We've all been there. It's toward the end of your shift and another alarm call comes in. This time, someone was seen running from the area. You and your fellow units respond and set up a perimeter. You are assigned to the outer perimeter to contain anyone inside. You dutifully arrive at your post and begin your watch. Then, it hits.
Boredom. Cold. Thoughts of the upcoming weekend. Feelings of being on the "outside" of the search. Whatever it is, it comes and distracts you from focusing on the job at hand. You may be watching the clock slowly tick by or listening to the car radio through the open window. But basically, you're doing anything except what you're supposed to.
Meanwhile, the suspect on the inside of your perimeter is focused on one thing and one thing only: escaping right past you. If he's a violent guy-or if he sees attacking you as his only chance of escape-this "boring night" could turn into a life-and-death battle.
Working perimeters can be tedious, but it's important that we remember the basics of this role. Every day across the United States, a suspect is flushed out of his hiding place and captured by perimeter officers. It's rarely the guys on the inside searching that have the biggest impact. Many suspects have confessed and surrendered when they discovered they were surrounded by a police perimeter and had nowhere to go.
With that in mind, here are a few pointers to review regarding perimeter safety:
1. Know your role. What is your role as a perimeter officer? Are you supposed to be quiet and out of sight, allowing suspects to walk right into your trap? Sometimes perimeter officers take on the role of silent traps, ready to spring when an unsuspecting suspect is flushed out by searching officers.
However, sometimes the role of a perimeter officer is to make his or her presence known. This can include activating your lights at night and leaving your radio switched to public address mode. The idea is to give the illusion of multiple officers at a location where there may in fact only be one. Either way, be sure to know your role.
2. Stay alert. This is the most important rule when working a perimeter. Everyone knows it can be tedious work, but staying alert is critical. Don't let the days' events leading up to that call cloud your thoughts or judgment. Don't let your mind wander to weekend plans or that report that's past due. Stay focused and be ready for anything. You can bet the suspect on the inside of the perimeter is wholeheartedly focused on escaping. Make sure you are equally focused on preventing that escape and ensuring your safety.
Remember, even a simple alarm call can turn deadly. You have no idea who the suspect is or what he or she has just done. However, the suspect knows exactly what the stakes are. That simple alarm can be the first notification of a murder or kidnapping that just took place. It's up to you to treat every call with the same care and focus as you would a major incident.
3. Use all of your senses. Don't listen to your patrol car's radio when you could be listening for footsteps or rustling bushes. Look all the way around you, not just where you think the suspect is supposed to be. Remember, many suspects have been interrupted in the midst of their escape by units arriving to perimeter positions. This can lead to a suspect hiding within 10 feet of your vehicle. That exact scenario has happened in my city, and I'm sure it has happened in cities nationwide. Criminals attempting to escape will hide wherever they can if arriving officers cut off their escape. Make sure you check out the area you're parked in before assuming your watch.
4. Interview arrested suspects. This is another widely forgotten tool in law enforcement. Once you arrest fleeing suspects, talk to them. Ask if he or she saw the units arriving, and what action he or she took after seeing the police. You'd be surprised at the wealth of information these people can provide. And they are usually willing to tell you. Most suspects are very familiar with the game and have been arrested many times over. Talk to them and see the escape through their eyes. This will help you form better perimeters in the future, and it will help you be more effective in your own perimeter duties.
Remember, working a perimeter is another "routine" duty of law enforcement. However, like traffic stops and domestic disturbance calls, perimeter calls can turn critical in the blink of an eye. Be sure your eyes are ready when that moment arrives.