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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Patrol

Taking The Power Seat

Why police officers eat in public, in groups.

June 09, 2014  |  by

I have trained my family and significant other when we go out to dinner to sit in the correct seats in the restaurant. That is, leave the "power seat" for me.

The power seat is the seat that has the best view of the entrance and public area of the establishment. All officers know why I do this. It is the best way to NOT be surprised by an attacker. You can see everyone and everything from the perfect power seat.

Attack in a restaurant is not likely to happen, but I have spent most of my adult life in an elevated state of awareness, ever vigilant to not be taken by surprise. But when I hear about officers being ambushed in a restaurant, I ask myself if it really matters where I sit.

The tragic killings of two Las Vegas officers while they were having lunch Sunday brought me chills. It was reality check time for me. I realized that any officer is vulnerable to attack, at any time, at any place, doing any part of his or her job. Even on a "break," we know there are no breaks, no down time when we're on duty and in uniform.

Situational Awareness

Jeff Cooper, in his book "Principles of Personal Defense," talked about the color code of mental awareness. As a young police officer, the Cooper color code was drilled into my head. "Don’t get caught in condition white while on duty!" was a familiar phrase to me.

Throughout my years as an officer, I have lived by the Cooper color code. On duty, you go from yellow to orange, and sometimes red. When off duty, it's difficult to ever get out of condition yellow. Eventually, you become accustomed to living in the yellow because you know that complacency can be deadly. The mental and physical demand that this puts on officers is a topic for another day, but it is a reality that most officers live with.

Photo: Mark W. Clark
Photo: Mark W. Clark
This takes us back to the restaurant scenario. Whether on duty or off duty, we are trained to be situationally aware. We know there are bad people in the world and they may cross our paths. In the unlikely event of an attack, we will not be caught in a vulnerable state. It's how we live and how we survive.

For me, when in uniform, seated at a restaurant, I feel vulnerable. Most officers do. Even in the friendliest of restaurants, we know we can’t control who walks through the door. That's why we eat with other officers, so they can cover our "six." That’s a tactically sound way to do it, but it doesn't guarantee safety. It just gives us the best chance to fight if an attack is thrust upon us.

Photo: Mark W. Clark
Photo: Mark W. Clark

The two officers killed in Las Vegas this weekend were most likely in condition yellow just prior to the attack. They most likely were covering each others' backs, and they most likely were prepared for anunlikely attack. But when that man and woman entered the pizza place, hell-bent on revolution and murder, the officers didn't stand a chance.

What if?

So why do we do it? Why do we make ourselves vulnerable at a public restaurant? Why don’t we just eat at the station where it's safe? Well, the reality is that the station house isn't always safe either. Granted, it is safer, but you can't go into condition white at the station. Attacks happen there as well.

Photo: Mark W. Clark
Photo: Mark W. Clark

We eat in public because we are public servants. We don't hide until someone calls for help. We are part of the community; we are woven into the fabric of a safe society. We must, by the nature of our profession, interact with the 99.9% of decent citizens that we police. We eat where it's familiar and we know the staff won't spit in our food. We say hello and have pleasant conversation with people while we eat. But in our heads, we are always preparing for that "what if" scenario. What if someone comes through that door that wants to harm me, or start a revolution?

We know that our uniform is a symbol. We know that our uniform is comforting to most people. But we also know that it can make us a target or a flash point for violence. That's why we train. That's why we have officers watch our six. That's why we mentally rehearse the "What if?" scenarios.

So as officers across the nation go about the business of policing their communities, I'm sure they will remember what happened to the two officers in Las Vegas. They will also likely recall what happened to the officers in Lakewood, Wash., in 2009. They will have a new "What if?" scenario to think about. They will then go to a public restaurant, sit with other officers watching their backs, converse with the staff and patrons, and eat their lunches in condition yellow.


Comments (11)

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11

scott @ 6/10/2014 1:30 PM

I prefer "if-then" thinking to "what if." With "if-then" you have already accessed the situations in your head and devised plans to counter them. It gives me more of a winning mindset

Sgt. Don @ 6/10/2014 3:43 PM

I've been retired for 15 years after 27 yrs on patrol and I still don't sit with my back to the door at a restaurant.

Emily Potter @ 6/10/2014 3:50 PM

My husband was a law enforcement officer and I became very familiar with the seating arrangement in restaurants. While reading your article about the shooting in Las Vegas that left two officers mortally wounded, it reminded me of one piece of advice he drilled into the new officers in training. He always reminded them to LOOK UP as well as around when approaching an unknown area. He felt that was an important part of surveillance.

He died seven years ago yesterday. My heart ached for the families of those two fallen officers in Las Vegas when I heard it on the news. They will never, ever get over how quickly they were taken from them. Their chairs at the table can never be filled, their Christmas stocking hurts to leave it in the box, but hurts as much to see it hanging with the family's other stockings. The fact that the two killers cowardly killed themselves will be of no solace to these two families. It was a senseless killing, one that reaches deep within the Blue Family. God, please ease the pain of these families. Now our officers have a new reason to LOOK UP. They have a heavenly host of the Blue Family encouraging them, believing in them and wanting only the very best for them because they are our only bright hope in a very dark world.

Wes Thayer @ 6/10/2014 5:05 PM

For almost forty years I lived behind the badge and I got a mindset that I was always alert to my surroundings. I never set in front of a window. I never set with my back to the room, I never set in the middle of the room. And I was always alert to everybody in the restaurant or the room. And now that I'm an old man I can't break those old habits. And I'm not sure I want to. I live alone now and when I go out "into the world" I stay on my toes and keep my head on a swival. I'm really sorry for those officers who were killed. I sorry that the bad guys were able to come up on them and shoot them. God bless them and their families and I pray that Heavenly Father protects all our brothers in blue.

Wes Thayer @ 6/10/2014 5:08 PM

I don't know what happened but my comments did not appear after I clicked on "Post a Comment". What happened??????

José Quiles @ 6/10/2014 6:05 PM

Thank you Wes Thayer

thebronze @ 6/10/2014 10:44 PM

Wes Thayer: There's NOTHING wrong with what you do. More coppers and retired coppers should do it! Enjoy your well-earned retired, brother!

Emily Potter: I'm VERY sorry for the loss of your husband. I'm sure he was a great husband and a great copper. And you're right, those two families will NEVER get over their grief. Charge on.

RPG @ 6/11/2014 7:13 AM

Yesterday, I met a friend for lunch. I'm a retired officer and I always carry. My friend is a former SF soldier and CHL carrier. I was seated in a booth when he arrived, back to the wall. I got up, we got our food and he sat in the same booth, where I had been sitting. I asked if he had heard about the LVMPD shooting and he said he had. I asked if he was carrying and he said that he wasn't. I said, then don't you think that the guy carrying should be sitting with his back to the wall, for everyone's sake? I still have to remind my wife about this. It just makes it less enjoyable for me because now I have to be looking over my shoulder a lot.

Katie @ 6/11/2014 11:18 PM

I grew up with many Police officers in our family including my father who has taught me a great deal about always being aware of my surroundings and to do such things as you have stated. Even on a recent plane ride we sat all the way in the back and observed the passengers the whole flight. Sadly now a days you never know what might happen in a public place and always have to be aware of the possibilities.

Keith Underwood @ 6/12/2014 8:25 AM

Ditto to what Wes says. 33 years on and 5 retired, those old habits die hard. I had a guy pull a knife on me in a restaurant once and the booth restricted my ability to take action. It all worked out okay but I suggest sitting at a table when possible. It's easier to get to your sidearm and jump up if necessary. You can also flip the table as a shield, barrier or weapon if the situation warrants it. And always take the outside seat unless you're with other cops. You can be a sitting duck if you're tucked into a corner of a booth and can't reach your gun.

18C/former Leo @ 6/12/2014 8:44 AM

Being retired military and former Leo I have tought my family when we are out together with friends or by are selves they scan there surroundings for people acting strange or out of place. I give my wife the power seat and trust her completely to let me know what's going on or out of place. We cant just put our selves in the power seat and our family's between ourself and a possible threat. Another thing I do when we are out is if I'm approached by someone my family just keeps walking like they don't know me unless I feel it's ok to introduce them otherwise I me up with my family in a few minits. We have to teach our family's the skills we have to protect themselves when we aren't there and that goes double for our young children without scarring them.

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