“Intuition is a powerful force; however, it is poorly understood. Intuition is not black magic or some inexplicable force of nature. Intuition is nothing more than a person’s sense about a situation influenced by experience and knowledge.” – Patrick Van Horne, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life
It was a little before 3:00am and the newer model, black sedan coming from the opposite direction was clearly exceeding the speed limit. Just as it passed beside me, I cranked the steering wheel of my patrol vehicle to the left to flip a quick U-turn and quickly caught up to the sedan. I flipped the toggle switch on my center console all the way to the right and the red and blue lights illuminated the darkness and let the driver of the sedan know he should have been paying more attention to his speed.
The sedan pulled to the right side of the road and rolled to a stop. I flipped on my high-beam headlights, came to a stop behind the sedan and focused my spotlight on the driver’s side mirror. Pushing open my door, I stepped out onto the street and immediately sensed something was wrong. I physically felt something. A power or energy I cannot explain. I felt danger.
I saw the driver’s side window come down as I approached the vehicle. I stayed well behind the driver’s side window, shined my flashlight into the vehicle and told the driver to place his hands on the steering wheel so I could see them. He complied. I remained behind him so he would need to lean completely out the window to shoot me. I told him I’d stopped him for speeding and asked for his driver’s license. He told me he didn’t have one. I called for backup and asked for his name and date of birth so I could look him up on my computer. Two other Officers arrived at the same time and I told them to watch the driver carefully because “something just didn’t feel right.” They moved up on the car and one covered from the rear of the car while the other spoke to the driver through the passenger side window. I was back in my vehicle looking up the driver’s identity when I saw the other Officers ordering the driver from the car and telling him to stand on the sidewalk. My computer search returned information on the driver and indicated he was a wanted fugitive with a long list of violent crimes on his record. I walked back up and we took him into custody without incident. We put him into the cage of my patrol vehicle and fellow Officer told me, “While I was talking to him, I just had the worst feeling and I wanted him out of that car. That’s why we had him get out and stand on the sidewalk.” A few minutes later, we both understood what we had been feeling.
As we started searching the car, we found a 9mm handgun in the center console of the car. Would it have turned out differently if I’d just walked up to the side of that car without using good tactics? What if I hadn’t called for backup and had two Officers watching him closely while I looked up his information? What if my friend wouldn’t have unexpectedly got the driver out of the car? What would have been different if we wouldn’t have heeded what we were feeling?
In my experience, you will feel danger before you see the reason for it. And my experience seems like just about everyone else who’s ever experienced danger or violence. They intuitively sensed danger even though they didn’t consciously understand why. As humans, our most basic need is survival. Self-preservation, and protecting our loved ones, is our highest priority and we have built in survival intuition and instincts that alert us to danger before it happens… we just need to heed them.
Intuition of danger isn’t reserved solely to police officers or people who deal with violence regularly. In his best-selling book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker chronicled and documented the fact people nearly always experienced warning feelings and emotions prior to violent attack or danger.
Intuition is knowing something you probably can’t explain. Before moving to the city, I worked as a Deputy for a rural Sheriff’s Office. One of our citizens, with an un-diagnosed mental illness, routinely experienced hallucinations and saw people dumping chemical waste on his property. He would go out and shoot and them. Needless to say, this alarmed his neighbors.
Additionally, he would call 911 and report the ‘trespassers’ on his property. One night is came to a head and he believed people had been pumping toxic waste into his house. He wanted me to come inside his house to smell the chemicals that had been pumped in. I knew he had guns in the house and really didn’t want to go inside. I confronted him with the fact that what he was seeing wasn’t real. I told him he needed to speak to a doctor and explain what he was experiencing. He wasn’t too happy with what I told him but still insisted I come inside the house. Finally, I agreed and went inside with him because I thought it might calm him down. Obviously, I couldn’t smell any chemicals in his house. Once again, I told him to seek medical attention for what he was experiencing. This made him very angry and he ordered me out of his house. As I was backing toward the door, I moved past a kitchen counter and looked over to see a handgun facing muzzle down inside a coffee mug. He and I were equal distance from the gun. I looked at the gun and then back at him. He must have seen me look at it because I saw him glance towards the gun and I said, “Do not reach for that gun”. Time froze… and then I saw his hand reaching towards the gun. But I knew he wasn’t a threat to me. I was seeing one thing – his hand moving towards the gun – but I knew or understood that I was not in danger. This all happened in less than a second. As his hand reached out, he grabbed the handle of the coffee mug and slid it down the counter away from us.
Afterwards, I was criticizing myself because I had not drawn my weapon. I had a guy reaching towards a gun and didn’t pull my own gun. It really bothered me because I felt like I had not reacted properly. Legally, I could have shot him. I was glad that I hadn’t shot him, but why hadn’t I at least pulled my weapon? But I couldn’t get over somehow feeling and knowing he had not been a threat to me. What I felt and understood was completely opposite of what I had seen.
I went back and reviewed my body camera video of the incident. I slowed it down to almost frame by frame and then understood why I knew he hadn’t been a threat and therefore had not drawn my weapon. When slowed down, the video showed his hand reaching out with only his thumb and index finger – which indicated he meant to grab the handle of the coffee mug. His fingers were not positioned in a way to grip the handgun. My subconscious mind saw the extended thumb and index finger and understood he was reaching for the cup, not the gun. The subconscious mind communicates in feelings and therefore I felt he was not a threat to me. Had I overridden that feeling, and trusted what I was seeing, I would have killed that man. I would have been legally justified in doing so, but he would be dead, and I would be living with regret of killing a crazy old man that had talked me into coming into his house against my better judgement. Intuition will not only tell you when you need to act, it will also tell you when you do not need to act.
In tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situations, you will feel what to do more than you will see what you should do. Patrick Van Horne, in Left of Bang, asks, “How can you discern those who want to harm you from those who are just afraid or just going about their business before the attack? How can you defuse a threat before it happens? Is that even possible? The [US Marine] Combat Hunter program has proven again and again that it is.”
Your subconscious mind is always right. Your feeling is always in response to something. You may not consciously be aware of what that something is, but if you trust your feelings and act on what you feel, you will not be wrong.