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30th Anniversary: Tactical Hindsight

Tactics and equipment have improved in the last 30 years, but the job of law enforcement remains the same.

October 01, 2006  |  by Greg Meyer

Ever long for "the good old days?" I know that some of you do. You remember that public support for law enforcement was more apparent way back when in the 1970s. That may be true. But before you decide to switch places with yesterday's cop, it's important for you to know that you have much better tools and tactics than we did 30 years ago.

Let's look at four common police operations and talk about how they would have been handled differently and with different equipment 30 years ago.

Domestic Violence

Take a warm, loving look at the digital radio on your belt. Think about all the times you use it during the day. Your radio is your constant companion. It gives you information; it lets you disseminate information to your fellow officers; and you can use it to ask for backup or to call in a full "cavalry charge" when you need help.

In 1976, cops didn't have belt radios. So picture yourself working alone, or with just one partner. You answer a call to the fifth floor of some dump. On arrival, you use your car radio to let communications know that you have arrived. You then lock your car door, and you walk away from your only communications tool, the radio that is built into the dashboard of your patrol unit.

The building has "problem" written all over it. So you enter it cautiously, looking over the seedy types in the lobby. This fire trap looks like it was built back when inventor Elisha Otis was still alive. (Hint: He died in 1861.) The elevator looks like Elisha personally built it, and it's only big enough to hold a couple of six-year-old kids. So, you hike up the stairs.

Fifth floor. You hear the ruckus. You knock on the door. The sobbing, bloody wife opens it and bids you welcome. You enter and confront: the drunken Heavyweight Champion of the World.
The game is now afoot. But you are not. You are suddenly on your butt. You look up in time to see your partner flying through the air on his way to the north wall.

You're in trouble and you need backup. But remember, this is 30 years ago and your only radio is in the parking lot. Backup isn't coming unless some helpful citizen dials "0" and asks for the police. That's right, we didn't even have 911 service. You called the same operator that you called for directory assistance to call the cops.

OK. Enough about radios. Let's talk about the other tools that would not be on your belt 30 years ago.

This guy you're fighting is out of control. And he's real big and strong. You need a less-lethal option.

So you draw your beaver-tail sap-32 ounces of lead tightly packed into the business end of a flexible leather implement-or maybe you draw your straight hickory stick. Thirty years ago, we didn't have OC spray. We didn't have Tasers on our belts. We didn't even have side-handle batons, collapsible batons, or nunchakus.

So back then if your impact weapons didn't work, you had to go hands on with the guy. Often that meant the "bar-arm strangle" across the throat. That sometimes worked.

But if it didn't work and you didn't have backup, then you might face a situation so dangerous that you could end up trying to stop the guy with your six-shot .38, with 158-grain ball ammo.

Years ago, David Boyd, then-director of the Science and Technology Division of the National Institute of Justice, famously said, "Police still have the same choices Wyatt Earp had. They can talk a subject into cooperating, they can beat him into submission, or they can shoot him. What police need are better alternatives."

Today, we have those alternatives. We've got all kinds of neat "stuff" that our predecessors only dreamed of. Just turn through the pages of this magazine and you'll find a variety of modern equipment options that simply did not exist 30 years ago at the time of the scenario above.

The radio on your belt is a life saver. Need a little assistance? You can get all the cops in the entire county on the way at the push of a button.

Need to take down that drunken heavyweight champion? The fifth-generation Taser, the X-26, is likely your best bet. It'll let you stand back several yards and take care of business without getting your uniform dirty. You can even use the built-in video camera to record the whole incident so that you can later prove to your boss, the judge, the jury, the ACLU, and the media that you're not such a bad cop after all.

As for the bar-arm strangle, now you've got the LVNR (lateral vascular neck restraint) or the carotid control hold, and they are faster, safer, and more effective.

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