Deputy's Observations: Defining "Tactical" and Other Terms
By Frank Hinkle
About 20 years ago everyone who marketed items for sale to law enforcement officers began calling their items “tactical.” Everything from boots and key chains to holsters and uniforms became known as “tactical gear.” I was confused, but I’m confused a lot. Did I have to replace every piece of equipment and uniform item that I owned and purchase new “tactical” items instead? So what is “tactical”? Just because it’s painted black, is that “tactical”? I already owned black boots, so why should I spend $100 on anther pair of black boots?
Merriam-Webster defines tactical as being “…of or relating to combat tactics or the battlefield;” What we refer to as “the street.” They ramble on but end with “…made or carried out with only limited purpose or immediate end in view”… “adroit in planning or maneuvering to accomplish a purpose.” I then had to look up adroit; I hang around with cops and I have never heard any of them using “adroit” in a sentence. “Having or showing skill, cleverness, or resourcefulness in handling situations.” It’s an adjective and so is tactical. Gosh, I was trying to be adroit all along and didn’t know what it was.
So some of us might still be confused about what it means to be tactical.
I was going to meet a buddy of mine, who happens to be an adroit officer, for breakfast this morning. We were supposed to have some rain today so I dressed accordingly: denim pants, ankle-high hiking books and a jacket. Not that I’m afraid of a little rain, but I always carry a ballpoint pen, a notebook and a small flashlight in my jacket. What if there is something that you need to write down, like the waitress wants to give her phone number to Mike? And what if it occurs at night, how will I see to write it down? OK, so Mike would put it directly into his cell phone, which has a lit face; he’s kind of a techie, but I’m “old school.” And I almost always wear hiking boots. I don’t make a habit of hiking but at times I’ve been called on to search the underbrush and climb fences. I hadn’t planned on doing those things when I got dressed, but the situation arose suddenly and with little warning. Luckily, I was prepared.
I debated about taking the new car or the old SUV to breakfast. Both have good tires and adequate breaks, but I cannot account for how others drive in the rain, so I erred on the side of pragmatism and took the old SUV, “cutting my losses” as it were.
Breakfast was good; we saw two other cops there that we knew. And it’s always interesting talking to Mike and hearing his latest adventures even if he won’t name his latest adventure; he is always the gentleman. He would not respond to my probative questions no matter how obtuse I tried to make them sound.
After we parted I decided to go to Wally-World (always an adventure, the clientele is eclectic to say the least) to pick up some things for my wife. I always park over in a corner of the lot where not too many people park so there is less chance of being dinged by another car parking next to you. I got out and stepped into a puddle. I knew it was there, I had chosen this particular parking place despite the puddle being there and had parked so that I was at the edge of the puddle. And I knew that I was wearing waterproof boots with hiking soles so I wasn’t concerned about the puddle. There was a woman who had parked out by me crossing the puddles in the parking lot. She was wearing what she would probably describe as “cute little canvas slip-ons” but I’d call them “soggy.” I was “tactical” and she was all wet. In an hour I’d still be tactical and she’s still be pretty wet. 30-years ago I was wearing black round toed uniform boots with slick leather soles. They provided some advantages to low quarter shoes, but the soles left a lot to be desired. That’s when the high-top lace up boots with lug soles came onto the market. Those boots were far superior to my old boots when it came to running or climbing, and were lighter and more water resistant. They were a marked improvement for the uniformed officer. And when I have my uniform boots resoled I opt for the “firefighter” sole, which has a higher heel (for climbing ladders) vs. the flatter “cop sole” for running. I stand a lot and a more pronounced heel is far more comfortable, and I don’t run. I might sprint, but after that I sprint to the unit and drive.
I shopped around Wally-World for a while. I looked at a driver set to use to maintain my handguns. It is a driver shaft with bits stored in the handle to fit various types of screws. I need an Allen bit and a Torque bit for one of my pistols. The tool itself is not “tactical” in my opinion; it is a multitasker. It fits various types and sizes of screws. Carrying it in my gun bag is “tactical,” because not only does it accomplish several tasks, but it also cuts down on the weight of carrying four or five different screwdrivers.
I also looked at flashlights, just because I always look at flashlights. To me “black” doesn’t make a flashlight “tactical,” it makes it hard to find in the dark, which is when you need a flashlight. If I’m carrying a flashlight inside a backpack or briefcase I make sure that it is a colored or reflective model so that I can find it quickly. If you know where a flashlight is supposed to be and you need it for officer safety, like to illuminate a threat, then it should be black. The flashlight that I wore on my gun belt was black. The one in the kitchen drawer is yellow.
They had my favorite hot sauce on sale for $.99 a bottle. That’s just being “thrifty” because it’s usually about $2.50. But carrying hot sauce with me when I travel is being tactical; I get tired of hotel food but a small bottle of hot sauce in my pocket makes each dining experience an adventure, and sometimes the food needs to be far more “adventuresome.”
As I was driving home I saw that traffic in the fast lane was backing up. Cars were stopping about a mile ahead of me, but a mile at freeway speed doesn’t last very long. I changed lanes to catch my off-ramp before I ever caught up with whatever the traffic problem was. Some people would call that “defensive driving,” but in a way it is also “tactical.”
Jumping back 30-years ago when we were wearing those black “cowboy” boots I was riding Patrol with Art Falconer. He was one of the best deputies that I ever worked with, and a hell of a good guy. After briefing he’d duck into the locker room and grab his briefcase, Kel-Light and jacket while I drew the shotgun and portable radio. It was 105 degrees out, it had been 105 yesterday and was going to be 105 again tomorrow, but Art always took his jacket when he went on patrol because that’s where he kept his shotgun rounds. Even if I had my own rounds he brought his jacket and insisted that I do the same. We were working the B-shift in San Marcos: 36-Baker-1. We’d be relieved by 36-Charlie-1 on the midnight shift. We only used the letter designator at start and end of shift, otherwise we were just 36-1. But Art knew from past experience that things happen on the street with no appreciation for when your End Of Shift was. We might still be out there when 36-Adam-1 went 10-8 the next morning. Art sat on his Kel-Light to keep it from rolling around and getting lost. Were you ever chasing someone when they yielded and you slammed on the breaks only to have your flashlight roll off of the seat and under the break pedal? That is exciting; now the break pedal won’t go all the way to the firewall like you want it to and you don’t have your flashlight when everyone gets out of their respective cars. Some of the Day Shift deputies carried their flashlights in their briefcases in the trunk. They all joked about Art because he was always prepared, but when they needed a flashlight and their batteries were dead, they’d call Art for a meet. Nowadays everybody has AR patrol rifles. Art had a bandolier of shotgun shells; he’d lock the shotgun in the upright rack and drape the bandolier over the barrel and tuck the shells in-between two pieces of radio gear to keep them from banging around. If he grabbed the shotgun and raised it over his head as he exited the unit, the bandolier ended up over his head and one shoulder, just where he wanted it. Back then we thought of him as “squared away” and “prepared” but Art was tactical before there was tactical.
“Tactical” is not something that you buy; it is your state of mind and how you carry out your duties. Wearing and using “tactical gear” may make it easier to do, but by itself won’t make you safe; it is how you use them to be safe. My point is that being aware of your environment, planning ahead for contingencies and being pragmatic about their outcome better prepares us to face our day-to-day tribulations and brings us home safely at End of Shift. Remember your training, use your equipment properly and think tactically.
Stay safe, and stay alert.