Silence is a source of great strength.—Lao Tzu
For the officer, this proverb is nowhere more important than when making an approach to a location. Reasons for sound-proofing our approaches are myriad. Domestic calls are notoriously dangerous, with over half of the officers who die on such calls killed upon approach. One way to counter this danger is to make your approach in stealth mode.
The preparation for operating quietly starts long before we ever arrive on site. And the first step is to make sure that we have good gear. For example, we don’t want to wear shoes that squeak or ill-fitting orthopedics that clip-clop inside of them. We also want to use silent baton rings to enhance our officer safety by eliminating the sound of metal on metal as a baton is drawn.
OK. Now let’s use some common sense. Let’s take the loose change out of our pockets from our last Code 7. And no cop needs a big ass ring of keys jingle-jangling on his or her belt. You don’t want to sound like a high school janitor when you’re walking into what could be an ambush.
Once we have our sartorial act in order, we have to adopt good practices. Do we blast our sirens longer than necessary when approaching a location? What is our safest angle of approach? At night, on arrival, are we backlit? Most cops are vigilant about turning off their headlights, but what about brake lights? Interior lights? Once on foot, how do we deploy our flashlights?
After we exit our cars, we're also at the mercy of the terrain leading up to the location. Unfortunately, property owners sometimes compromise our ability to make a safe approach. Loose gravel is not only slippery when wet, but its distinctive crunch can broadcast our approach. However, we can turn landscaping liabilities into assets by using tree lines for cover and paralleling gravel paths instead of walking directly on them.
Outdoor architectural elements can hamper our advance. Motion detection lights can be great for detecting suspects, but they also dime us off. Locked driveway gates can put us in danger as we fumble with noisy latches in full view of the suspects inside the building. If it's tactically more sound to back off a location, then do so.
Moving under the radar means turning off radios and cell phones and using visual cues and commands to communicate with others on scene. Use your finger to communicate something constructive for a change. By simply pointing, you can tell fellow cops where you need them to go, where to stay, and where to retreat to. This becomes paramount as you close in on your destination.
Gathering a little recon and intel can help you make a safe approach. Neighbors also might be able to give you additional information about the residents’ habits, belongings, and states of mind.
You may even want to consider stiffing in a call to the location, getting the suspect aurally committed to the person on the other end of the line instead of the cop on the other side of the door.
By staying out of the limelight and off the radar, we can retain the element of surprise when we initiate contact with people and increase our chances of success whatever the nature of the situation.