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Departments : Officer Survival

Remember the Basics

Good cops carry more than a gun and a badge. They are also armed with solid basic training and common sense.

March 01, 2000  |  by Capt. Gerald W. Garner

As American law enforcement enters a new century, surely there can be few practitioners of the profession who have not learned about officer safety and the basics of surviving on the street.  But if officer safety education is so prevalent and well-accepted today, how does one explain the bloody fact that between 50 and 75 officers still perish at the hands of criminals in any given year?  If cops know how to do the job right today, what, then, helps to explain tragic scenes like these:

A 32-year old officer was killed after responding to a robbery in progress call at a financial institution.  While other officers maintained a perimeter around the building's exterior, the soon-to-be-victim officer entered alone and approached a male subject standing inside.  After the officer ordered the man to remove his hand from his pocket, the two men began struggling and both fell through a plate glass window. During the fight the offender pulled a 9 mm handgun and shot the officer several times.  The officer died of his wounds.

Two officers were found dead in their police vehicle shortly after noon.  The officers had been transporting two inmates to a prison facility when each was struck by .357 rounds fired from the back seat of the car.  The 21-year old killer is believed to have been searched prior to being placed in the car.

At around 4 a.m. an officer was murdered while on a traffic stop.  The officer radioed for a license check on the male adult driver.  Standing by the door of his patrol car, the officer apparently did not notice the driver get out with a .357-caliber revolver in hand.  The subject shot the officer once, causing him to fall.  He then walked over and shot the fallen officer four more times.

So, if skilled, competent peacekeepers are still making all of these fatal mistakes even after years and years of officer safety and survival training, what's wrong with that training?  Quite possibly, very little.  Rather, the problem may lie in the reality that too many officers KNOW what to do and HOW to do it.  But for whatever reason, they get lazy, get careless, take shortcuts.  And because most people they contact have no intention of killing a law enforcement officer, they get away with it, time and time again.  Over time, bad practice becomes ingrained as bad habit.  When luck runs out and an opportunist cop killer is finally encountered, the result can be tragic.

The fact is that in the vast majority of officer killings, one or more of the so-called deadly sins are committed by the victim peacekeeper.  The truth is, that's how most cops get killed.

While not necessarily a complete listing, here is a collection of some of the worst (and the most deadly) errors regularly made by good, normally conscientious peace officers:

Being Apathetic, Complacent or Generally Careless

Law enforcement is a calling that requires 100 percent of the practitioner's attention and focus, 100 percent of the time.  It's worth thinking about for the officer who may be tempted to approach a fulltime job with a part time brain.

Failure to Obtain Necessary Assistance

Failure to wait for use of backups is an error that kills law enforcement officers with terrible regularity.  Having help present from the outset decreases the likelihood that anyone will be seriously injured in overcoming resistance to arrest.

Missing or Ignoring the Danger Signs

In most murders of law enforcement officers, an investigation of the circumstances of the killing reveals that almost always one or more warning signals were in evidence.

A partial listing of these blood-red flags of danger ahead might include the following:

• Subjects under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
• Weapons present or suspected;
• Subject extremely emotionally disturbed or irrational;
• Hands not visible;
• History of violence or attacks on officers;
• Furtive movements; hiding;
• Defensive posture or fighting stance;
• Threats of self-destruction;
• Verbal threats against officers;
• Subject disobeying instructions and trying to get in close;
• Suspects outnumber officer(s).

Making Dangerous Assumptions

Where your safety is concerned, assume nothing other than the fact that virtually EVERY call and contact contains the potential for danger.

For instance, the officer who assumes that he cannot get hurt by a juvenile who is, after all, "just a kid," is asking for trouble.

Failing to Watch Their Hands

As any veteran cop knows, it is most frequently the party's hands (or what he puts in them, like a gun) that will meet out death or injury to the unwary officer.  The individual who appears to be making extra effort to keep one or both of his hands out of your sight should be raising a warning for you.

Being in Poor Physical Condition

Each year officers are murdered after being overpowered and disarmed by people they went up against who turned out to be stronger and more fit than they were.  Law enforcement professionals who show total disregard for a healthy diet and even a moderate amount of aerobic conditioning and upper body strength are unwittingly preparing themselves to play the role of victim.

Failing to Wear Soft Body Armor On the Job

Vest has saved over 2,000 law enforcement lives.  They have reduced the injury severity for other officers involved in accidents or assaults by criminals.  But the best armor in the world won't help you if it's carried in the back seat or trunk of the squad car "in case of emergency."

Taking a Poor Approach or Positioning

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