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ABCs of In-Progress Calls

Keep an evolving call under control by assessing, relying on basics, and containing the area.

December 20, 2012  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of Amaury Murgado.
Photo courtesy of Amaury Murgado.

In-progress calls evolve within a framework of controlled chaos. Though this framework includes many variables, I can identify the three most common that detract from our efforts: officers wanting to talk on the radio at the same time, officers focusing on catching the bad guy as individuals instead of members of a team, and officers and supervisors alike ignoring basic response fundamentals. You can help improve your management of the situation by remembering the ABCs of in-progress calls: Assess the situation, Basics rule the day, and Contain it or lose it.

Assess the Situation

Whatever the call, assessing the situation will let you determine what resources you need and what tactics you will employ. Far too often officers go half-cocked into a situation and waste valuable time and resources that they may need later on. All it takes is for a supervisor to ask a few questions and filter the answers in order to make the best decisions possible. Once a supervisor starts making decisions, it's hard to change paths, so the choices need to be good early on.

The problem with not having information is it creates a void. It is human nature to fill in this void with either information based on past experience or with imagination. Either way, chances are that if you're missing information you will make poor decisions up front, which will cost you later on as the call progresses.

You should always be prepared to get a basic response rolling. Once that's done, the next focus should be on getting a unit to the scene as soon as possible to get up-to-date information. Remember, dispatch only gives you the information they receive. They are a conduit for raw information that has yet to be confirmed.

Any experienced officer knows that the information you initially receive is not always correct. It's not the dispatchers' fault, as they are just repeating the answers they get to their questions. But that first officer on the scene needs to size up the situation, confirm or deny any information, and relay back to the supervisor an update as to status and legitimacy of the call.

There was a time when agencies would just roll anything they felt they needed as a matter of routine. However, in these times of lean budgets and diminishing resources, you need to be mindful of using your assets carefully. What you expend now may not be available later. My experience has taught me that if the supervisor starts an initial response and gives it a few extra minutes, he or she will get the information needed to formulate an informed response.

Obviously, if left with no other choice, you plan for the worst and adjust later. But that's not the same thing as just arbitrarily throwing resources at a problem you have yet to clearly identify because you didn't take the time to do so.

Basics Rule the Day

The basics will always get you through any situation. It's the foundation we have all used to build our careers on. The problem these days is that people accept mediocrity and hope things will somehow work out, and administrators have cut too much training—even the basics. We are starting to fail at the very tasks we want accomplished because we no longer train for them.

For example, when was the last time your agency trained with your K-9 Unit on perimeters, did any training at roll call, or gave the Incident Command System anything but lip service? We have a great deal of post-9/11 gear, but how helpful is it if no one knows how to perform the simplest tasks effectively? It's nice if you look cool in your MultiCam uniforms and have AR-15s that look like they came from Star Wars, but they won't help you set up a perimeter.

It's never too late to start focusing on the basics again. Incorporate them into your next standardized response. For example, say a call for a burglary in progress goes out. The two closest responding units should already know their specific assignments.

The first unit hustles to the scene and confirms that there was, in fact, a crime and checks for prosecution. The unit then confirms or updates any information for re-broadcast to everyone else responding. This helps prevent driving past the suspect because of receiving the wrong description. Simultaneously, the same unit starts controlling the crime scene with an emphasis on securing the last known point the suspect entered and or existed. This is a must if you plan to use K-9s for establishing a track later.

With that accomplished, the second unit is free to establish a command post and start setting up a perimeter. They have also volunteered by default to be the incident scribes. They direct responding units where to deploy and document it until the supervisor gets on scene and takes over full command. Afterwards, they continue documenting positions, decisions, and instructions to avoid any duplication of effort. Obviously, this frees up the supervisor to accomplish other necessary command-level tasks.

Another basic element to a structured response is incorporating a simple numbering system to identify the sides of a building for responding units. Whatever you deem to be the front of the building, label it as side one. Going in a counterclockwise direction, give the remaining three sides numbers two through four. Calling out, "I have side three," gives an exact picture for everyone to see and makes it easier for a supervisor to track unit locations.

With this system you can also easily call out a specific corner because it is just a matter of combining two sides. The phrase, "I have corner three-four," immediately lets everyone know that officer is in the back right-hand corner of the building.

If you have an area with many buildings, just identify the building with a number and break it down the same way. You coul call out your location as, "I have side one, building one." In a larger perimeter you can still identify your location by calling out the street, nearest intersection, or landmark. If you have an inner and outer perimeter, you can use a combination of both.

Contain It or Lose It

Your job is always about control. Often, this involves not letting the situation get out of hand. One of the best tools for keeping an in-progress call in check is setting up a good perimeter at the outset. This line is meant to keep the suspects in and those not involved out. Wisdom dictates that when making a perimeter during an in-progress call, you make the perimeter larger rather than smaller. This maximizes your chances of keeping the suspect within your containment area. If you make this area too small, your suspect may already be outside your perimeter or, worse, the person could easily slip out.

While on perimeter, all officers need to have their emergency lights on and pay attention to their surroundings. The desired outcome is that every time any suspects try to flee the area, they will see a marked unit. This keeps them pinned down so that K-9s and or aviation units can find them. This is not the time for officers to be talking on the phone, working on their in-car computers, or goofing off listening to a football game on the FM radio. Also, if K-9s are tracking you need to shut off your car so the carbon monoxide from the exhaust doesn't kill the scent trail.

No matter what your duties are, and no matter how simple or basic they seem, they all must be performed at your best effort. No one individual catches anyone; it's always the result of a team effort.

Learning Your ABCs

If you ignore these ABCs during an in-progress, you'll end up with a haphazard mess that turns possible success into definite failure. Without the ABC structure, responding officers just flood the area and tie up radio traffic with conjecture.

In a structured response that uses the ABCs, sending an officer to the scene immediately to secure the scene and update information is critical. Setting up a command post and perimeter are equally as critical. Having a scribe taking notes is a God send on a complicated call.

I once had a sergeant tell me he didn't like my structured approach because he was a real cop and worked using his intuition instead. The problem was, his intuition often sucked and he failed more times than he succeeded. You could always tell when his squad was working because there was a flurry of activity on the radio that never went anywhere. If they did find the suspect it was despite their efforts and not because of it.

We all want to catch the bad guy, but if the response is just a race to see who gets the pretty ribbon, then nothing will ever get done. It takes more than the desire to catch the bad guy to be a good cop; it takes a commitment to get the job done, no matter the tasks required to do so. One sure recipe for success on a call is embracing the basics and not turning your back on them.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

Jim A @ 1/2/2013 12:14 PM

Good reminders and thank you. In our area, the "team" often consists of one guy - and the "aviation unit" consists of a supervisor flying by the seat of his pants.

DaveSAM5525G @ 1/3/2013 12:19 AM

Well done! "I have already shared this one with the team and other contacts..." Feedback will be provided!

mw204 @ 1/8/2013 1:25 PM

After reading the ABCS of in-progress calls by Lt. Amaury Murgado I had to respond.

First and foremost Lt. Murgado is correct in stating that an in-progress call can be controlled chaos, but this is where we start to differ in opinions/tactics.

I understand that Lt. Murgado must work for a huge department with the extra personal that any chief or sheriff would envy. I’m assuming, yes I know what I get for assuming, that since Lt. Murgado works in a large city there are more than one burglary in-progress call per shift so again it must be nice to have the personal, multiple K-9 units, and of course numerous air coverage units to help look for the suspect(s). Has Lt. Murgado only worked in a large department, doesn’t he realize that most of us are just lucky enough to have a few partners on per shift that we don’t have access to K-9, and certainly no air coverage to rely upon. In the real world of Policing some of us are lucky enough to have at least one partner that can respond as backup but there are those departments that have only one officer on per shift.

Lt. Murgado is also correct in that training is very important and gives good examples of the training needed but then he ends this section by a condescending remark about MultiCam uniforms and AR-15 that look right in place on Star Wars, plus in the real world of Policing who gets a scribe, much less scribes?

I agree that everyone should have some type of numbering system for your normal building/house so there is no mistakes where everyone is at. But after reading his comments about numbering a building 1 through 4 by numbering the building counter clockwise, which would put his example at the back left-hand corner of the building instead of the back right-hand corner using the numbering system he described. I hope this was a typo and not from confusion.

Continued below.

mw204 @ 1/8/2013 1:26 PM

Then Lt. Murgado can’t help himself to access that most of us would be sitting in our patrol car eating donuts and watching COPS on our cell phone. Does he really feel like most of us are just knuckle draggers that need to be lectured in that manner? I don’t agree with Lt. Murgado that you should have your red & blues on, especially if you’re working at nighttime, how many of you have ever been blinded by your overheads? Would not pointing your patrol car headlights in the direction of the building and then using your spotlight to search in your sector of coverage be a better option?

Then we get to the, “you didn’t build that”, comment by stating that, “No one individual catches anyone.” How many of you have caught a suspect all by yourself, I know I have. That’s not to say you should be a Rambo out there but to make a blanket statement by saying no one catches somebody by themselves is a ridiculous comment in my opinion. How many of you get to set up a command post on an in-progress call that doesn’t include hostages? Sorry to keep going back to this but again how many of you have the luxury of having a scribe? How many of you just get on the radio and babble on and on and on for no reason? Lt. Murgado then castigates a sergeant he knows by saying his tactics often sucked without good results but he fails to give us his results of catching the suspect, which I’m guessing sucks too because by the time you get everything in place that he suggests the suspect is probably sitting at home watching the units set up to contain him.

I’m sorry to be so critical of Lt. Murgado but he seems to be someone in leadership that has the mentality that it’s his way or no way, which is closed minded in my opinion. I think Lt. Murgado should reread his article and see how condescending it is to those of us on the street and at the very least reevaluate his tactics because I’m sure most of us do NOT have the personal he describes to do it his way.

Amaury Murgado @ 1/26/2013 2:02 PM

@mw204: Thanks for commenting. I actually work for what would be considered a mid-sized agency. I don't work for a municipality but cover the unincorporated areas within the county which includes both urban and rural locations. You do bring up a good point about smaller agencies and have given me an idea for a future article. Since I write for a large audience of varying degrees, my articles come from a perspective that allows you to take away anything that might be useful. If you didn't find anything this time, perhaps there will be an article that contains something another time. You also caught a typo on the clock system; thanks for paying attention and I do apologize for the mistake. I will leave you with this last comment...don't ever confuse good luck for good tactics. This applies to any size agency. Feel free to email me if you have time for anymore discussion. Thanks, LT Murgado.

Sergeant Jeff Hancock @ 6/30/2016 9:30 PM

Lieutenant Murgado,
i have been researching the "light up" method on perimeters/containment during in progress calls. Could you provide me with more information on this topic. We are a small agency( 40 Officers) and looking into a better way of performing our job. The information that would be beneficial would be the benefits and negatives of this method along with other agencies that are using this method. Thanks for your help... Stay Safe!!!!

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