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Columns : In My Sights

Bad Habits

Employing lazy tactics on the job can get you hurt, or worse.

October 14, 2009  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author


Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them. -Agatha Christie

I have always loved the above quote, partly because I have had so many bad habits pointed out to me during my life. It is funny that habits are so invisible to those of us who have them, which would be all of us. And most habits can be divided into the categories of good and bad.

Good habits, like flossing regularly, are usually pretty hard to develop. Bad habits seem to just appear or have been programmed into our brain by some sinister force that comes in our sleep and encodes our finger to sneak into our nose to snag that nasty little booger even when folks are looking.

I am constantly saying it is one of the primary jobs of supervisors to look for bad habits in our folks and point them out when discovered. We all know that many of our habits can get us hurt if they are done at the wrong time or reduce our ability to respond to a sudden assault or any other critical event that might occur. My wife, the Sergeant, has taken this concept so seriously she is constantly pointing out my bad habits, even in public.

I've explained at length that I can quickly retract my finger to defend myself if necessary and I am not even on the job anymore and besides, I am running around with an armed Sergeant for a wife. This disclaimer never seems to bring relief from her direct supervision of my bad habits.

OK, quit laughing. Because now it is time to get to your bad habits. I am not talking about your nose-picking, mustache twirling, throat clearing, or ear drilling bad habits. I am talking about your habits that you probably haven't paid attention to in years and are exactly the ones we see when we are reviewing an officer-involved injury, accident, or shooting. We see all sorts of things pop up that can only be explained as bad habits the officer, deputy, or trooper has developed in his or her time on the job.

How many times have you seen a video of an officer getting assaulted with hands in pockets just prior to the attack, turning his back on the subject when using the radio, or standing next to a violator reading the implied consent law within easy striking distance?

How often do you do these types of things? Hopefully you have a sergeant or a supervisor who points these dangerous habits out when you do them, but usually we don't. This is one of those "look in the mirror" moments when you need to really self-evaluate.

The truth is the vast majority of people we deal with are "yes" people who only want to get their darn ticket and get home. Every time someone tries to kick our butts and we have him fully subdued and cuffed and searched we should look deeply into his eyes and say, "Thanks, I needed that!"

These are folks who break our bad habits by reminding us we need our hands out of our pockets and ready to react quickly to a strike, that we never turn our back on subjects, and we keep our bodies bladed to anyone we are talking to. These good habits often get replaced by bad habits and we need to get that fixed!

If you are lucky enough to have a camera in your vehicle use it to monitor yourself, kind of like going over the game film after a ballgame. How do you stand? Where do you stand? What little habits do you have: good and bad? I know this seems odd but the longer it's been since someone tried to hurt you the worse your habits may have become, so look at this as a kind of mental check-up.

If you are really, really lucky you're married to a sergeant who monitors your bad habits and corrects them as soon as you do them since the sooner you receive feedback the better the learning.

"What's that, Honey? No, I...I put the lid down...honest."

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' "Street Survival" seminar.

Tags: In My Sights


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