As the mini-ice age that has been 2014 continues, it is a good time to reflect on the nature of the dangers enhanced by inclement weather and cold. Six of the ten officers killed this year have been traffic related and no doubt that is the most obvious threat we face as roadways turn to ice and snow often limits vision dramatically. Most of you can relate a story about the excitement added to a mundane call or traffic stop when your vehicle suddenly begins to act like the puck on an air hockey table! But now would be a good time to reflect on the other hazards created or exacerbated by winter’s nasty grip remembering that half the battle of managing risk is simply keeping it in our thoughts.
Obviously, slowing down and wearing seatbelts enhances survivability in accidents, but remembering that traffic needs to be alerted at greater distances and reflective gear worn by all working accident scenes or traffic control is also important. As snow builds up roadways narrow, sidewalks disappear; even routine patrol can become a challenge. Meanwhile, criminality remains a constant and factoring in your mind backups make take longer, inner perimeters may be difficult if not impossible to quickly establish, and once the sun comes out blinding brightness can make building entries even more dangerous as your eyes desperately try to adapt.
Approaches to calls become more and more limited making your movement more predictable and may even limit your cover options. After a recent storm, 49 states had snow with only Florida free of the white plague. Schools canceled, people stuck in vehicles and most government functions shut down except the crime fighters had to get to work and hit the streets and many of you probably had shovel your way out of your driveway to even get to work!
The cold forces us to wear more and more layers, permitting greater opportunities for the bad guys to conceal weapons and harder for us to draw our own, a reason to make sure you qualify with your cold weather gear on when you can, and rehearse your draw to habituate your wintertime pattern of movement. In fact, how often do you practice drawing your less lethal options with your winter coat on? Just cuffing a guy wearing a heavy coat can be a chore especially when your own movement is being opposed by a heavy parka.
Extremely cold temperatures dehydrate us at a rapid pace and the first thing dehydration affects is our problem solving ability…not something a warrior can afford to reduce in critical situations. I know this sounds weird, but something you should be doing year around is checking your urine color as it is one of the best indicators of fluid intake! Exposed skin can also be a problem in the recent sub-Arctic temperatures many of you have experienced this winter. Damage from frostbite can occur quickly and is sometimes permanent. Supervisors need to keep all of this in mind when their personnel are going to be exposed for long periods of time. Frequent breaks or early relief are as important in the cold as they are in the extreme heat.
Short daylight hours require everyone to not only have their primary light, but a good backup should always be available and checked as part of every pre-shift ritual. Today there is just no excuse for not having two quality flashlights available and some of these modern marvels come in tiny packages that produce dazzling light! Again it is important to practice getting these lights on with your gloves on so you aren’t wasting precious time in darkness fiddling around trying to remember how “this” flashlight works.
As cabin fever and power outages aggravate people, and season affective disorder spreads across the land, tempers get short, domestics and other conflicts kick-in and police work gets more and more interesting in some very strange ways, it is important to remember to make your searches and frisks more effective as the clothing makes it more difficult. If your transporting someone else’s arrestee don’t assume anything and never be insulted when someone transporting your dirt bag initiates a thorough search; remember, a search isn’t a “you bet your badge” issue it is a “you bet your life issue!”
The winter of 2014 is a record breaker and it isn’t over by a long shot, so it is a good time to reflect on all the issues of officer safety it affects. I learned as a rookie so many of the best cops I worked with all talked about “what if’ing” on every call or situation. What if the bad guy is in still in that building or an accomplice is waiting outside? What if this guy gets violent this time, after so many domestics where he submitted without resistance? This is the mental game of winners.
Mindset is as important as proper clothing in a sub-zero wind-chill. Winter presents us with challenges and threats, while at the same time the day to day voice of routine is whispering in our ear, “see, nothing happened, don’t be so peaked next time, just relax!” Well, fortunately, winter is only a few month, but routine tries to detrain us year-round so this is a good time to defeat them both with preparation, training, and awareness!
Mentally rehearse (what-if) facing the risks you face daily, refreshing your training and tactics to prepare you for whatever threats you face. Physically rehearse the skills you need in full winter gear and get your repetitions in until you make a habit of the response you want and need in a critical incident. Make a ritual of your preparation. Check your equipment and your mindset before you need it and please do everything you can to put the odds in your favor like wearing seatbelts, body armor, and quality long johns.