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Staying Alive

Despite increased training and high-tech equipment in police work, law officers are still making the same fatal errors. Here are a few tips on how cops can work smarter and safer.

April 01, 1996  |  by Gerald W. Garner

In another fatal incident, a 16-year veteran was murdered by a suspect who was breaking into a commercial establishment. The adult male had attacked the officer in a parking lot, took away his service weapon and shot the officer twice in the head while the policeman was on the ground.

In a similar scenario, a 17-year law enforcement veteran was killed by a juvenile shoplifter. The officer was disarmed and shot during a struggle with the 17-year old male. A second officer was wounded by the fleeing subject.

Losing control of a weapon — At least a half dozen police officers are killed each year in the United States after losing their sidearm in a struggle with an offender. Sometimes officers are simply over-powered by an attacker who was stronger or had more aerobic endurance. Other times, they are undone by less-than-adequate weapon retention practices.

Inexperience may have contributed to the death of a rookie officer who was killed in the early morning hours during a traffic stop-not a felony stop. He knew that the vehicle contained burglary suspects. With back-up on-scene, the officer was shot fatally in the chest on his second approach to the driver's window.

Poor tactics — It's not enough to know how to make a safe stop, an effective approach or careful arrest. The right tactics, techniques and procedures must be followed every time, until they become habit — a good habit. Carelessness or apathy must not be allowed to become part of the safety-smart officer's routine.

Preventing the Bloodshed

Just as the factors resulting in officer fatalities have changed very little over the years, the practices designed to prevent the shedding of "blue" blood have not been much altered by time, either. These time-proven "tricks of the trade" include the following:

Gather data first-Use your senses to learn quickly as much as you can about the call or contact you are facing. Whenever you can, take the time to stop, look and listen before you commit yourself. What you learn in just a few seconds may prompt you to handle the situation differently to increase your safety margin.

Think threats — You will need a complete "threats troubleshooting" package to stay safe. It should address threat awareness (realizing your job contains dangers); threat recognition (spotting danger signs); and threat response (doing something to avoid or neutralize the threat). You must exercise all three elements in order to stay safe.

Look for danger signs — Every experienced police officer recognizes his or her own set of hazard flags. These are indicators that something is amiss, thereby requiring tactics or techniques to be altered to ensure safety. While danger signs will vary somewhat from one officer to the next, the following is a collection of potential danger flags any sharp officer would acknowledge:

  • Weapons present
  • Subject under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Subject emotionally disturbed
  • Furtive movements' hiding, for example
  • Hands not in view
  • History of violence by offender
  • Subject tensing up
  • Defensive or attack posture by subject
  • Subject trying to move in close
  • Subject indicates suicidal intent ("suicide by cop")
  • Suspicious bulges in clothing, which may indicate weapons
  • Evidence of crime present
  • Threats toward officers
  • "Targeting gaze" on the officer or his weapon.

It is no secret that officers have died after missing danger signs or bulldozing ahead with unchanged tactics-even after detecting them. Remember: You must act appropriately and in a timely manner when you sense the presence of potential danger.

CONTINUED: Staying Alive «   Page 2 of 4   »

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