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Fundamentals of Patrol Survival

Recently a lack of summer manpower within the agency had me working nights (1900 to 0330 Hrs.) for five weeks on patrol.  Although I worked two weeks on this shift last year when lay-offs were threatened, it’s been a while since I worked this long in uniform on nights.  Although times have changed the calls have remained the same.  I responded to my share of the usual domestics, drunk drivers, fights, mentally ill subjects off their meds, burglaries and more as well as a couple of shootings, a stabbing, a car chase, foot chase and use of force.  Certainly, as my partners during this rotation can attest, the MDB and in car computer reporting are still tough for me.  I could probably bang one out un-aided at this point but it would take a while (*Here’s a thought why don’t the designers of these laborious un-necessarily complicated computer programs ask for feedback from the line troops.  It’s kind of silly that a computer report takes two times longer than an old paper report… – just saying).  Another thing that is slow to develop is the ear for radio.  Multi-tasking as well as listening to multiple cars and channels takes time to develop and re-attain when you haven’t done it every day for a while. 

So “back in the bag” as the old, old-timers used to refer to the police Class A uniform had me contemplating the basics and what still works.  Whether it’s football or street police work the fundamentals are what we rely on.  These include: mindset, utilization of safety equipment and more.

What exactly then are the “fundamentals of patrol survival?”  I’ll list some of my thoughts and quote from the FBI’s 2006 study Violent Encounters to see what suspects who assault officers have to say as well.

  • Mindset and the Mental Edge are the most important areas to develop and maintain throughout your career.  More than just a “be careful out there” or “be aware” the mental aspects of survival dig into areas such as 360-degree awareness and perception, constant planning, perseverance, resilience, willingness or motivation to train and study, and much more.  These are not just the mental attributes of a rookie cop hitting the street but rather those vital mental aspects that will serve you when the feces hits the rotating oscillator regardless of your time on the job.  Suspect comments: “I wasn’t going back to the penitentiary; that was my mind-set.  I had made up my mind to use whatever violence I had to.  I wasn’t going back.”  “He seemed very lax, very bored.  He didn’t seem like he was keyed in on doing his job.  I don’t remember that he was alert in any way.”
  • Proper appearance is important.  Looking “squared away” and “good to go” means something to offenders who are gauging how easy it would be to “take you.”  Looking like a bag of rags with firearm and other police equipment ill-maintained projects the wrong image.  Don’t believe me?  Suspect’s comments: “The uniformed officer, his uniform, there were a lot of things about him.  His uniform actually looked like it was freshly pressed.”
  • Utilizing the two most important pieces of safety equipment (body armor and seat belts) are vital to your survival.  In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason to not wear both.  Currently numbers of officers killed in 2011 stand at (138) are 17% above this time last year with officers killed by gunfire up 26%.  A good trend is that officers killed in traffic related incidents are down 14%.  Lets reduce all numbers by wearing our concealable body armor, seat belts and slowing down in our emergency response driving.  Survivor officer’s comments on body armor after being shot: “I’d be a paraplegic if I wasn’t wearing my vest.” And this officer who looked down at his chest after being shot and related, “I couldn’t see the bullet or marks anywhere.  For a minute there, I just thought it was a bad punch.”  What possible logical argument can be made for not wearing a vest?
  • Skilled.  You must be skilled.  With every single tool and weapon you field.  This competence radiates to suspects as confidence and is perceived.  From the Violent Encounters book, “Most of the offenders who carried handguns stat that they practiced shooting their firearms.”  “Evidently, the offenders practiced firing handguns more often than did the victim officers they assaulted.  This practice time many have helped increase the offenders’ marksmanship skills and their familiarity  with the handling of firearms.”  Suspects comments, “I made it my business to be a little more professional with my handgun.”  *According to the report, “This offender fired 12 rounds at a police officer striking him 3 times.  During this confrontation, the officer fired 7 rounds, none of which struck the offender.”
  • Effective communication: Dealing with a very large pissed-off “biker” dude when responding to a neighborhood domestic “Bob,” one of my shift-mates and I were able to dissuade the subject from violence.  I told the suspect, “Sir as soon as we speak to your wife to make sure everything is okay, we’re out of here.”  Bob was readying his OC spray while I was getting ready to draw my ASP baton.  But as we talked about later, even when you win a fight the next day you still hurt.  Talking to people effectively and professionally has prevented more fights or resistings than we’ll ever know.  Put your ego aside, learn some Verbal Judo.  It does work, you’ll get in less resisting and you’ll be typing on fewer complaints.  Win/win with proper communications.

There are more such as reading body language, maintaining a safe reactionary zone, searching like your life depends on it (you know it does don’t you?), contact/cover, proper handcuffing and so much more.

Don’t let your performance on the street jeopardize your own survival by ignoring the fundamentals.  Operating like one suspect related in the study, “He showed very little, if any, enthusiasm that I recall, very little vigor.  Like I said, it was just plodding along.  I don’t remember that he was alert in any way.  He, it appeared to me that he approached the vehicle like, ‘There’s no way this guy’s going to do anything other than exactly what I tell him to do.  Not because I’m in control of the situation but because it’s just the way it is.”

Focus on your fundamentals of your survival.  I still have to.  No one is immune.


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About The Author:

Kevin Davis is a full-time officer assigned to the training bureau where he specializes in use of force, firearms and tactical training. With over 23 years in law enforcement, his previous experience includes patrol, corrections, narcotics and he is a former team leader and lead instructor for his agency's SWAT team with over 500 call-outs in tactical operations.