A strategically placed scar can be sexy. Look at what a few cauterized moles and appendectomy scars did for Mel Gibson’s character Martin Riggs in supporting his “Lethal Weapon” war stories.

But most of us would like to keep our bodies unmarred—not an easy task given those who’d happily administer any number of contusions to our persons.

Yet when it comes to boo-boos and owies, we’re invariably our own worst enemies. Far too often, the things that go bump in the night are us—barking shins, twisting ankles, or bouncing our foreheads off the undersides of low-slung pipes (the Marquis de Sade lives and breathes as a parking lot architect).

Having filled out my fair share of employee injury reports—and having the attendant carpal tunnel syndrome to show for it—I’m all too familiar with the less romantic ways in which cops get hurt while working patrol.

And just how do they get hurt? You name it.

Going in foot pursuit of some fleet-footed felon is a popular rite of passage for cops. As if the natural dangers of heading off some dirtbag’s escape route weren’t dangerous enough, add unfamiliar territory and conditions of darkness, and you’ve got pretty good odds of ending up in full body traction.

Well established familiarity with the terrain doesn’t guarantee success, either. In an overzealous bid to come to a fellow officer’s rescue, more than one well intentioned officer has hauled ass through a station hallway, only to end up running over some other cop, knocking him or her to the ground and out of commission.

Then there are the little things. No, I’m not talking about some up-skirt thrill-seeking troll. I’m talking about those seemingly innocuous things that we do every day until some split-second disaster occurs. Things like lifting gear bags. Getting in and out of the car. Driving around at 90 mph with our windows down while listening for telltale sounds of crime.

Much of the time, the injuries that stem from such activities are preventable. And given our vigilance on other fronts—I mean, we generally don’t go into battle without guns and vests, right?—our laxity on such fronts seems counter intuitive.

There are some things cops can do on the front end to make sure they don’t get bitten on the back end.

First, prepare yourself physically. A combination of strength training and aerobic conditioning can work wonders. And the great thing about buffing up is, unless you’ve the misfortune of entangling yourself with some MMA cage fighter, a generation of gangbangers weaned on MTV and Teletubbies are pretty much fair game.

Consider driving slower with the windows lower so there’s less wind funneling in through your driver’s side window. That way, it doesn’t erode your hearing with the same efficacy that it did with the Sphynx’s nose.

If you have a strong beagle response instinct and are inclined to Chase That Which Runs, then at least recon well traversed escape routes in enemy territories. This might help you avoid literally clotheslining yourself when you find yourself in a steeplechase.

Periodically inventory your gear bag. You’d be surprised at the stuff that incrementally adds up in there. Get rid of crap you don’t need, or know that you have ready access to (i.e., your anal retentive partner has it in his gear bag). You never know what you’ll find. I heard of one guy whose partner added a 2-pound weight to his gear bag every week for two months before he caught a clue.

Be aware of how the things you wear and carry can exact an inexorable toll on your body. Are you wearing an off-kilter belt? Does your backup gun impinge on your sciatica? Do your duty boots allow your feet to pronate comfortably?

Take hygienic precautions. Puncture- and slash-resistant gloves offer some ancillary benefit, but only if you keep them clean (and always follow manufacturers’ instructions on how to clean them). But keeping some Purell on hand (no pun intended) can help. NOTE: Like everything else, too much of a good thing can be bad. Case studies have shown that some alcohol-based cleansers can dry out skin, actually making them more susceptible to bacterial infections.

Look, I know we’re all determined to get home by the end of our shifts. Wouldn’t it be great if it was in one piece?


Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Dean Scoville

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio