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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

Watch your approach and positioning — Do not stand immediately in front of the door you are knocking on. Stay constantly alert during your approach to a pedestrian or vehicle. Don't get too close to a subject you are in contact with. Maintain a "reactionary gap" of several feet that keeps your sidearm immune to a quick grab and gives you time to react if he launches a surprise attack.

Don't make risky assumptions — Drunks are not guaranteed harmless. Neither are women, juveniles or the elderly. All alarms are not false, either. The only safe assumption you can make about your difficult job is that virtually any call or contact holds the potential for real danger. Conduct yourself accordingly.

Wear your vest — There is no valid reason for not wearing your soft body armor. Vests have saved literally hundreds of police lives. A vest could save yours if bullets come your way. How much more of an argument is necessary?

Use backup help properly — Never throw away the huge advantage given to you by a partner or a backup officer. Call for help anytime and every time you think you may need it. also, be a good and alert backup officer yourself. Routinely practice contact and cover tactics where one officer "works" while the other watches and protects him.

Don't be a cowboy (or cowgirl) — Going out of your way to unnecessarily expose yourself to danger will only serve to get you hurt or killed. Do not ignore danger signs or otherwise try to be a hero. Call for cover when you need it. Don't act alone when waiting for help; it makes more safety sense. In short, avoid becoming a statistic. Rely instead on sound tactics and smart teamwork.

Keep watching their hands — Their hands (or what they have in them) remain your greatest dangers in any contact with a subject or offender. If you cannot see them, that fact in itself may signal potential danger. Increase your level of alertness and otherwise alter your tactics accordingly. Be prepared to defend yourself.

Stay sharp — Police work is no place for apathy or daydreaming on the job. You cannot afford to nod off while on-duty, either. Too many hazards await the officer who becomes careless or complacent. Keep your senses attuned for danger. "Alert" could well translate to mean "alive."

Stay fit — By eating and sleeping well and working out reasonably to maintain upper body strength and aerobic endurance, you bolster your chances of winning an on-the-job confrontation of the physical variety. Your attention to a reasonable level of personal fitness should simultaneously improve your overall quality of life.

Remember that off-duty can prove dangerous — Each year, officers are killed after intervening to stop unlawful acts while in an off-duty status. Recognize the equipment, backup, recognition and communication liabilities you may face when you elect to act as a law enforcement officer while you are off the job. Call on all of your best judgment and decision-making skills in determining whether you should act as anything more than an excellent witness.

Never stop looking for another threat — If you find one hidden suspect, secure him and start looking for his partner(s), even if you do not know for a fact that he has any. If you find a weapon concealed on the arrestee you are searching, take it and begin looking for the next one, and so on.

Practice makes perfect — You absolutely must maintain proficiency with all of your law enforcement tools-and skills. That includes firearms, batons and handguns. This includes building search techniques as well as arrest and control tactics. You already know that many of the physical skills required in your job are perishable ones. See to it you don't perish because you neglected them.

CONTINUED: Staying Alive «   Page 3 of 4   »

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