What's the most important piece of safety equipment you possess on duty? Your radio? Your vest? The answer is surprisingly simple; it's your mind. Specifically, your mindset when you are on duty.
Are you ready for anything, or is your mind wandering off toward those weekend plans or chores? Are you concentrating on the task at hand, or thinking about how you're going to get all those reports done before the end of your shift?
Keeping your mind ready for anything is especially important when contacting pedestrians on the street or suspects on their own turf. What if they were to run away, or fight, or even pull a weapon? Are you ready for anything? Here are a few reminders designed to help keep your mind ready when contacting a suspect.
Be Ready For Flight
Suspects tend to know when they will run way before we ever contact them on the street. At the first sight of the police car, their "fight or flight" reflex is telling them to take off. Still, many will play it cool and wait it out to see whom they're dealing with, or what the officer wants. Sometimes (and we've all done it), an officer will fail to run someone for warrants due to the nature of the stop. Most suspects know this, so they'll stay put and wait it out to gauge your response.
Once they know you're going to run them, or once they hear you say their name into your radio, the whole game changes. At that point, your detainee isn't thinking about if he should run, he's thinking where he should run, and when. Does he wait until his warrant comes back and you know about it, or does he take off early leaving you wondering what happened? Regardless of what he decides, make sure you're ready for it. The best way to do this is to be ready in every contact you make, however small it may seem. Remember, it may be a small contact to you, but to the parolee who just committed another robbery that you aren't yet aware of, it's his whole world.
When you make a pedestrian stop, think of which ways would be the easiest for the suspect to get away. What are those escape routes? Where do they lead? If he were to run one of those ways, how would you stop him? Thinking of these things before every stop will get your mind into the habit of being prepared, and you'll begin to do it automatically. It also makes it a ton easier when someone does run on you, and your demeanor will tell lots of these suspects that you mean business.
Be Ready For Resistance
Sometimes, this "fight or flight" reflex will lead a suspect to fight you rather than run away. Many of these people don't want to keep the fight going; they just want to get away. But, if you trap them into feeling like there is no other way out and they're determined to get away, they'll go through you if they must. This is one of the best reasons to be ready, and is a huge officer safety concern.
We all know guys or gals in our department who tend to be lackadaisical in their suspect contacts. They lean on the car, turn their back on someone, or have their mind somewhere else. These people are made fun of for a reason. Their conduct is unsafe, and could get them or other officers hurt. Make sure you're not one of them. If you see this behavior, try to fix it immediately. There's no room in this profession for attitudes that can get you or someone else hurt.
When you make a contact, stand in such a way that you will be ready if a suspect charges you. Your demeanor and physical presence will speak volumes to a suspect trying to size you up. If you're ready for anything and it shows, most detainees will be less likely to charge you. Plus, if they do, you'll be prepared for it.
Also, be aware of potential threats around you, such as kitchen utensils, broomsticks, or other would-be weapons. Suspects can turn anything into a weapon, and car keys, bicycle parts, or even cans can do some serious damage if someone is granted a free shot at you. Make sure they aren't by staying on your toes during these encounters.
Remember, resistance is most common when you go hands-on with a suspect. The minute a person knows he or she is being arrested, then the fight is on. Most departments have a two-man arrest requirement. If yours doesn't, strongly consider waiting for another unit before you go hands-on.
Be Ready For The Worst
Sometimes the "fight" aspect of a suspect's decision involves use of a real weapon, such as a firearm or knife. These are by far the most dangerous contacts and most dangerous parts of an officer's job. The suspect, often without warning, instantly raises the stakes. If you're not ready for it, it could be the final mistake of your career.
When contacting a suspect or anyone else, make sure you think of your own escape routes, not just his. If he were to pull a knife, would you have enough room or time to respond? If he were to pull out a gun, where would you go for quick cover while you were able to arm yourself? These are very important questions that should be in the forefront of every officer's mind when stopping someone. Remember, most of the time we as officers have no idea what the person just did, but they do. They may feel you've caught them in something you know nothing about. Their mindset is what matters to them; yours is what matters to your safety and survival. Be sure your decisions are based on your own safety.
Keeping yourself ready when contacting pedestrians or anyone in the course of your job is one of the easiest things you can do, but is also one of the most important. Don't get lackadaisical in your contacts. Stay safe, and be ready!