The Mobile Data Terminal (MDT), laptop computer, and other gadgets in your car can be a hazard to your safety. This is especially true if you are one of the thousands of cops who have grown up paying constant attention to computer displays. If you are one of those officers, it's probably hard for you to take your eyes off of these screens.
But keeping your eyes fixed to gadget displays while on duty means your eyes aren't where they should be: on the road or on the people around you.
When reading department e-mails or writing reports on your computers, your eyes are often fixed on those screens. Also, you are in a position of disadvantage. Your posture within your cruiser when you are typing or reading messages on your computer may involve canting yourself to the right with your back facing slightly to the driver's window. That means you have to rely on your peripheral vision to pick up on any movement toward your vehicle. This peripheral view may be obstructed some by transport cages or the positioning of assault rifles or other equipment within the vehicle such as cruiser cameras and radar units.
Within this tight environment, you may suddenly find yourself under assault and may have to defend yourself within or just outside of your car. Or you may have to make a quick tactical retreat for a better position or the arrival of more help.
An assault could involve someone shooting into your patrol car or an assailant at the driver's window physically attacking you. Increased awareness and in-car self-defense training and tactical driving practice can help prepare you for this type of attack. It can also give you insight into how to best position your cruiser when parked to allow for tactical advantages and quick action.
When looking for a location to park your cruiser to complete work, find a spot that provides you with a good overview of your surroundings and also leaves more than one opening for you to drive away. Your cruiser ideally should be open on all sides to allow for a full range of driving options, although this is not always practical or available.
What should be avoided as much as possible is placing your cruiser in locations that could allow you to be pinned in by another vehicle or vehicles. Also, when parked next to other vehicles or objects, it can be easier for someone to approach using that cover.
It's also important to have the front of the cruiser open and clear when parked instead of pulling into a parking spot. Making a quick escape is much easier when you can drive forward instead of having to put the car in reverse.
One way you can have a serious problem would be to pull into a parking spot of a building with the building in front of you and cars parked on both sides. If a bad guy blocks you from behind, you are trapped with your back to the suspect. Good positioning gives you opportunities to use your cruiser as cover, to ram more effectively, and to make a tactical retreat.
To train officers for this type of quick driving action, trainers can set up cones to simulate parked vehicles or obstructions. Once the cones are set up, have the officers practice driving in different directions from a parked position.
Maximize Your Awareness
Once your cruiser is positioned as safely as possible, take steps to maximize your awareness of your surroundings.
Adjust the display screen of your in-car computer to eye level to enhance your peripheral vision. And make an effort to periodically stop reading or typing and scan your environment. This may seem irritating at first but with time it will simply become a habit.
If it is dark outside, your cruiser lights should be on to light up what is in front of you and possibly blind someone approaching from in front. If you want your lights off, park in a well-lit area.
Just remember that sitting with your lights out and looking into a backlit computer screen will make it difficult for your eyes to adjust for night vision conditions. So even if the weather is cold, it is important to have your windows slightly cracked open so you can hear what's happening outside your cruiser.
Assaulted in Your Car
When sitting in the driver's seat, you are limited in your defenses against a physical assault. Your hand and leg strikes may not have a good reach, and the power may be reduced. But you do have some counters and defenses.
Let's say a subject reaches into your patrol car and begins punching you or trying to grab your neck. Your initial reaction may be to place your left arm and hand up and against your head to protect it from the strikes. You can use this block and combine it with counter strikes against the assailant.
Try to trap and pin the suspect's arm and then throw strikes into your assailant's face. Then while blocking with your left hand, put the car in drive and pull away.
Depending on the type of assault and if a suspect is armed, you may have to respond with a TASER or handgun. Practice drawing your weapons from a seated position in your car. This helps you understand what works best from within the confines of your car.
If the assailant is at the driver's side window and attacking you with a knife or small impact weapon, try to pin or hold his hand and/or wrist to disarm him. Once you block the attack, draw your handgun.
Sometimes your best bet is to get out of your car and take the fight to the bad guy. This may require you to fight your attacker while he or she is just outside the door and you have very limited room to maneuver. Practice defensive techniques such as kicks, blocks, and weapon draws while exiting your car.
When you are seated and the cruiser is parked, you may still have your seat belt buckled. So practice unbuckling the seat belt and getting it out of the way. You may also opt to unbuckle when parked to prevent hindrances with the seat belt.
An attack in your patrol car may require you to shoot your attacker while you are still seated. This is something you need to practice.
Drawing your pistol while seated in your car may feel awkward at first. You will have to bend or twist your body and your elbow may bump into the seat or other objects inside the cruiser. Practice to learn what works best for you.
Once you have drawn your pistol, practice dry firing into the windshield as well as both side windows. Live fire exercises are not practical for this type of training. But that doesn't matter. What is important is to practice drawing and firing from inside the cruiser.
Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer, and certified law enforcement executive.