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Fatal Errors: Surviving Arrest and Control

Officers are especially vulnerable to attack once they get close enough to handcuff and arrest a suspect.

January 01, 2005  |  by Gerald W. Garner



For safety’s sake, a prisoner search must be done right, too. That means the search is repeated as many times and in as much detail as necessary to ensure that the subject possesses nothing with which to hurt himself or anyone else. It means always searching for the next threat even after the last one has been found and removed.

 A grizzled old salt summed up the best handcuffing and searching advice I’ve heard: “It really doesn’t matter to me if they’re 14 or 80. If they’re legally in custody, they’re gonna get cuffed and searched. Every time.”

Relaxing Too Soon

It’s an unusual year when a law enforcement officer is not killed somewhere in this country while sitting in his police car with a prisoner somewhere nearby.

Not infrequently, the killer produces a weapon while sitting in the vehicle’s back seat. Other years, one or more officers are slain within the confines of a police station or jail after delivering a prisoner there. Sometimes the officer dies after losing his own weapon. Other times, the offender brings his own or uses his personal weapons, such as hands and feet.

 What some officers may fail to realize is that basic psychology is at work here. As the peacekeeper returns to his own, familiar turf, whether it’s his car or station, if he’s not careful his level of alertness drops a little. He’s now more comfortable than he was on the bad guy’s ground. Unfortunately, the offender is likely reacting in just the opposite way. It’s now clear to him he’s getting locked up. If he’s going to do something to prevent it, the time is at hand.

 You truly cannot afford to relax until a suspect or arrestee is totally removed from your presence. Until that time, constant vigilance is your best guarantee of staying alive.

How to Stay Safe

 Regardless of what you do for a living, mistakes are obviously not a good thing in the work world. It is equally obvious that some mistakes are a lot worse than others. Some can be career-ending. In your often-hazardous workplace, others can be life-ending. They are that bad.

 As a law enforcement officer, arrest scenarios make up a huge part of what you do. As in the other things you do on your very vital job, mistakes made in the handling of any of these duties can be extremely hazardous to your health. Put another way, they can kill you quickly. Fortunately, you can largely control your own destiny in seeing to it that really bad things never happen to you. Applying all of your knowledge of good officer safety and survival techniques can help ensure that you never experience the tragic consequences that have already taken too many of your colleagues who slipped up at the worst possible moment. In doing so you truly do determine your own fate.

 That’s what avoiding arrest scenario mistakes can do for you and yours.

Officer Safety Checklist

    •    Stop, look, and listen; gather  information before you act.

    •    Do not rush when the situation doesn’t really require speed.
    
    •    Get plenty of assistance.

    •    Stay alert for the danger signs.

    •    Wear your body armor.

    •    Maintain a reactionary gap; don’t get too close, too soon.

    •    Watch your approach and positioning.

    •    Always watch their hands.

    •    Don’t make dangerous assumptions.

    •    Use cover properly.

    •    Use backup wisely; follow good contact and cover tactics.

    •    Follow careful weapon retention practices.

    •    Never stop looking for the next threat.
    
    •    Expect the unexpected.

    •    Make some contingency plans for surprises.

    •    Never use “cowboy” tactics.
    •    Never daydream on the job; stay alert.

    •    Maintain proficiency with all your equipment through regular practice.

    •    Realize that all equipment has limitations, and so do you.

    •    In a crisis situation, make a decision, even if it’s imperfect.

    •    Stay in good physical and emotional condition.
    
    •    Handcuff properly.

    •    Search correctly.
    
    •    Be aware of who and what is present in your immediate environment.
    
    •    Practice tactical withdrawal, as
         required.
    
    •    Count on your good common sense.
    
    •    Maintain a winning mindset.

    •    Avoid carelessness and complacency at all costs.

    •    Never stop learning your job.
    
    •    Remember to survive mentally, too.

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Tags: Copy Killers, Duty Deaths, Tips for Success, Vehicle Stops, Assaults on Officers


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