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Columns : In My Sights

Backing Up is Hard to Do

In and out of your car, shifting into reverse and asking for help are critical survival skills.

June 01, 2006  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Ask risk managers to tell you what causes the majority of vehicular accidents, and they will all sing the same tune: "Backing Up Is Hard To Do."

In fact, reversing accidents cost millions of dollars a year and many private companies go to great lengths to prevent them. One major parcel carrier will not allow its drivers to back up...period. This won't work for crime fighters, but knowing that putting your car in "R" can be one dangerous activity is the first step in making yourself safer.

We can all agree we need to back our vehicles up from time to time and do it safely, but what about ourselves when we are not in our units?

I was told in the academy that we were to never back down and never call for backup unless it was absolutely necessary. The guy teaching us this oozed machismo. Damn! He talked tough...and to a bunch of twenty-somethings that didn't know Scotch tape from crime scene tape, he was the law.

He was also totally wrong. I don't know if you were taught these old manly axioms in your academy, but I hope you had the good fortune to have a grizzled old curmudgeon working the same beat as you and you started telling him all the stuff you learned in the academy about never backing up and only calling for backup when you were absolutely sure you needed it. 

That's what I did.

This veteran cop transfixed me with the special look he saved for dirtbags and growled, "Listen, Smith, you snot-nosed rookie, you are not being payed to take an ass-whipping, get shot, stabbed, or get me hurt by your being a dumbass! God gave you a pucker-factor for a reason. And when it gets high enough, it is time to get your rear-end outta there and get some backup. Something seems hinky, smells wrong, looks weird, you call for backup...period."

Now, let me put this into context. This guy was one fantastic beat cop who started his career in St. Louis and then came to Tucson because he heard it had a higher crime rate. He was a cop's cop, and I truly believe this brief moment of on-the-job training that he gave me to cancel out the macho tripe I was taught in the academy probably saved my life. I know for certain that it spared me a lot of ass-whippings.

Since my rookie days, I have studied officer safety and survival for decades, and I have found that the veteran's advice was sound and wise. We do have a wonderful capacity to sense when things are wrong and it is then we should call for backup...if we wait until we are absolutely certain we need it, it may be too late.

I wish I could tell you I have always followed that crusty old veteran's advice, but the other factor I have seen in myself and many others is the simple truth that backing up is hard to do. We have our pride at stake, and there have been times I stood and faced a group down when I should have walked away and gotten the backup I needed. All I can say is that sometimes we do have an angel on our shoulder because I should have gotten several serious beatings.

Don't count on angels or luck. Remember to back up safely in your vehicle, back up when your pucker- factor gets too high, and call for backup when you sense you might need it. When you fully understand what is at stake, backing up is not so hard to do.

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

Tags: officer safety, Tips for Success, Police Vehicle Accidents


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