I sometimes run into things that seem so simple that I wonder why they haven’t become universal. That was precisely my thought when I came across a remarkably unsophisticated officer safety product. If you wear a uniform, you take it off at some point. Even when off duty, you are never far from a potentially deadly confrontation situation, especially when it comes to protecting yourself and your loved ones.
Those who are in plainclothes are even more susceptible to one of the most dreaded scenarios – an officer-on-officer, or blue on blue, shooting. On or off the clock, the issue is ever-present – and I am all about a worthwhile method for preventing a tragedy.
This product, the DSM (Don’t Shoot Me) Safety Banner, is the brainchild of Mike Lessman, a retired SWAT sergeant and law enforcement trainer who pushed forward with an interesting solution.
Mike’s high-visibility identifier is designed to be displayed by law enforcement and security personnel while in civilian attire. The banner is essentially a sash, worn diagonally across the body and visible from nearly any angle. It is a straightforward design, minimalistic though with a strong visual impact.
The idea for DSM came about as Mike was teaching an active shooter class in 2007. When one of his students asked about methods to prevent being shot by responding officers, Mike imparted the standard curriculum that included displaying a badge, strong verbal commands and identification, and compliance with responding uniformed officer instructions.
After class, he realized there had to be something more he could relay to his fellow officers. With that, the idea of a highly-visible, rapidly deployable banner was quickly born. However, Mike’s strongest inspiration wasn’t from his desire to provide the best for his students, but rather from the tragedy of an officer lost to a misidentification incident.
The 2008 blue on blue shooting death of off-duty Mount Vernon, New York police officer Christopher Ridley occurred while Mike was moving forward with his product. Officer Ridley had been attempting to break up a fight with his firearm displayed when he was shot by responding officers after they first demanded that he drop his weapon.
Sadly, another similar tragedy occurred shortly thereafter, when NYPD Officer Omar Edwards was killed by responding officers as he chased a suspected car thief. These stark reminders of the human toll, both physical and psychological, prompted Mike to give it his all.
I examined a LE demo. I was amazed by how compact it is – it comes in a small nylon case that looks like it would hold a cell phone or a multi-tool. I decided that rather than open it up for viewing, I would clip it to my belt and use it cold – without knowing much about how it deployed.
I envisioned a scenario where an officer would be outfitted with the product but never take the time to try it, only to find themselves having to use it under less than ideal circumstances. I opened the flap with my non-shooting hand, grabbed at the small grip device at the center of the banner, and placed it over my head and across my body – all while mimicking holding someone at gunpoint with my other hand. This experiment worked well, and it left me confident that there was no learning curve.
The DSM Safety Banner is being embraced by law enforcement agencies as well as individual officers who seek the enhanced identification it can offer. Units within the US Secret Service, several FBI field offices, including their elite Hostage Rescue Team, and a host of municipal police departments now issue the DSM banner to their agents and officers. It has seen some minor improvements recently, and is now available in several different variations. True to its roots in law enforcement, DSM Safety Products wisely restricts the sale if it’s POLICE and SHERIFF banners to credentialed LEO’s.
The advancement of this product is very encouraging, and though prevention may be difficult to measure, it will undoubtedly save lives and reduce injuries. Personally, I would have loved to have the safety banner during my time in plainclothes transit patrol. Given such a simple way of reducing the potential for a mistaken identity incident, there is no reason officers should not be equipped with them. After being introduced to this innovative device, the only question I am left with is – why didn’t I think of that?
This article was originally published in Law Enforcement Today on August 26, 2014