Your patrol shift can be rewarding, exciting and dangerous. There are a number of things you can do to make it more rewarding and significantly less dangerous. This article explores ten actions you can take before you begin your watch to make you effective, efficient, and safe.
One of the most difficult aspects of police work is making the transition from an “armed civilian” to a working police officer. Like everyone else, you have a family, mortgage, a car payment, etc. These issues can follow you onto the job and even a slight distraction can lead to missed opportunities and unrecognized dangers.
You can make the transition by using your commute time as a personal briefing. As you drive from your home to the station, begin by mentally debriefing your previous shift. What did you do well? What could have done better? What was left undone? After debriefing that shift, move to the upcoming one. Make a mental checklist of what you want to accomplish during your shift. The idea is to focus on your job well before you get to the station. Once you are work, continue with this list and by the time you roll out of the station, you will your peak performance level.
Conversely, making the transition from a working police officer to a spouse, father or even an armed civilian is, perhaps, more difficult. Use the same technique as you drive home. Don’t concentrate on what happened during the shift you just completed – that is for the drive, next time. Think about what you need to accomplish as a “regular” human being. Make a mental checklist of the things you are going to accomplish between shifts and transition off the job in the same way you transitioned onto the job.
There are no high-speed, low-drag tactics that will save your life. Police work is just to complex and mundane at the same time for you to learn and become proficient at complex field tactics. It really is the simple stuff that will save your life – your gun leg back, not standing in front of doors, contact and cover, etc.; that will keep you safe. There are, however, three dangerous situations involving firearms for which you can prepare each day.
Unfortunately, many police officers are killed with their own firearms. As you are dressing in the locker room, visualize whatever gun retention technique you were taught. Visualizing is just as powerful a training tool as actually performing the tactic. In your mind, run through gun retention three or four times. After you do that, visualize a perfect site picture. Line the front and rear sites of your handgun up in your mind. You DO NOT need to use the actual firearm. Again, visualizing the front and rear site alignment three times is just as powerful as performing the task. Lastly, depending on the firearm you carry, in your mind, run through the likely failure drills. If your handgun is prone to stovepipes, in your mind clear it three times. Repeat the entire process three times, in the order – retention, site picture, failure drill. Now, in your upcoming shift, if you face a deadly force situation, you are mentally prepared to win.
The sharper you look, the less likely someone is to physically challenge you. You want to confirm this? Talk to any ex-con. They will tell you that they are less likely to challenge a cop who looks sharp than one that looks like an “armed duffle bag.” In addition to making sure all of your equipment and every piece of your uniform looks the best, make sure it is all functional.
A pre-shift briefing and the latest crime maps are minimal preparation for the street, but, it is intel that has been digested and is usually days old. You wouldn’t go into battle with 96 hour old intel when less than 4 hour old intel is available. Every department has some type of records unit. Someone makes copies of crime reports, distributes them, updates computers and so on. And, every records unit I have been in has a stack of incoming as well as just processed reports. Go in and thumb through the new stuff. Develop your own method of picking up the latest and best crime information – recently stolen cars, robbery reports, etc.
Detectives are a wealth of good information. But, you have to start slow and work up to a reputation where your detectives give you good information for your shift. Depending on your shift, you may have to go in before or after. Find the officer-in-charge. Offer to do any simple follow-ups for them. Do they have a bad phone number for a witness or victim and need someone to get a correct one? It won’t be long before you have done enough simple favors to get paid back with a juicy piece of crime intel and make a great arrest.
The Police Car
Most of us walk around the car and look for new damage. Who wants to get blamed for something they didn’t do? Make a good inspection of the car a part of your pre-shift ritual. Does everything work? Search it thoroughly. At least once in your career you will find a gun, knife or dope that someone missed. Think of this as a positive intervention. If you find the something before the last person who used it has gone home, they are in a much better position to make it right. Plus, someone you searched and put in the backseat won’t find that weapon to use against you.
Talk to your Partner
Even if you have a regular partner, talk to them about the basics. Work out the essentials for the shift. As an example, contact and cover responsibilities. Talk about the information you have gathered from records and detectives. Also, if you work alone, talk to the nearby beats. Share the same information concerning tactics and individual choice you would with a regular partner.
Have a Plan
Although you are going to handle radio calls, you should formulate a plan for your shift. With the information you have gathered from records, detectives and your regular briefing, decide to do a half dozen things that shift. They might be simple like following up on a lead for the detectives or looking for a particular stolen car. The point is that having a plan and working that plan makes you much more effective as a police officer.
Long Hours and Physical Activity
You are going to be in the car for an 8, 10 or 12 hour shift. A few simple stretches each time you leave the station will go a long way toward preventing injury for cops. Before you roll out on to the street, take a few deep breathes, and stretch your major muscle groups. Use upper body isometric tension, bend at the waist, push against the car and stretch out slowly and deliberately. You will be more alert and much less likely to injure yourself.
Policy, procedure, rules, regulations and the law change, constantly. Case Law, in particular, is very fluid; however, by the time it gets to the street cop, information from your department channels is often 30 days stale or more. There are any number of online sources for updated and correct information on changes in Case Law. Subscribe and check them daily.