many of you do as well. How do you balance the extraordinary demands of a law enforcement career with your life outside of “the job?”

Most of us spend so much time and energy getting hired, keeping ourselves fit and ready for the job, and then working our way up the chain of command, that if we’re not careful our professional life may overshadow everything else.

Police officers are notorious for allowing our job to become the central focus of our lives. That doesn’t make you a better cop, and it sure doesn’t make you a better person. Here are a few suggestions for a young cop (or a veteran cop who wants to make some changes) on how to gain and maintain a more balanced life.

Keep Your Family Involved and Informed
“My family just doesn’t understand what I’m dealing with!”

I hear this from so many people in law enforcement. But when I inquire further, I discover that most of them don’t really tell their family members — or friends — what their day to day life is really like.

When I was in the academy my mom was battling cancer, my dad was taking care of her, and most of my non-police friends were still in college so I only had my academy classmates to talk to.

Looking back, it was a very emotionally isolating experience. Talk to your family members and non-cop friends about your experiences. And don’t just tell them the funny or heroic stories — tell them the things that scared you or angered you or even things that confused or worried you.

It’s okay to tell your spouse or partner, “I’m really worried about that felony assault trial next week” or to admit to your best friend from grade school, “I responded to a really bad fatal crash today and I’m really bothered by what I saw.”

Sometime talking to non-cop friends can help you frame your concerns differently that just talking to your co-workers.

If you have kids, talk to them about what you did at work today. Tell them one or two age-appropriate stories, and then ask them about their day and what they did. Trading stories is a great way to communicate kids, and I always found that it worked better than the standard “how was your day” questions that usually result in one-word answers.

If you went to training, teach them what you learned that day.

Kids love to learn about all the parts of a handgun and the differences between “cover” and “concealment,” so get them involved. If you’re in the academy, ask friends and family to help you study for exams and shine up your gear. They’ll feel more connected, and you’ll feel more balanced — everybody wins!

Don’t Give Up Your Non-Police Activities
When I was a new cop, one of the things that helped save my sanity in the police academy and in field training was something I’d been doing all my life — working with horses. For the first year I was on the job I lived in a small apartment on a horse farm where I worked off some of the rent cleaning stalls and exercising the owner’s horses.

No matter how stressed out I was, engaging in a familiar and pleasurable activity that had nothing to do with my job was a true joy.

As a rookie, my husband coached wrestling for a small high school.

Police work, especially in the early stages, tends to consume most of our time and energy, and by the time things settle down and we feel able to engage in other some fun, we often find ourselves with a list of what Dr. Kevin Gilmartin calls “Usta’s.”

I “usta” go fishing, I “usta” play softball, I “usta” visit my parents once a week, I “usta” get together with my high school girlfriends.

Keep the constructive links to your “before” life connected. Be proactive about scheduling time for activities that don’t involve police work — it’s essential to your emotional health.

Gender Roles and Police Life Balance
I talk to thousands of female cops every year, and achieving that work/life balance seems to be especially difficult for women. Many of them are dealing with less-than-supportive friends and family who don’t understand their career choice and frankly, law enforcement is still a very male-dominated profession and not all police departments are as welcoming to women as they should be.

I know many women who spend all day (or night) at work and then go home and make dinner, help with homework, bake cookies for the PTA fundraiser and do the laundry. Other women may be caring for aging parents or coming home to a spouse or partner who is resentful of the long hours spent away from home and the inevitable changes in attitude or demeanor that every cop experiences.

It may be helpful to seek out a more experienced female co-worker who has a similar lifestyle and get some advice. There are also associations and online forums (like PoliceOne!) that offer articles and advice to women in law enforcement. Don’t just stew in frustration, reach out!

Whether you are male or female, a rookie or a veteran, make sure you own a copy of Kevin Gilmartin’s “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” and Ellen Kirchman’s book “I Love a Cop.”

Reach out to your brothers and sisters in law enforcement and to your family and friends outside of the profession. Achieving balance in your life isn’t easy, but it’s extremely rewarding.

You’ve got to “train” for your personal life as hard as you train for your on-duty survival.

Stay safe!


About the Author:

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates.

Unleashing her inner warrior: Ariz. cop beats a would-be cop killer

Nancy Fatura grew up in tiny Park Falls, Wis., where she dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But as a cop’s kid, she also craved excitement, risk and adventure.  In 1993, Nancy joined the US Army Reserves as a Behavioral Science Specialist and the girl from the Midwest found herself deployed to a combat hospital in Germany during “Operation Joint Endeavour.”

After her deployment, she returned to Wisconsin and tried out various jobs, including a stint with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles where she developed a fascination and an expertise in working with faked documents. Her birth state of Arizona was still in her blood, however, as was an ever-growing interest in police work.  She packed up her car and moved to Tucson.

Nancy was hired by the Tucson Police Department in 1999; she immediately loved the challenge of the academy.  TPD has nearly 1000 sworn officers and protects 500,000 citizens within 200 square miles; what a change for the small-town kid from Wisconsin!  Nancy credits her dad, a tall “cop’s cop” kind of guy and something of an intellectual, with influencing her during those rookie years.

“Mom gave me my spine but dad gave me direction,” she told me with pride. “I always felt I had a good mindset for law enforcement.”

Nancy thrived in the police environment, where work was, and still is, great fun for her.

Wake Up Call
As her career progressed, she worked in various assignments including patrol, narcotics, background investigations — and the requisite stint investigating prostitution in plainclothes — but she always returned to patrol.

She got married in 2004 to another Midwesterner and they had two kids.  Childbirth and the lifestyle of a busy working mom took its toll and despite her natural athleticism she put on weight.  In 2008, Nancy had an unnerving encounter with a suspect she’d put in prison years before.  She considered this her “wake-up call” and started working out again, but she felt like she wasn’t maximizing her efforts.  She lost weight (over 80 pounds in a two year period) and felt better, but Nancy knew there was more that could do.

So did Officer Mike Rapiejko, a Tucson fellow cop and fitness and nutrition fanatic; he approached her one day at the TPD gym and said “what the hell are you doing!?”  Fortunately for him, Nancy took this in the spirit in which it was intended, and a partnership was formed.

Mike coached her in weight training, cardio, cross training, and he also helped reignite her interest in training not only her body but her mind.  She attended her first Street Survival seminar as well as Dave Grossman’s “The Bulletproof Mind.”  These classes left her with a realization that she needed continue to train her own will to win. In fact, she loved Grossman’s sheepdog analogy so much that she invested in a small tattoo: “Beware of the Sheepdog.”

Now that I’ve gotten to know Nancy, I sometimes think the word “sheepdog” should be replaced with “pitbull.”

A beautiful blond with sparkling, happy eyes, Nancy Futura is not someone you’d look at and immediately say to yourself “she’s a cop.”  Her Midwestern upbringing gives her a relaxed, friendly demeanor, but even as she smiles and jokes, it’s apparently that those eyes miss nothing.  Like the sheepdog, she is always watching.  But like the pitbull, she is tenacious and almost impossible to divert off a chosen task.

In February of 2011, Nancy was on patrol when she drove by a small group of men on foot.  Something was “off” about the scene, and she turned around and headed back.  All but one of the men ran in the opposite direction and she took off after them.

After three men were in custody, the full story came out:  Nancy had witnessed a homicide.  The victim, already dying of a stab wound when she entered the area, might never have been avenged if she had not followed her instincts and run after the offenders.  “Beware of the Sheepdog” indeed.

In June 2011 Nancy decided to broaden her perspective with the agency and transfer to a new division, the Downtown Division.  She was a “Lead Police Officer” (LPO), a field training officer and a hostage negotiator with her eye on a sergeant’s position.  Change would be good.

Pitbull’s Memorable Last Shift
Nancy began her last shift with her current team later that month.  During the previous night, she had gotten involved in a suicidal barricaded subject that she had negotiated to a successful conclusion, so her intent was to spend most of her shift finishing the mound of paperwork that goes with such an incident.

As she patrolled her area she got a call of a “male shot in the head” at the Overboard Restaurant.  She was only 60 seconds away, so she raced to the address while starting to set up a perimeter as other units responded.

Dispatch came over the radio: “Male shot in the head, he’s pouring bleach over the scene.”

Witnesses called in more details as she arrived.  The suspect, Anthony Salcido, 30, was still on scene, inside the restaurant.

“I didn’t know if we had an active shooter or a hostage situation, and now I have a guy with a gun and a hostage in the restaurant,” Nancy said.

She began to direct citizens to safety as the suspect ran.  Then she lost sight of him for a second and he was able to dump the gun. The scene was chaotic and there were people everywhere.

As the suspect came into view, Nancy pointed her gun at him, shouted commands, saw that he has nothing in his hands, and re-holstered her gun as her partner on the call, Officer Chris Duenas, attempted to arrest the suspect.

The two men began fighting intensely, and every time she attempted to enter the fray, the suspect pushed her away, as though she was a tiny rag doll.  She was hit three times in the head.

Nancy drew her TASER, pulled off the cartridge as she’d been trained to do, and drive stunned Salcido multiple times, starting on his side and moving up toward his head.  Salcido was able to push Nancy’s TASER toward Chris’ head while it was cycling.  Chris was TASERed multiple times.  Nancy grabbed the end of the TASER to redirect it and also suffered a drive stun.

At that point she let go of the TASER, drew her pistol and quickly fired five rounds.  The first round hit Salcido in left front torso, and it was a fatal wound.  But he continued to spin, and she hit him three more times. He hit the ground on his back.

Still in the fight, her gun malfunctioned, so she tapped, racked, and readied herself for more, but Chris was already handcuffing the suspect and told her to re-holster.  Salcido’s original victim, the man shot in the head, was up and about, walking and talking.  The next officer who arrived on the scene hugged her and began to check her for injuries.  Chris was treated and transported for respiratory issues.

“I never thought ‘he’s winning, he’s going to kill me,” she said. “I never really had a negative thought.”

She didn’t know that’s she’d been in such an intense altercation until she read the witness statements.

She describes Chris’s actions as “valiant;” he fought for her and for both of their lives. An investigating detective, who called the incident “Battle Royal,” told her she had also “fought like hell.”

Not An Ending
The shooting was quickly determined to be justifiable, and it was back to business as usual.  That should be the end of the story, shouldn’t it?  Small town girl does good.

But it’s actually somewhat of a beginning.  Nancy Fatura continued her quest for fitness.  She participated in her first “mud run,” an activity she enjoys not only because of the challenge, but because of the diversity of the participants.  A month later, however, she was thrown a true curve ball.  Pre-cancerous cells forced her to endure major, invasive surgery that also halted her workouts and made her gain weight.

Still recovering but back in the gym, Nancy is now a counselor at the Southern Arizona Law Enforcement Academy and should be promoted to sergeant early next year.  She is also branching out, debuting her new workshop, “Unleashing Your Inner Warrior” at the Big Sky Women in Law Enforcement conference next month.

She is truly a role model on so many levels, and I’m so proud to call her my friend as well as my inspiration.  I’m hoping to join her on one of those “mud runs” soon!


About the Author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates

Following your gut: Officer’s hunch saves kidnapping victim

Officer Ally Jacobs ‘went from zero to hero overnight’ for taking action when she knew something wasn’t right

In November of 2010 I was privileged to speak at the California Women Leaders in Law Enforcementconference in Pasadena. It was a huge, enthusiastic group and I had an outstanding experience.  After my closing keynote address, a woman came up to me and said excitedly “I just texted my friend and told her she was in your presentation!”

She was talking about Officer Ally Jacobs of the UC Berkeley Police Department, who I often speak about as an outstanding example of a female cop who followed her intuition when it was needed the most.  I gave her friend my business card.

Later that day I was at the airport running for my flight home and my cell phone rang.  “Hey Sarge, this is Officer Ally Jacobs.”  We chatted for a few minutes about the conference, my presentation “Career and Tactical Survival for Women” and life in general.  We promised to keep in touch and said goodbye. As I boarded the plane, I thought to myself “there’s a woman who doesn’t wait for things to happen, she makes them happen.”

Ally famously “made things happen” in August of 2009 when she was sitting in a meeting with her UC Berkeley colleague Lisa Campbell in the Special Events Office.  Lisa, a cop-turned-civilian, told Ally she had an appointment with a really “weird” guy and wanted Ally to sit in on the meeting.  The man, Phillip Garrido, wanted to hold a religious event on campus.  Ally immediately ran a check on Garrido and found out that he was a sex offender on parole for rape.

“If I’m going to be sitting in a room with somebody, I’m going to run them,” she told me.  She printed his lengthy rap sheet and waited.

Garrido came to the meeting wearing a cast-off, ill-fitting suit and introduced two young girls with him, 11 and 15, as his daughters. In contrast to Garrido’s intolerable hygiene, the girls were clean and obviously well kept, although terribly pale.  Ally, also a mother of two, began chatting with the girls while Campbell kept Garrido distracted.

The girls talked about their mom, their sister, their pets and their homeschooling.  They were polite, but their demeanor was somewhat robotic, and the youngest seemed especially socially stunted.  Ally also thumbed through the booklet Garrido had brought with him, which contained a business card from Antioch, Calif., an area nearly an hour from the UC Berkeley campus.  Her gut told her that something wasn’t right, and her police experience told her that Garrido was probably mentally ill, off his meds and using drugs. As soon as the meeting ended, Ally called Parole and left a message.  She feared for those little girls.

Garrido’s parole officer called her back and told her that Garrido didn’t have children.  Ally said that the girls had definitely looked like Garrido, so the parole officer made contact with Garrido at his home but at that time did not address the various violations, including being out of his restricted area and in the company of minors. However, on August 26th, Garrido was told to bring his family to the parole office in Concord, which he did.  Garrido’s “family” included the two girls, his wife Nancy, “Alyssa Franzen,” 29, who was eventually identified as kidnapping victim Jaycee Lee Dugard.

Kidnapped at age 11 by Phil and Nancy, Jaycee had given birth to Garrido’s daughters — the first when Jaycee was only 14 years old.  She was given no medical care or assistance and had her second daughter three years later.  The rest of Jaycee’s story unfolded slowly, but it was clear that her 18-year nightmare was coming to an end.  And for Ally Jacobs, life would also never be the same.

Ally first learned of these stunning developments when the parole officer called her cell phone as she was on her way home from work.  She was filled in on the investigation but was told “this is an FBI case, you can’t tell your department anything.”  She complied, and the next day, her day off, she got a phone call from work telling her to get to the station now.  There were hundreds of news vans and reporters in front of the campus police department, and only Lisa Campbell had an inkling of why they were there.

“I went from zero to hero overnight,” Ally told me.  She gave that first press conference with virtually no warning, and then all of a sudden everyone from Diane Sawyer to Oprah wanted to interview Lisa and her.  The press staked out her house, people stalked her; it was a very surreal time.  Nothing prepared her for the incredible invasion of her privacy.

“This is when critical incident counseling would have first come in handy.” Ally said.  She felt as though no one “had her back,” that she was on her own in so many ways. But she continued to move forward, receiving international attention and accolades while dealing with internal issues at her police department.

She was “written up” for her initial failure to notify the department — even though she had authored a police report that was signed off by the sergeant before going home that first night — and received a written reprimand, which she took in stride.  She also received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition, a Key to the City of Brentwood (she’ the second person ever to receive that honor), a Certificate of Senate Recognition, various meritorious service awards, the IAWP Excellence in Performance award, a Medal of Distinction from the California Peace Officers Association and so many more.

She was interviewed by everyone from Lisa Ling to Anderson Cooper, and yes, she traveled with her kids and her mom to Harpo Studios in Chicago to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show.  Her agency did not allow Lisa and her to travel to most of these interviews, so they were primarily done via satellite. While many of her co-workers were very supportive, one supervisor groused that he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

“All you did was make an f-ing phone call,” he told her with contempt.

As the aftermath progressed, Ally became friends with Duggard’s FBI handler Special Agent Chris Campion, and Chris eventually facilitated a phone conversation between Jaycee’s mother, Terry Probyn, and Ally.

“That was my closure,” Ally said, noting that Terry told her that “not a day goes by that we don’t think about you and thank you for bringing her back.”  Ally hopes one day to be able to meet Jaycee, but she respects her need for privacy and healing.

Ally was also was invited to be at the Garrido’s sentencing, where she had an unexpectedly tough time.  Sitting in the courtroom with Phil and Nancy Garrido sitting 20 feet away, she felt nauseous and disgusted.  As the charges were read, Ally began to weep when she first learned the details of the initial kidnapping, including that Garrido has used an electronic control device (ECD) on Jaycee.

“That just seemed so egregious,” Ally exclaimed.  As a mom, she kept thinking about her own kids.  Garrido pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, his wife Nancy received 36 years.

In many interviews, including mine, Ally Jacobs has stated how proud she is of Jaycee Lee Dugard for enduring all that she has suffered and what a wonderful mother she is for protecting and caring for her daughters while she was still a child herself.  Jaycee chronicles her ordeal in her book, A Stolen Life, which I highly recommend.

But as a cop, a woman, and a mom, I’m extremely proud of Officer Allison Jacobs.  As is typical in our profession, accolades and awards often lead to petty jealousy and criticism.  As the Garrido case unfolded, Ally learned who her friends were and who her detractors were.  But she tends to be philosophical about it all.

“I solve cases using my instincts every day, this one just happened to make news,” she says with a smile.

Still “making things happen,” Ally is now pursuing an advanced degree and telling her story to other cops in a presentation that often earns her standing ovations:

“When you see something, say something; don’t be afraid to take risks.  We (law enforcement) are sometimes afraid to act because of liability or cynicism or some other excuse; but why would we ignore our instincts?  Be thorough, do your job.  We need to put our egos aside and cooperate with each other.”

Cooperation is what eventually brought Jaycee home.

Few of us are prepared for the type of sudden and intense attention Ally Jacobs received (and is still experiencing) as the result of following her gut. Police administrators need to recognize that critical incident debriefing and aftercare are as necessary in these types of situations as they are following an officer involved shooting.

Ally stresses in her presentation the need counseling and closure, even if that “closure” comes in stages.  She also reminds cops to remember what it felt like to be a rookie, to enjoy their jobs and to ask themselves every day “would I be happy with my actions today, or would I be embarrassed?”  Ally stresses personal accountability, regardless of the circumstances.

“This happened to me for a reason,” she told me.

And I believe she’s absolutely right.  Crimefighter. Woman warrior. Role model. Game changer. That’sOfficer Ally Jacobs, and I’m proud to call her my friend.

About the Author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates

Officer Brandy Roell: Always a fighter, forever a warrior

In the ambulance, the medics had commented that they had never seen anyone so badly injured remain so calm

It was September 8, 2008.  Rookie Officer Brandy Roell found herself being loaded onto a medical helicopter from an ambulance.  She’d just been in a surreal shootout with 43-year-old felon and would-be cop killer Andres Vargas.  Brandy had been left alone in the Vargas residence to finish the fight on her own after her FTO, who had also been wounded, and his uninjured back up officer had fled the house.  Vargas was armed with an AK-47, but despite her initial injuries, Brandy provided her own cover and made her way down the stairs and to the patio area of the house, where Officer Pete Garcia risked his own life to carry her to safety.  She’d made it out of that house of horrors, but the rest of her journey was just beginning.

In the ambulance, the medics had commented that they had never seen anyone so badly injured remain so calm.  “Are you in pain?” they asked her.  She told them her stomach hurt.  She also asked them to please straighten out her leg.  Her legs had been injured by debris in the initial blast of rifle fire, and when she had made her way down the stairs, a round from the AK-47 had pierced her gun belt and her keepers from behind, striking her spine and blowing a huge hole through her abdomen, exposing her intestines.  She heard one of the medics exclaim “holy shit!” as they examined her and discovered her extraordinary wounds.  “We have to get her there now!” he said, referring to the trauma center.

They cut off her clothing and stabilized her as they raced to meet the chopper.  The media was there – word had gotten out that two cops had been shot and Vargas was holding the SWAT team at bay outside of his house – and the medics yelled “cover her up!” as they transferred her to the helicopter.  Despite her injuries, she was aware of the media presence and she asked fellow public safety personnel to “contact my family.”  She didn’t want her kids, 8, 6, and 4, to see her on the news and become frightened. Selflessness is a core element of Brandy Roell’s true nature, and even as she fought for her life, she worried about those closest to her.

Brandy remembers only a little of the chopper ride before she lost consciousness.  She was treated at the University Hospital in San Antonio.  The initial surgery was extensive; Vargas’s round had entered her lower back and had blown a hole from the bottom of her breast bone twelve inches down to just above her pubis.  Her right leg was badly damaged, as was her spine and bladder.  She was unconscious for nearly a month.  She remembers little of those first 30 days, but she knows that her 8 year old daughter came to visit.  “She needed to see for herself that I was alive,” Brandy told me.  She was later told that the hospital was also crowded with cops as her brothers and sisters from SAPD gathered around.

As Brandy slowly gained consciousness, she recalled little things, like being bothered by the noise of the television set in her room.  There was talk of amputating one of her legs, which left her depressed.  She was thin but swollen, and in terrible pain.  She was afraid to move, and when she tried, she told me “I was surprised by how much didn’t work.”  After three months in the hospital, Brandy was transferred to a rehabilitation center.

She was told by one of the doctors she would be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.  “I just looked at him and thought ‘that might be a pain in the butt,” she told me with a laugh. “I got up and started moving by myself…a little bit, a couple of steps at a time.”  She was left with no feeling in her left leg or on the bottom of her right foot, but she learned to use her hips to swing her legs, making her surprisingly mobile.  She generally has to use a cane, which frustrates her, and the internal damage has left her with a whole host of issues, including the inability to conceive another child.

As Brandy told PoliceOne’s Dave Smith in an on-camera exclusive for our “Will to Win” series, she feels guilty about her three kids.  “Sometimes I wonder if I was being selfish, becoming a cop.”  She is in constant pain and can’t always do the things she wants to do as a young  mom of three active kids.  “But I just try to show them the courage that I have,” she said, “and they are good little troopers.”

Brandy is now medically retired from the San Antonio police department.  Because she was still in field training at the time of her shooting, she is financially frozen and stuck at rookie pay.  At times she feels bitter.  “I didn’t get to do the things I really wanted to do, like work a homicide.”  Her husband is very understanding, but his life changed as well.  Their plan was for her to work as a police officer while he went to school full time to get a better job; that dream was shattered by her catastrophic injuries.  She received several awards for her bravery, but as she told me “I’m not the same person anymore, and I don’t know if that person is ever going to come back.”

“I think about how proud I was the day I graduated the academy,” Brandy says. “Wow, I was a police officer! I was so proud and happy that I had the opportunity to change people’s lives.”  Brandy hasn’t given up on her strong desire to change lives, and she wants other police officers to learn from her story.  “Never, never, never give up.” she told Dave Smith.  “Train hard, no matter how experienced you are.  The criminals are training hard, and we have to be ready.”

She advises officers who have lost their career like she has to find something about your situation that you can teach others, something that you can share.  “Give back” is her motto.  She is now becoming an activist fighting against human trafficking.  And, she told both Dave and I, “never leave another officer behind.”  Officer Brandy Roell was left behind that day, but she did what warriors do; she fought back, and she won.

About the Author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates

A behind-the-scenes warrior: Amy Peterson-Uribe and the TAPS Foundation

Already this year we’ve lost 14 American law enforcement officers in the line of duty. All of these heroes left behind devastated family members — spouses, partners, siblings, parents, and of course, children.

Amy Peterson-Uribe knows what it’s like to be one of those left to pick up the pieces.

On May 10th, 2005 at 11 a.m. Amy was at home napping after working the night shift at the Phoenix (Ariz.) Children’s Hospital when the phone rang. It was her husband Adam, a second-generation Phoenix police officer, who was currently on duty.

“I think dad has been shot.”

You’re Just in Limbo
Adam’s father, veteran PPD Officer David C. Uribe had been shot in the head after making a traffic stop. As news of the shooting hit the air, Adam had been unable to reach his father on the phone and feared the worst. As his commander pulled up next to him, his worst fears were realized. Adam hung up the phone, Amy quickly dressed and a family friend came to the house to pick her up.

Arriving at the hospital, Amy remembers walking a gauntlet of other officers and their family members before coming to the bedside of her father-in-law. She stood with the rest of the Uribe family as they circled David’s bed, knowing that their patriarch would not recover. Officer David Uribe was taken off of life support and pronounced dead three hours later.

David Uribe, whom Amy still calls “Dad,” was buried with full honors and then the family was left to grieve and somehow resume their “normal” lives. Amy, a military veteran and mother of three, channeled her grief into dealing with the aftermath of her father-in-law’s murder. She began working with coordinators of memorial events — she wrote notes to well-wishers and attended meetings held by Concerns of Police Survivors and The 100 Club of Arizona. In May of 2006, the Uribe family attended National Police Week in Washington, D.C. and then returned home — one year had passed since David Uribe had been gunned down.

“It gets critical after the first year” Amy recently told me on the phone. “After that first year, you’re just in limbo.”

The TAPS Foundation is Born
Grief can do terrible things to a family, and people are rarely the same after such a traumatic loss. Adam and Amy ended their marriage in 2007. By then, Amy had already begun counseling survivors and working with The TASER Foundation for Fallen Officers. She was asked to sit on the CEO Advisory Board for The TASER Foundation to make sure all survivors were properly notified and their voices would be heard during events and fundraisers. It was during that year that she developed the concept that would eventually become The TAPS Foundation.

As a survivor and as someone who had already heard countless other line of duty death stories, Amy began to notice the lack of knowledge and consistency regarding benefits for the fallen. As she researched the issue, she also learned that this wasn’t unique to the police profession — fire and military had similar issues. She saw tragic circumstances where wills weren’t updated accordingly, families weren’t aware of grants to assist in such things as school expenses and Police Week travel, and so often neither the families nor the agencies were aware of the support services available. Because she is uniquely tied to all three professions, Amy decided to do something about the oversight she continued to witness, but first, she had some personal work to do.

As the now-single mom of three, Amy felt she needed to find out who she was as an individual before she could continue to help others. She also needed to lick her wounds and heal and needed to regain her confidence.

“I didn’t want to start this foundation with doubts in myself. I was constantly second-guessing my decisions. I needed to finish my own grieving.” She packed up the kids and moved to the Houston (Texas) area and began to lay the groundwork for the TAPS Foundation, whose mission is to educate and assist all first responders — police, fire, and military — as well as their agencies and families in learning about the benefits and resources available to them in the event of injury or death in the line of duty.

The TAPS Foundation — named for the mournful song that no family ever wants to hear — became an official non-for-profit organization in the Fall of 2011. Amy is the CEO and handles military and police agencies. TAPS President Felicity Rose Harris primarily handles fire and EMS agencies. Grief counseling is handled by Amy, as are in-service training seminars and public speaking engagements.

The Foundation’s goal for 2012 is to increase awareness for organizations that benefit survivors, increase the number of first responders who have updated their information and have advanced directives / wills in place, and eventually be able to give grants to the children of first responders who are in need of counseling following a traumatic event. Amy works with other organizations such as C.O.P.S. as well as with individual agencies and corporate sponsors. As she told me, “TAPS doesn’t want to compete with anyone, we want to enhance what they do and help to inform the right people.” TAPS is also planning its first annual gala — my husband and I will be there — in March.

Amy’s enthusiasm for the TAPS Foundation is incredibly infectious. She laughs easily but has a touch of that humorous cynicism typical of first responders. She’s a dynamic speaker and a tenacious advocate. She also knows her stuff. As I threw scenario after scenario at her she was able to provide answers with confidence, and more importantly, without condescension. Amy is a survivor, but she’s also a warrior, and she’s fighting for police, fire and military families everywhere.

The TAPS Foundation can be accessed online at, on Facebook, and on Twitter as @tapsfoundation, or you can email Amy at[email protected].

About the Author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates

Drug wars: This isn’t your mother’s cartel

Modern cartels pose one of the biggest threats to law enforcement not just on the southern border, but nationwide

In the early 1980s when I was a young narcotics cop — and the first and only female in my unit — all we heard about were the Colombian drug cartels. It was every young narc’s fantasy to get the “big score” that would lead us straight to a Colombian connection. The cartels were famously ruthless, and it took many years and too much bloodshed for them to be dismantled in the late 1980s, but dismantled they were.

Nearly three decades later, the modern-day Mexican drug cartels pose one of the biggest threats to the safety of American law enforcement officers not just on our southern border, but throughout this nation. Recently, I was privileged to speak with crime analyst, author and cartel expert Sylvia Longmire about this complicated and dangerous situation.

First and foremost, Sylvia is truly a role model for any woman in law enforcement or the military. She is a medically retired Air Force captain and former Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. She is an experienced investigator and has worked extensively in the fields of counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection. During her last assignment, she worked at HQ AFOSI as the Latin America desk officer, analyzing issues in the US Southern Command area of responsibility that might affect the security of deployed Air Force personnel. For over four years Sylvia worked as a senior intelligence analyst for the California state fusion center and the California Emergency Management Agency’s Situational Awareness Unit, focusing almost exclusively on Mexican drug trafficking organizations and southwest border violence issues.

For the last six years, she has regularly lectured on terrorism in Latin America at the Air Force Special Operations School’s Dynamics of International Terrorism course. She holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies — this woman knows her stuff! Sylvia is currently an independent consultant, freelance writer, and dynamic public speaker, and like many of you, she balances a busy career with an even busier young family.

Not just a border issue
As I talked with Sylvia, three words immediately came to mind: Passionate, focused and frustrated. As a part-time resident of Arizona, I’m amazed that the violent drug wars on our southern border don’t seem to get the national attention they warrant, and I asked Longmire about that. She shares my frustration.

“Ninety percent of the illegal drugs consumed by Americans come from Mexico,” Sylvia told me. The drug trade in the US is almost entirely connected to the cartels, and it’s no longer just a “border” issue. The U.S. Justice Department’s Drug Intelligence Center reported in April of 2011 that Mexican drug cartels were operating in 230 American cities. Longmire estimates that number could now be nearing 1000.

“If you make a traffic stop and you seize a bunch of dope, you’re going to have a cartel problem,” she said, “and someone is probably going to come looking for their dope.” In other words, that drug seizure of a lifetime for a patrol cop is could turn into a security issue for the local police department and maybe even for the community itself. Longmire recently completed her first book, “Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars” to help bring this issue to the forefront, and it’s a must-read for every cop (and concerned citizen) in North America.

There are six or seven primary cartels operating the Mexican drug trade. Longmire cites the brutal drug-related torture and murder of four men in Shelby County, Alabama in August of 2008 and the November 2010, record-breaking methamphetamine seizure in Gwinnett County, GA as only two of countless examples of violent, high-level Mexican cartel criminal activity well north of the US/Mexican border. So what should the average street cop, detective, narc, and even dispatcher be aware of?

Cartels in your community: What to consider
 Understand that there is no single drug involved; cocaine, marijuana, and meth are primarily cartel-controlled, and the substances don’t just come from Mexico. The cartels use public lands within the United States to grow massive amounts of marijuana, often exploiting their own people to plant, tend and harvest it.

2.) The cartels are highly organized and although they are often able to hide successfully in Mexican communities intimidated by their financing and their brutality, they often use local street gangs and criminal infrastructure to move their merchandise within the United States. When you find an illegal drug, it’s more than likely cartel-connected. And the “haulers” may not be Mexican; the cartels will use any criminal organization willing to get involved.

3.) There is an increasing willingness for the cartels to engage US law enforcement officials on our own soil. It’s in the criminals’ best interest to avoid the police, but if you make a large seizure, disrupt local operations, or prevent transportation of their product, be prepared. The cartels are extremely brutal and generally without conscience. They have no problem seeking out you, your residence or your family to exact revenge or get you or your agency off of their backs.

4.) Be prepared to see more high-quality black tar heroin from Mexico, and the price is starting to plummet, making it more available. This means that in certain cities, you may start seeing more of it used by middle class teenagers and young adults. Some of the better stuff doesn’t even need to be injected anymore, getting rid of that “shooting up” social stigma. Mexican meth is also manufactured in huge quantities using “super-labs” and ingredients often imported from China; some of it may be in gel form.

How can American law enforcement help fight this war? Intelligence and information-sharing are two key weapons. Just like drug dealers have turf wars, so do cops. Longmire admits there are a lot of hurtles that the police culture needs to overcome. Our reporting systems are not well-connected and we tend to be too localized. Most criminals are not going to identify themselves as part of the cartels, so cops have to ask the right questions and document everything said. We need to access fusion centers, talk to each other, and remember that we’re all on the same team…really.

After all, this issue is not just a “war on drugs” and should not be confused with the controversy surrounding illegal immigration. This is a war against the violence being inflicted upon our citizens, our children and on us, and it’s a war we must win!

About the Author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates

Police leadership: Becoming a ‘cop whisperer’

As a leader, if you are balanced, calm, focused, consistent, confident, and humble, it’s likely that those who work for you (or with you) will be the same

I am constantly reading. Thanks to my bibliophile husband and his Amazon account, my nightstand is stacked with a dozen or so texts at any given time and my I-Pod is filled with a variety of audiobooks. In the last few weeks I’ve been listening to Robert Sutton’s “Good Boss, Bad Boss” — the follow up to his outstanding bestseller “The No Asshole Rule.” And because we have a new rescue pup in the Smith household, I’m re-reading The Dog Whisperer’s first book, “Cesar’s Way” by Cesar Milan. I usually listen to books while I workout or during long flights, and generally I read at night before I go to bed.

I woke up the other morning as I often do, with 15 article ideas swirling around in my caffeine-starved brain. After consuming half a pot of freshly brewed coffee, the nagging concept in the back of my brain’s right side for weeks finally jumped to the forefront. “Leadership!”

I sat down at the computer and typed out random words from each author’s primary concepts. Strength, compassion, skill, pride, demeanor, humanity, self-reflection. From two very different perspectives, these two experts were saying essentially the same thing. “It’s all about your ability to lead, stupid.” I grabbed our hardcover version of Sutton’s book and a yellow highlighter, and I spent the next week comparing and contrasting the two books side by side.

This became a bit of an emotional journey for me. I forced myself to dredge up significant mistakes I’d made both as a sergeant and as a dog owner. Damn. Self-reflection sucks. I discovered that errors I’d made both with people and with dogs had surprising similarities. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a terrible boss or a bad pet owner, but I could have done a whole lot better; we all can. So stay with me, fellow crimefighters, this isn’t my usual PoliceOne article, but let me show you what we can all learn from “The Dog Whisperer” and “The No Asshole Guy” that can help us do our jobs better.

What is a Boss?
Dr. Sutton likes to use the word “boss” rather than supervisor, manager, or leader because of its simplicity; a boss is an authority figure who has direct and frequent contact with subordinates and is responsible for personally directing and evaluating their work. Cesar Milan calls this being a “pack leader.” Whether you’re a SWAT team sniper or one of four border collies in charge of a flock of easily distracted sheep, you are looking for real leadership, not someone with a title.

Think about the best boss you ever worked for. What made them a great boss? Chances are, they set high standards for the team without being a bully. They were probably slow to anger, and even-handed when doling out discipline, workload or perks. You likely knew what was expected of you and you enjoyed coming to work. Bosses with these traits have what Milan calls a “calm-assertive” personality.

The Importance of Energy
Here’s where I continue to struggle as a boss and as a “pack leader.” My “energy;” my moods, my demeanor, my focus, tend to fluctuate greatly. (trust me, when my kids, my husband, and my co-workers read this, they’ll be nodding their heads so hard in agreement they’re likely to hurt themselves). I am constantly attempting to achieve what Milan calls “balance.” It’s simple stuff really; using breathing exercises, thinking before I open my mouth, and having the proper perspective all help.

As a leader, if you are balanced, calm, focused, consistent, confident, and humble, it’s likely that those who work for you (or with you) will be the same. Dr. Sutton believes that bosses should not only be judged by what they get done but how their people feel about it along the way. “The best bosses balance performance and humanity,” Sutton states. Good bosses should be “getting things done in way that enhance rather than destroy dignity and pride.”

And don’t assume that you are a balanced and humane boss; ask your people what they think, and take their feedback seriously. In police work, it’s not just about serving the community or serving your own management, it’s about serving those who follow you. .

Always Being Watched
Whether you like it or not, you’re a role model when you’re a boss. In fact, your people probably know a whole lot more about you and your habits than you do about them. They are watching your approach on a traffic stop, how you conduct a search, what you say to people, how you talk to and about your own boss, even what you eat and how you conduct your personal life.

How you act is usually much more important than what you say, especially when dealing with cops, who tend to be experts at detecting deception. Animals instinctually and intensely watch the “pack leader,” this is part of the continual learning process. As Cesar Milan says, “you can lie to a person, but you can’t lie to dogs.” Generally speaking, you can’t lie to your officers and trainees either. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to make mistakes; but when you do, admit them, ask for forgiveness, then ask for input on how to improve, and move on.

Living in the Now
One of my favorite things about dogs is they don’t hold grudges, they don’t dwell on the past, and they are always looking forward to the next adventure with great enthusiasm. In other words, as Milan says in his book, they “live in the moment.” In the Street Survival Seminar we talk about the importance of living in the now as well as the learning the art of forgiveness. Some attendees misinterpret this as “forgive and forget.”

In “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” Dr. Sutton discusses the outstanding concept of “forgive and remember.”

In police work, one of best ways we can learn is to examine our own screw ups, as well as the mistakes and misdeeds of others, but we must be careful not to use a good employee’s mistake to humiliate or discredit them. We also must learn to forgive ourselves, make any necessary improvements in how we lead, and then move on. In other words, get rid of the “gotcha” mentality in your organization, even if you have to do it one day, one employee, one example at a time. Learn to live in the now!

Leadership lessons can come to us from unexpected sources, and good leaders are always learning. My latest lessons came to me from a Mexican-American dog handler, a Stanford University professor, and a rescue dog looking for someone to be his pack leader. Where will your next lesson come from?

About the Author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates

Officer Brandy Roell: ‘You never give up, no matter what!’

Officer Brandy Roell of the San Antonio, TX Police Department was beginning the second day of her second cycle of field training with a field training officer that she hadn’t ridden with before. Brandy had graduated from the police academy four weeks earlier with her husband, three kids and her best friend Amanda among the supporters in the audience. She’d had a very modest, sometimes turbulent upbringing and was thrilled to be part of what she believed to be a “noble and honorable profession.” She’d worked hard in the academy, taking her training seriously. After graduation, Brandy spent her first month with an FTO who wasn’t thrilled to have a recruit riding along, much less a female, but she didn’t let that dampen her enthusiasm. She was going to be the best cop she could possibly be.

It was September 8, 2008. She and her new FTO, an eight year veteran of the force, had an early dinner at Subway; she remembers having a chicken sandwich and feeling good about the evening ahead. The FTO had gotten wind of a “deadly conduct” warrant for 43 year old Andres Vargas, who lived on the city’s southwest side. Vargas was wanted for threatening his wife with an AK-47 rifle but Brandy was unfamiliar with the case and had not been filled in by her trainer. She was a rookie, and she did what she was told.

The training unit followed another patrol unit to the suspect’s house. The Vargas home stood out among the other homes in the generally impoverished neighborhood; it was larger than the other houses and the entire lot was surrounded by an ominously tall wrought iron fence with spikes on the top. Members of a SAPD specialty unit had been surveilling the house earlier, knowing that Andres Vargas was armed, dangerous and wanted. The two patrol units parked near the address on Redstart Drive, and Brandy’s FTO asked dispatch to hold radio traffic.

The FTO, the other patrol officer and Brandy entered the fenced-in area and then the house with the help of Vargas’ teenaged son, who had the key and was cooperating with authorities. She remembers being nervous as they went in, but she was determined to do her job. “In the academy,” Brandy told me with conviction, “I gave one hundred percent every day. Even if you’re fighting the biggest guy in class, you never give up.” That determination and mindset was about to put to the ultimate test.

The three officers cleared the lower level of the Vargas home. She saw the suspect’s boots and pants on the floor, and his wallet and keys on the bar; his car was in the driveway. It was obvious even to a rookie that he was probably in the house. The son, who’d been allowed to remain in the house during the search, told the officers that his father had just gotten the AK-47, but he claimed that he hadn’t seen his father recently.

There was a stairway and a second floor yet to be cleared, and Brandy suggested to the two senior officers that they back out and call for additional units. She was told to continue the search by her FTO, and she did. With her gun ready, she began moving up the stairs to the second floor. Her FTO was behind her and their cover officer brought up the rear.

At the top of the stairs was a landing with no hallway, just two bedrooms and a bathroom. Brandy cleared the bedroom on the right and then the bathroom. Her FTO opened the door to the left and bullets started flying, rapidly and without warning. “Holy crap!” was her first thought. The noise and chaos were extraordinary. Her FTO was hit several times and fell down the stairs, the cover officer made it back down to the first floor uninjured. Both men were able to get outside as multiple units rushed to the scene. She was in the bathroom alone, and the gunman was still firing away.

“Water lines got shot, the house alarm was going off, there was lots of noise and distraction” Brandy said, so she turned her radio down. “I cannot die in this house” she thought to herself. “It was surreal; I kept waiting for someone to yell ‘cut!’ and for the scene to be over.” But it seemed like everyone had forgotten about the rookie still inside. “My brain was clear and I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to get out of this house.” And she knew she was going to have to do it alone.

The bathroom was filling up with water as she looked for a way out. She was unable to fit through the tiny second floor bathroom window. It became increasingly clear to Officer Roell that the only way out was back down the stairs, right into the path of the gunman. She used the large mirror on the bathroom wall to try and “quick peak” out the door. That’s when she made eye contact with Vargas and he started firing in her direction, through both the door and the wall. She was hit in the back of both legs as wood, tile and other debris flew through the air, striking and cutting her. She fell back into the bathtub and for a moment, she saw herself dead in that bathtub, crime scene photos of her uniformed, bloody body flashed through her mind. She knew some people would say “just another rookie female, not really ready for the job.” Brandy also thought about her kids, ages 4, 6, and 8, her husband Joe, and her “sister” Amanda, who’d pinned on her badge during the academy graduation ceremony just nine months earlier. Amanda was seven months pregnant, and Brandy wasn’t going to miss out on meeting the new baby. She drew on the strength and determination she’d used in the academy and decided she was going to save her own life, no matter what.

She steadied herself, stepped out of the bathtub with her Glock .45 in hand and hit the door, firing her way out of the bathroom entrance. She used two full magazines to provide her own cover fire as she headed down the stairs. She knew she was down to one full magazine, and she thought to herself “I can’t run out of bullets.” She could feel the burning in her legs but there was no real pain. She glanced back up the stairs to see where Vargas was and he fired a volley of rounds in her direction. She felt a tremendous blow to her lower back, and the world went into slow motion as she was propelled to the floor at the bottom of the stairs, her pistol flying out of her hand.

The rounds from the AK-47 had pierced her gun belt and her keepers, striking her spine and blowing a huge hole through her abdomen. Refusing to give up, she flipped onto her rear, faced the stairs and scooted backwards toward the patio doors, pulling herself with her hands, her damaged legs splayed out in front of her. She felt disembodied, but she knew she had to get outside, because no one knew she was in the house.

Brandy was able to propel herself to the French doors that led to the patio area and a driveway where a boat and trailer were parked. She heard an officer who was positioned under the trailer say to another team member “There’s another officer in there, I see her!” The other officer expressed disbelief, saying the house was clear of police personnel, but suddenly there was Officer Pedro “Pete” Garcia, wrapping his arms around the rookie officer and pulling her from the doorway. Garcia held the gaping hole in Brandy’s abdomen closed with his hands, keeping her intestines from exposure. He yelled to another officer to ram the fence with a patrol car, then he threw her on his shoulder and carried her to a squad car, exposing himself to more gunfire from Vargas. He put her in the unit and then returned to his team, who ended up in a six hour stand off with Andres Vargas before he took his own life with the same rifle he’d used to forever change the destiny of young Officer Brandy Roell.

Brandy was put in an ambulance and then flown to the hospital. “I don’t know if I’d be alive if it wasn’t for the officer who rode with me in the ambulance, keeping me awake and talking” she told me. When I asked her how she felt about Pete Garcia, I could hear her smile through the phone. “He’s still a close friend.” She calls Pete “honorable and noble,” the type of cop Brandy wanted to be, the type of person she thought all police officers were.

September 8th, 2008 changed Brandy Roell’s life forever, but it didn’t change the passion she has for the law enforcement profession or the fighting spirit she has displayed since childhood. In Part Two of this series, PoliceOne readers will see what a true winning mindset really means, long after the shooting has stopped. Until then, stay safe!

About the Author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy’s website at

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter


Article originally posted on PoliceOne, republished with permission from Dave Smith & Associates