The Basics

When officers do well it's inevitably because they have kept true to the training they were given.

Dave Smith Headshot

Illustration: Sequoia BlankenshipIllustration: Sequoia Blankenship

The development of dashboard and body-worn cameras has given us a plethora of "game films" to review following critical incidents. No doubt the continuing growth of this industry will lead to improvements in tactics and techniques, but one glaring truth is emerging from the current crop of "YouTube" hits. When officers do well it's inevitably because they have kept true to the training they were given.

When reviewing a video, too often I hear training officers say, "If the officer had only done this or that tactic it would have mitigated or prevented the crisis." I am not so sure. When that kind of thing is said, it is with the advantage of hindsight. A real challenge in effectively analyzing any police issue is "hindsight bias," and it is often hard to know when it is affecting our perception. The officer in the video isn't just concerned with the level of force or threat a subject presents; a myriad of other variables that must be attended to by that crime fighter are missing in a retrospective.

It is for just this complex and chaotic scenario that the "basics" were developed.

One incident that illustrates this well is a fight following a sloppy frisk by the officer. The fight was short lived as the officer was obviously a mixed martial artist and applied a good "whooping" to the would-be assailant. As satisfying as that video may be to my sense of justice, the trainer in me hopes the average viewer thinks, "Wow! This is why we use an effective control technique for frisking a subject; to avoid a confrontation like that."

The same holds true for calling for and/or waiting for backup. There is no guarantee a second or third officer will prevent a problem, but in video after video the backup makes a difference when the problem arises. And how many hundreds of videos do we never get to see because nothing happened, thanks to the deterrent effect of backup officers?

Foot pursuits are sure fun to watch, but one common thing I see happening is the "greyhound effect," also known as "There goes the rabbit, rabbit, rabbit!" If you find yourself in a foot pursuit, remember the basics: 1. Never run immediately behind a suspect. 2. Run wide, or quick peek, around corners. 3. If a suspect goes over a wall you go through the gate or over another part of the wall. 4. Do the unexpected, avoid the expected, be unpredictable.

Another thing, and I can't stress this enough, gang, is go to the range. And while you're there, practice using cover, please. Cover is one of the basic tactics of combat, but time and again I see our heroes leave cover and rush to the seven-yard line to engage in armed confrontations. I have to believe it is a training artifact due to the sheer volume of repetitions we do just standing at the seven-, 15-, and 25-yard line. Stop standing on line. Get some (or better yet, a lot of) tactical shooting repetitions under your belt, and then do the right thing on the street.

Finally, I want to address one of the old adages of training I learned decades ago, one that seems to need to be refreshed in this age of noncompliance and group resistance: "It is OK to disengage." Even the Marines had to disengage in Korea, so I guess it is OK for you to do so. Standing your ground when massively outnumbered or outgunned is morally courageous but tactically foolish. As a trainer told me when I was a young crime fighter, "Go, get some friends, then come back and take care of business." It was a lesson he had learned as a corrections officer and it served him well in his years on the street.

OK, homework: Make a list of all the basic tactics you were taught—from building search essentials to traffic-stop techniques—and then reflect on why you stopped using them, if you have. If a skill is rusty and needs refreshing, don't complain about the Training Division not keeping you up to snuff. Get out to the range and do it yourself, or get on the mat and retune your spine with the right motor program. Also, watch those videos and learn from the mistakes—and successes—of other crime fighters.

Then go out there on the street and win, whether you are on video or not. 

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

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Dave Smith Headshot
Officer (Ret.)
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