As the month of May approaches and we as a community assess the previous year for officer safety, I think it’s a good time to take a look at the things that help make us safer. Officers who don’t stop every once in a while and look hard at their habits and make adjustments stand a much more likely chance of ending up a statistic than the ones who keep safety at the forefront of their minds.
I can honestly say that during my days as a street cop I made some of the dumbest mistakes possible. It was my good fortune (and, in some cases, courtesy of some speedy backup) that I escaped unscathed from situations that could have gotten me killed. In that spirit, let’s look at some of the precautions survival experts say you should keep in mind at all times while on the job—and off.
You know the old saying that to assume only makes “an ass out of you and me”? Well, it still applies. Only in this case, making assumptions can put you in a coffin. Always think danger when walking into a call for service or street situation. Never let your guard down and never assume the call or contact is benign. A little old lady with a gun can kill you as dead as an ex-con with one.
I am often amazed at how close some officers let people get to them. Never let others invade your personal space. It’s not paranoia to keep people—even victims—at arm’s length; it’s smart policing.
Always assume that there’s another perpetrator somewhere or you’ll get lazy and won’t see the other guy with a weapon until it’s too late. This is the other side of an assumption: Assume the worst and you’ll live longer.
Scan, scan and scan some more. Look for signs of danger, look for other suspects on the scene, look for weapons, and most of all, look for cover. You should never ever stop assessing a scene. Train yourself to find and mentally file anything that you can use for cover, even if it’s not great cover, in case you need it. This can save your life in a firefight.
Engage your senses, all of them. That means pay attention to smells, sounds, sights: every single thing that you find in a scene as you approach it. You know all about tunnel vision. This is the antithesis of that. Take in everything you can because all of it provides information.
Call for backup and wait for it if circumstances so dictate. Being a cowboy can get you and innocent bystanders killed. Know when going it alone will only add to the body count.
Practice defensive tactics until you can do them in your sleep. Know how to defend against a perpetrator trying to take your weapon or attack you with a knife. Run every scenario you can. Remember that the chances are good you will use your defensive tactics training at some point in your career. If you aren’t good at it, then you’re dead at it. The choice is yours.
Learn as much as possible about the capabilities of various firearms, and not simply your own. It’s vital to understand what the other guy is carrying, too, in order to properly defend against it.
Never be afraid to withdraw from a scene if you need to do so.
And finally, learn to think under stress. You need a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t work. Think ahead so you will know you next move. Even though combat situations come up fast and are often over with very quickly, you should think out your next move.
You have one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet. It’s worth your time and effort to help even the odds in your own favor.