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Departments : Officer Survival

Old Cops Know "Stuff"

If you want to make it home alive at the end of your shift, heed the advice of veteran cops.

October 01, 2004  |  by Roy Huntington - Also by this author

Don’t get in the habit of putting your own hands in your pockets. It looks slovenly and, besides, you may need those hands to save your life, so you want them available. Fast.

Carry at least one box of full-metal-case ammo for your duty gun and keep it handy in your gear bag. It usually out-penetrates hollow-point ammo, and it might be of help in some situations.

If you can, also carry a few spare, loaded mags in your gear bag, even cheap ten-round mags. When you need them, you’ll need them immediately, with no time to load them. Remember the North Hollywood bank robbery shootout?

Think hard on this one: If your department does not allow you to carry a rifle, bring your own slugs for the shotgun. Buy premium, sabot’d slugs, high velocity, solid copper. They can poke holes through things like body armor.

Better yet, carry your own rifle, regardless. Even pistol caliber is better than nothing, although .223 or .308 or even a .30-30 Winchester is best.

I used to carry a cut-down Mini-14 in my “trunk bag” in the early ‘80s. No one ever knew I had it until I pulled it out on a felony stop on suspects who had been shooting. I got yelled at later, but the cops at the scene almost “high-fived” me when they saw it come out. This is, of course, a personal decision and you know your own department’s frame of mind on the matter.

If any of this violates your particular department’s policy, you’ll have to make your own decisions on the matter.

Behind the Wheel

Don’t drive fast. People can’t hear your siren, and it’s awfully easy to “over drive” and get to an intersection before drivers are alerted. You’re no good to the officer who needs your cover if you crash and die.

If a pursuit gets crazy, stop it. Don’t be a hero, don’t get caught up in it all, just turn the siren off and slow down. You’ll more than likely find the suspect again some day, or he’ll kill himself because of the way he drives. Either way, you win.

Lots of Lights

Buy a good light. If the department doesn’t issue you one, don’t whine, just buy one. Buy a Streamlight, SureFire, Pelican, or the like. Keep a small, high-intensity light on your belt as a backup or to use in the daytime inside. Also carry a tiny light on your key chain.


Buy a high-quality light. And then buy a backup light.

You may think all of these lights are overkill. But once my main rechargeable light and my backup belt light both died in the middle of a felony stop, and I finished it with my penlight. Honest.

Carry your flashlight in your off-hand, not your gun hand. If it hits the fan, you don’t want to have to pass your flashlight to your off-hand so you can draw your gun.

Stopping Cars

When making a traffic stop at night, approach from the passenger side, after walking behind your patrol car to get there. You’ll see the driver looking in his outside rear-view mirror for you, until you tap on the passenger window. Then, you’ll see him jump from being startled.


Approach from around the rear of your beat car to prevent this.

Except sometimes you’ll see the gun in his hand as he waits for you. I did.

Point Your Gun

When in doubt, point your gun at people if you think they might try to kill you or somebody else. There’s no law saying they have to shoot first or that you can only draw from your holster after the threat shows itself.

If that little voice inside your head says, “Hey, stupid, you’d better be ready to rock any second,” then get ready to rock. Any second.

Sometimes that little voice is dead wrong. But you can always say you’re sorry, and a surprising number of people are awfully nice about it once you explain what happened and why.

When a cop says something like, “I worked the streets for 10 years and never pulled my gun out of the holster,” he’s either lying or too stupid for words. Don’t listen to him either way.

Puncture Wounds

People will try to stab you with anything at hand, especially in the kitchen. And they are often very calm and cooperative just prior to stabbing you. They may even be smiling.

Pencils, screwdrivers, scissors, and any long, skinny thing can kill you. Remember, “watch their hands.”

Street Work

Always, always, always use good sense. If something feels wrong, simply believe it’s wrong until you know for sure it’s not. And even then, you’re probably wrong not to listen to that first inner warning.

Just because the warrant or criminal history computer system is down doesn’t mean you can’t figure out if the turd you’ve stopped is a crook. Use your wits first. Use the computer last.

When you’re at a family fight, get the kids out of the way first. Then, if you arrest the husband, be prepared for the wife to fight you, even if she’s been a victim. And the kids don’t have to watch it happen—again.

Contact and Cover

When contacting someone, especially a bad guy, use at least two officers or hold the situation still until cover is there. Then one cop should act as the cover officer while the other makes the actual contact, asks the questions, searches, etc.

The cover officer should never touch the suspect, ask questions, or otherwise get involved. His or her job is simply to watch the suspect, the crowd, the traffic, etc., and cover the contact officer. If it hits the fan, the cover officer should make strong, bold, decisive movements to gain control. Instantly.

If you’re on a scene and are the contact officer and the cover officer starts to search the vehicle or become distracted, assume the role of cover officer and tell him he’s got the contact now. Don’t tolerate anything else. Your life is on the line.

Don’t be hesitant to stay away from danger. There’s no law saying you have to close on a suspect until you’re ready to. Wait until it’s safe to do so, or until you feel you have to close the distance due to circumstances beyond your control, like an immediate threat to a life.

Career Survival

Don’t ever lie to cover up something another cop does. If Internal Affairs is interviewing you as the subject officer in an investigation, you’re the last one interviewed, and they already know the answers to the questions they’re asking you. Honest. And if you don’t believe me, ask a former Internal Affairs officer.

There’s only about 10 million other things, so add to this list, expand on it, improve it, and otherwise hone it. Then read it now and again. And don’t forget to listen to and seek advice from older, experienced officers. Believe what they say.

Stay safe, and remember, people lie. Or did I say that already?

Roy Huntington is editor of American Handgunner magazine and a member of the POLICE Advisory Board.

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Tags: Defensive Tactics, Domestic Disputes, Officer Safety, Vehicle Stops, Gloves, Flashlights, Duty Pistols


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