Look for the Red Flags

Today while on patrol (en route to meal break to be specific), I observed a male and female walking along the shoulder of the roadway. They appeared to be engaged in a heated argument. I concluded that eating would have to wait and I initiated a U-turn to contact the couple.

After advising dispatch of the situation, I parked and exited my patrol vehicle. I noticed the female walk away from the male, into a nearby parking lot. This heightened my suspicion that something was wrong. The male continued walking toward me and I contacted him.

Red flag #1

When the male removed the hood of his sweatshirt from his head, I noted that he had "cauliflower ear," a condition common among wrestlers, judo players, jiu-jitsu practitioners, and mixed martial arts fighters resulting in permanent swelling of the inner portion of the ear. This was a sure indication that this guy had spent some time on the mat and was at least a semi-skilled grappler.

Red flag #2

As I began to question the male about the argument (from a greater than normal interview distance), I noticed that he appeared to be in excellent physical condition. He was a little over six feet tall and weighed about 225 lbs. I noticed that his neck was disproportionately large. In a nutshell, this guy looked like a fighter.

Red flag #3

When the male spoke, I detected what appeared to a Brazilian accent. Although it was difficult to understand what he was saying, I wasn't about to get within arm's reach of this guy!

The male indicated he and his wife had a minor argument and she walked into the parking lot to retrieve their vehicle. He provided a description of the vehicle and I agreed to meet him in the parking lot (so that I could interview the female and confirm his story).

Red flag #4

I drove into the parking lot and observed the female seated in a vehicle matching the description provided by the male. When I approached the vehicle, I observed a decal of a very prominent Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy displayed in the rear window.

The female confirmed the male's story and I ultimately determined that no crime had occurred.

While thanking the couple for their cooperation, the male said, "I train cops." He informed me that he has trained several officers from a nearby agency in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. (I guess that would explain his physique, cauliflower ear, accent and of course, the decal on the window of his vehicle).

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu Instructor depicted above turned out to be a respectful, presumably law-abiding citizen, who simply had an argument with his wife. What if he was a bad guy who wanted to squeeze my neck until my eyes popped out? What if I didn't notice the red flags?

About a year ago, a sergeant who works for my department conducted a traffic stop of a speeding vehicle at approximately 0200 hours. While approaching the vehicle, he noticed the license plate frame had the following inscription:

Wrestling. Is there anything else?

What if the sergeant hadn't noticed the license plate frame or recognized the driver? What if an unsuspecting officer attempted to take the driver into custody for one reason or another? You think the average officer might be at a slight disadvantage attempting to subdue a world class wrestler?

How many times have we seen bumper stickers, window decals, or license plate frames containing red flags that warn of potential danger? Here are a couple of examples:

You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hand.

I get my kicks at (fill in the blank) Karate School

If you're looking for them, you can find red flags just about anywhere. They might appear in the form of a driver reaching furtively under his/her seat during a traffic stop. Maybe it's the driver's door opening slightly as you approach the vehicle or the driver adjusting his mirror to watch your approach that sends up the red flag.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that a bumper sticker is justification for a high-risk traffic stop and I'm certainly not advocating that you point your TASER at someone because he/she has cauliflower ear. However, as trained observers, we can't afford to miss signs that alert us to potential danger.

Remember that spotting red flags is only half the battle. You also have to take appropriate action once you've identified a potentially dangerous situation.

If you allow someone wearing a martial arts uniform, sporting a black belt to get close enough to kick you in the head, shame on you! As the saying goes, "If it's predictable, it's preventable."

Train hard. Stay safe. Look for the red flags!