As I write this we’re about a month into a New Year. Most people who made “New Year’s Resolutions” on January 1st have probably broken them or forgotten them by now. Why does this happen? We all have improvements to make, personally, professionally, physically and emotionally. What stops us from doing that? Call it complacency, laziness, whatever. Failure to self-reflect can be damaging, and for cops it can sometimes even be deadly.
It might be cliché, but the new year is always a good time to take a long look in the mirror and see what real-life resolutions you need to make….and keep.
Resolve to treat every traffic stop like you did your first.
I recently completed a three day drive from northern Illinois to southern Arizona. As I always do when I travel, I saw plenty of cops at work; troopers, deputies, small town cops and big city patrol officers, even the Border Patrol. And unfortunately, I saw a lot of lousy tactics on traffic stops. Everything from standing in an active roadway to leaning on the driver’s door to loitering in the “kill zone,” I saw some real cringe-worthy stuff. Traffic stops are one of our most risky activities but they also become so “routine” that we inevitably get sloppy. Be your own FTO and put yourself back to that rookie mindset that every traffic stop is an “unknown risk” stop. Go back and read books like “Officer Down Code Three” and “The Tactical Edge.” If your traffics stops are videotaped, go back and review your stops the way an athlete reviews their game films. No matter how experienced you are, just like a professional athlete, there is always room for improvement.
Resolve to train and prepare for an officer ambush.
Officer ambushes continue to dominate law enforcement news. Cops get ambushed in their patrol cars, on the scenes of unrelated calls, from behind closed doors, even in our own police stations. Be aware of this trend and train for it. Habituate your use of cover, practice dismounting your rifle or shotgun so that you can do it without looking, visualize various scenarios and practice resolving them in your mind. Keep your distractions to a minimum while on patrol, AM/FM radio low or off, windows partially open, when you’re stationary in your vehicle writing a report or running radar, maintain an awareness of movement and sound around you. Don’t let people walk up on you while you’re seated, and don’t take “low risk” calls for granted. There is a criminal class that is more motivated than ever to confront and kill us, take the threat of officer ambush seriously.
Resolve to tell your dispatcher where you are and what you’re doing.
I conduct workshops and training events for public safety dispatchers all over the United States and the vast majority of my students express frustration that the cops they work with do not follow basic officer safety rules. Call in all of your traffic stops, let the dispatcher know when you’re out of the car and where you are, and while you’re at it, call the communications center and see if your dispatcher would like a cup of coffee or a soda. Officer safety is your dispatcher’s priority, but if they don’t know where you are or what you’re doing, it’s hard for them to help you.
Resolve to make every search count.
We all know how important a good subject search is, but police officers continue to get hurt by suspects who weren’t properly and thoroughly searched. Controlling and searching people are skills, this means they are perishable and must be practiced. Get control of your subject before your search. Break bad habits like putting people on walls and cars, take your time, and never, ever put anyone in your patrol car without searching them first.
Resolve to wear your seatbelt…seriously.
Why do we still have to talk about this? There is no excuse for not wearing your seatbelt on or off duty, whether you’re the driver or the passenger. Here’s the bottom line: by failing to learn from the sacrifice of our brothers and sisters who died in the line of duty because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt you dishonor them and their sacrifice.
Resolve to be prepared off duty.
Make this the year that you purchase that sweet little off duty pistol you’ve been admiring at the gun shop. The more comfortable and concealable your off duty gun is, the more likely you are to carry it consistently. It’s not about making an off duty arrest, it’s about your responsibility to help keep yourself and your family safe. You have special skills and abilities that the average citizen does not, take advantage of that but make sure you’re prepared to react properly. Make leaving the house without a gun as unthinkable as leaving the house without pants on.
Resolve to strengthen your “Not Today!” mindset.
Not Today it’s not about a number; it’s about personal responsibility for your own safety; on every stop, on every call, on every shift resolve that you will not be caught unaware. Last year we experienced the lowest number of line of duty deaths in 70 years, but one police officer death in one too many. You owe it to yourself, your family and this profession to do everything you can do to make it a safe new year.