I suspect that everybody has something in a drawer or shelf that we just can’t bear to part with and yet never seem to use. If you haven’t yet seen A&E network’s popular show “Hoarders” — about compulsives who can’t throw anything away — you might still be able to relate to our innate fear of getting rid of something we might need someday.
Too many patrol officers and supervisors have the same attitude about some aspects of police work. We keep some tactics on the shelf, ready to pull out only for what my old FTO referred to as the “Big Bust Club” (a moniker he gave up after our first female officer joined the force). The implication was that some aspects of policing belonged only to the SWAT team, or the detectives, or when we had a big felony bust.
Here are a few examples (please add to the list) of tactics we keep on the shelf but that we should use routinely on everyday calls.
If knowledge is power, why not get as much power over a situation as possible? Before contacting a suspect can we find out more about him or her? Do we have time to talk to a neighbor, find out something about his friends, car, hobbies, habits?
There is nothing more disarming to suspects than when they realize you know something about them that they didn’t expect you to know. Taking a few moments to talk to sources about the layout of a suspect’s house or if there are dogs or kids present can be a life saver.
Gathering intelligence information should be as routine for the patrol officer as it is for the SWAT team preparing for a raid.
I remember being in a hotel attending a terrorism response conference when the fire alarm went off. Two local police officers responded and parked facing each other under the entrance canopy. The officers were exposed as they got out of their cars, impeded the egress of guests evacuating the hotel, and blocked a critical access for the responding fire and ambulance units.
The officers were thinking response time, not operational management. If the call had been of a terrorist or active shooter in progress the response might have been radically different. The reality is the officers should have responded as if the call was an unknown trouble call — because aren’t all calls an unknown trouble?
First responders should be conditioned to think about how their initial deployment will affect other responding units, as well as their own safety, in approaching every call.
We learn by experience, and we learn from our experiences much more deeply and permanently by reflecting on them. Supervisors and fellow officers should take the opportunity to examine lessons learned from all kinds of call responses, not just the hostage situations and tactical team operations.
I’m not talking about nit-picking every call but we can learn from every event. A high level of professional competence comes only from repetition of experiential learning (i.e. practice). If we can create learning opportunities every day, from both success and failure, we might avoid the high price of mistakes later.
Evidence, including physical, circumstantial, and testimonial, is often left to the investigators or shrugged off as not worth it in small cases. If we practice taking evidence in bicycle thefts and shoplifting cases several benefits can accrue.
Victims will appreciate your effort. A happy customer may be the next willing witness or jury member for your future cases. Increasing solve rates on minor crimes is associated with solving more serious crimes. Practicing solid investigative skills on small cases is directly transferable to felony crime solving skills.
Too often, supervisors will rush patrol officers, discourage tying up patrol time with investigations, and giving the impression that writing reports is the end product of police work rather than solving crimes and developing skills.
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I remember visiting a friend as a teenager whose house was like a museum. There was white carpet we couldn’t walk on, antique chairs we couldn’t sit on, and fine China in a cabinet being saved for a special occasion that never seemed to come.
What skills and tactics are you leaving on the shelf?
Take one down, dust it off, and put it to use!