When you think about it, we are all lucky to be here. During my eleven years as a police officer I made several mistakes that could have easily resulted in my being injured or killed. I would be willing to bet that every officer who honestly evaluates his or her performance would be in the same boat.
No matter how seasoned we are, we are going to make mistakes. We should, however, strive to not make the same mistake. Analyze your response after every call and ask yourself is there was something you could have done better.
At the risk of embarrassing the hell out of myself, I am going to share with you some of the dumbest things I have ever done while on patrol. Hopefully, this will encourage you to reflect on your own occasional lapses in officer safety or just plain common sense!
Rather than rationalizing mistakes, embrace them and be thankful for the opportunity to redeem yourself on the next call for service. Remember that many of our brothers and sisters never got a second chance.
Dumb Move One: The Gang Fight
On a warm summer night about eleven years ago, I was dispatched to a report of several rival gang members gathering to fight at a park. Not in my beat, I thought, as I hurried to the park. Upon arrival, I realized that I was the only officer on scene (my cover officer was a few minutes out).
Not wanting to lose face in front of the fifty or so "gang members" (turns out they were car club members) I parked and exited my patrol vehicle. I stood tall, stuck out my chest and tried to appear as intimidating as possible. In the manliest voice I could muster, I yelled for everyone to put their hands up. They all sort of looked at each other as if to ask, "Is he serious?"
Sensing their reluctance to respond to my verbal command, I stepped from behind my patrol vehicle and overtly grasped my holstered firearm as I yelled once again, "Put your hands up!" This time, I achieved full compliance. Since I wasn't sure what to do next, I decided to wait for backup.
When my cover officer arrived, he could hardly contain himself at the site of me, a recent graduate of the field training program with fifty gang members - I mean car club members - with their hands raised high in the air.
Luckily, the car club members were cooperative. Can you imagine what the outcome might have been if I had approached an actual gang fight in the manner described above?
From this debacle, I learned that sometimes it is better to look weak and wait for backup or even exit the area rather than try to re-enact a scene from a John Wayne movie.
Dumb Move Two: The Bicycle Stop
It was about 0300 hours (3 a.m.) and in an effort to keep from falling asleep at the wheel, I pulled up along side a bicyclist riding on the wrong side of the road on a bicycle without proper lighting equipment. I yelled for the bicyclist to pull over but he kept pedaling. I informed dispatch of the circumstances and requested a cover officer respond. Finally, the bicyclist stopped and dismounted.
As I exited my patrol vehicle I scolded the subject for having not stopped initially. How dare he defy my authority! I then asked if he had any weapons. Of course, his response was, "No." I directed him to turn away from me, as I approached in preparation for a pat down. Just as I reached toward the front portion of his waistband, he bolted.
Murphy's Law kicked in as I started to give chase. My feet slipped out from under me on the wet asphalt and I fell down on all fours. My flashlight rolled down the street as I jumped to my feet, even more determined to catch the subject who was now running through a muddy field.
Luckily the subject tired before me and decided to assume a prone position. I handcuffed the subject without incident. During my search of the subject incident to arrest, I detected an empty knife sheath on his belt and a "crank pipe" in a pant pocket. After transporting the subject to county jail, I returned to the location of the foot pursuit in hopes of finding my flashlight and possibly the subject's knife with the aid of the morning sunlight.
Instead of a knife, I recovered a Smith and Wesson Model 5906 semi-automatic handgun near the location where the subject had given up.
After determining that there was a round in the chamber, I began to re-think the lackadaisical manner in which I conducted the bicycle stop. If the bicyclist were a real bad guy, I would have taken rounds while driving alongside him.
Dumb Move Three: The High Risk Stop
All right, by now you're probably thinking I'm a keystone cop. Fair enough but I bet this is a mistake you can relate to...
I was in the station doing paperwork after having just booked a prisoner when I heard that another officer was following a "Rollin' stolen". I ran to my patrol car and drove expediently to the location of the high-risk traffic stop.
Upon arrival, I exited and drew my handgun. Well, I would have drawn my handgun if I had remembered to remove it from the gun locker in the station. Feeling suddenly naked, I retrieved the shotgun from my patrol car faster than I thought possible.
The moral to the story: Keep your gun in the trunk of your patrol car as opposed to the gun locker if you're as forgetful I am. It's easier to pop the trunk than return to the station!
Always have a Plan B and never give up!