When it comes to use-of-force training, much of the curriculum is oriented around the weapons and tactics available to the officer. Often, it addresses collateral concerns such as the size and disposition of the confronted suspect.

One aspect of force training that seems to get short shrift involves when and where the altercation takes place.

Admittedly, use-of-force situations are extremely fluid; an officer may not have the opportunity to say so much as "Hi," before it's off to the races and an eventual altercation ends up in some distant backyard.

Many times, officers do have the opportunity to recognize the prospect for a confrontation and make allowances for it ahead of time. Separating disruptive parties so as to lessen the likelihood of having to come between them later is certainly a factor in an officer's decision-making process.

It follows that cops should be equally vigilant about where they move subjects.

But in investigating deputy-involved uses of force, I was surprised how often deputies had migrated from an open area—such as a front yard—into closed confines where the shit inevitably hit the fan. In doing so, they placed themselves in locations that not only hampered their own mobility but sometimes allowed the combatant access to weapons. Nothing like having a conscientious pat-down search negated by an opportune seizure of a kitchen knife.

Just as we want to prevent suspects from accessing weapons, we also want to minimize the likelihood of getting banged up by otherwise stationary objects.

Patios have deck chairs, lawn chairs, and pools. Backyards have tree stumps and gopher holes. There's nothing scarier than when the thing going bump in the night is some cop's shin bone leaving seven layers of epidermis on a gas meter.

Other places you might want to avoid having physical altercations:

  • Elevated platforms, landings, and upper floors
  • Stairwells, doorways, and other kill zones
  • Inside cars, vans, trucks, and other things with gears and accelerators

While less inherently dangerous, I'd try to give a wide berth to a diaper-changing station, Porta-Potty, or venue where witnesses might prove less than sympathetic to you—such as a head shop, biker bar, or ACLU recruitment center.

Whatever environment you find yourself in, always do a visual recon of the area. You might find telltale signs that will dictate the nature of force you're apt to be using. Should you spot a MMA trophy on the mantel and mouth guards lying about the place, you might want to think about deploying the TASER a little sooner.

Picking when and where to fight is something to consider when you're chasing suspects, as well. If a suspect's capture is not in question, think twice about doing that flying tackle on his ass at the first available opportunity. It might be worth waiting until he gets to the open field as opposed to tackling his ass on the asphalt.

If the guy is about to scale a fence, you might want to consider letting him get his hands on it before grabbing him. His hands will be occupied, he'll be off-balance, and gravity has a way of rattling his cage when you drag his ass down. It's one time when the high ground is more of a liability. Otherwise, you're apt to face off against a guy whose footing is just as solid as yours and whose desperation is similar to that of a cornered animal.

Of course, this might be idealistic B.S. on my part. We've all seen the post-pursuit storm-trooping of suspect vehicles when they finally came to rest, and a good many cops are not only too happy to go hands-on with an SOB such as some rodeo wrangler (if someone's sitting by with a stopwatch, so much the better).

Look, it's great to be a wrestler or a great puncher (although Mike Siegfried's forthcoming "Winning Edge" column might make you want to re-think punching suspects with your fists), but remember to keep the advantage by fighting on your home turf.

Home is where you make it.

Author

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
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