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Columns : In My Sights

The Rest Stop

Just because people don't talk about how to safely "relieve yourself" on duty doesn't mean it isn't a constant concern.

January 13, 2012  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship
Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

I'd like to take a minute to ponder one of the issues that remains an unspoken truth about our natures and at the same time can dominate our attention with great urgency. That is the need for the human body to process waste, to relieve itself, to void, numbers one and two.

Television and movie cops never need to leave a surveillance or race to a nearby store or just pull off the highway and hide in the trees. That would be too human, and probably too real for most viewers. We watch these shows to escape, to see idealized heroes do romantically heroic acts and find a path to truth and justice, and so much of their humanity is ignored. Except the human sexuality side, but that's another article.

I'm not saying make a darn show about it, but how about a movie hero complaining about last night's sushi and racing out of the briefing room while the captain and other detectives look on? Now that's reality. How about a critical surveillance scene where the star asks for someone else to take the "eyeball" while he takes care of "business?" Now that's police work.

I bet every one of you has one or probably a hundred stories about directing traffic at an accident and doing a little extra dance while waiting to get cleared, or pondering how to get rid of that pot of coffee you drank earlier when the nearest rest stop is 25 miles out.

In fact, I can't wait to see the comments we get after this is published. Crimefighters have unique and discreet ways of relieving the "stress."

I bring all this up not just to give screenwriters new ideas but to remind you about safety considerations when using often public facilities and the importance of reattaching your equipment. You rookies never want to have to race back to the Circle K at 19th and Indian School Road to recover your duty that ever happened...

First, the safety considerations. Ideally cops could always use a private restroom or one that could be secured, but that just isn't reality. So for a public restroom, consider if your back is exposed while your hands are busy, or where you are going to put your equipment if you have to take it off. I remember a fellow in narcotics gasping as his SIG slid out of the holster and across the floor out of the bathroom stall as he sat down. A polite citizen just slid it back when he announced he was the police...Lucky, eh?

If you've taken your duty belt off you must reattach your keepers to ensure the same security you had when you first hit the streets that day. Making this a ritual reinforces you will even put the darn thing on instead of leaving it dangling, alone, left behind like your youngest son on a road trip. If you're reading this now and thinking that can never happen to you, I can't wait for you to write us about fishing your new Glock out of the latrine.

This is one of the unspoken parts of our profession and one that has caused a multitude of embarrassing moments for us all. Especially sticky are those moments of massive urges with no facilities. I have heard stories of deputies on lonely roads thinking they're alone looking over to see their local cub scout troop on a day hike, of narcs slipping into an alley only to surprise grandma walking little Scotty...Yikes!

My friends, I know this is a subject we prefer to leave unspoken but for your safety, your humility, and your regularity I ask you to think about these issues.

You won't find any examples on television, but ask some of your veterans if they have any tips. The fellow cop who waves you away like he doesn't have time for you is probably the one with the best example so after everyone confesses their experiences be sure to ask that person if there isn't something that he or she can add. Then listen and learn.

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

Comments (15)

Displaying 1 - 15 of 15

N. Waterloo @ 1/14/2012 2:17 PM

I actually had a FTO who addressed this with me. I was told to use a locking stall in public restroom not the urinal. Now I pass this onto my trainees and many of then, both new and laterals say, "huh, I never thought of that!"

Steve @ 1/14/2012 2:22 PM

How about when your out in the country getting rid of some coffee by a fence post and your "Partner" turns on the lights and siren as he busts out laughing.........

Landa Susan Stubbs @ 1/14/2012 2:41 PM

I have always said that if I could invent an outfit for us gals that meant we didn't have to take off the gun belt,I would be rich.

Bill @ 1/14/2012 2:49 PM

All too true. In my area we have a chain of convenience stores with lockable "one-holers." They have a bottle of spray disinfectant available in each to sanitize the seat before---or clean up afterwards.
At night in the countryside, I'll use the woods. All in all it's probably safer. Park on one side of the road, leave the interior lights on, then go across the road. You're not likely to be surprised that way.

Victor @ 1/14/2012 2:55 PM

We have several volunteer fire depts in our county that give us the codes to their doors. We are a small dept with a good relationship with fire and rescue.

Bill Anderson @ 1/14/2012 3:04 PM

As a member of a volunteer fire department that allows use of our facilities, I ask that you please spray after you use the facilities, and please make sure you haven't plugged up the toilet with your Taco Bell lunch.

Rick Rutel @ 1/14/2012 4:46 PM

I remember blowing by my Sgt. one afternoon with my roof light and siren going. He asked me what I had. "An emergency!" as I ran into the ambulance garage. He pulled me in front of the patrol Lt. to get me in trouble and the Lt was 100% on my side. I call it "exercising police prerogative".

Ed @ 1/17/2012 5:45 AM

I heard an unconfirmed rumor that a nearby agency actually teaches a one hour class in their Basic Academy on how to handle this exact topic. Apparently in the case of an emergency Code Brown where there are multiple stalls, you are supposed to buckle your duty belt and wear it over your shoulder like Pancho Villa so it's invisible and not on the floor with the yuckies.

Bill @ 1/17/2012 8:05 AM

We were taught the "over the shoulder" thing back in 89 when I went through

8Sam1 @ 1/17/2012 12:00 PM

When you gotta go, you gotta go story. Working graveyard shift after coffee & food from a local convenient store, I happened upon about 5 persons stripping a car on a remote road. They ran off & I gave chase until my stomach spoke to me. I squated against a telephone pole in pitch black darkness while back-up was enroute. Duty belt & pants removed & weapon in hand, I took the Browns to the field. I found new use for 3" x 5" spiral notebook paper. Happy ending, vehicle recovered, suspect vehicles & suspects in custody within a couple of hours. No doubt comrades to use at my retirement.

RDF @ 1/17/2012 1:45 PM

27 years ago I had an academy instructor talk about this. We were told to unholster our pistol and put it in the crotch of our pants while we took the Browns to the Super Bowl. That way, you can't help but remember it and it's accessible if some turd (pardon the pun) decides to give you some grief.

another bill @ 1/17/2012 3:33 PM

I was .5 miles down a dead end road surrounded by CRP fields, seemed free and clear so I used the bumper of my squad as a nice back rest. Damn plane circled me twice. For the ladies, they do make a new sealing funnel specifically for hunting and fishing women, you too can pee standing up.

John @ 1/19/2012 8:58 AM

When getting a new stakeout assignment we always did a little recon to find friendly necessary stops in addition to coffee and doughnut supplies. I found early on that public libraries and beauty salons make great stops. The ladies at a nearby beauty salon got so used to seeing me on a long term assignment, they would have coffee and homemade cookies waiting for thier "Personal Protection Agents".

brokntrigr @ 1/23/2012 1:22 PM

A few months ago, we had to clear out a Bank of America that was "occupied" by some of the activists. We had made entry inside the bank and two squads surrounded the protesters who were sitting down and disrupting business. The cop next to me really had to go "number 1." It was clear that the protesters meant business and could've gotten hostile. In other words, this was going to be a long one. He asked the sergeant in charge of our squad if he could go. The sergeant was already a duchy bag denied his request until an hour later. Adult diapers maybe?

jen @ 2/4/2012 9:41 PM

it can be a problem esp me being a female officer who patrols a nearly remote area with not alot of rest stops and working nights and trying to stay awake by drinking sometimes too much coffee has led to me watering the bushes in the side of the highway many times

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