With about a thousand police trainees behind me I still get a little misty-eyed when they go off to work the mean streets, just like I did when I dropped my own kids off on their first day of school. Nothing in the academy has really prepared the new officer for the butt clenching realities of the chaos they’ll face. Even the guiding hand of their FTO will be pulled away soon and they’ll be truly on their own. Like learning how to swim, we won’t know if they can survive in the water until they get pushed off the dock. Here are some principles as a reminder for rookies to keep their act together when things are fast and furious.
Start controlling the scene before you get there
The first arriving officer has a tremendous advantage over the folks who are already in the mess that generated the 911 call. Take a deep breath, plan your approach, and talk yourself out of plunging in with the hopes that you can fight your way out. Coordinate your arrival with other first responders. Stage your patrol vehicle and yourself to the best tactical advantage. Stop, look, listen. Gather information from a distance. Fight tunnel vision.
Be observant and open minded
Gather facts, not theories and conclusions. Good guys can turn out to be bad guys. Traffic crashes can turn into meth lab investigations. Assume everyone is lying and that you’re not seeing everything you need to see. Our minds want logic, order, and rationality — the exact opposite of the world of chaos and deceit we enter. The moment you think you know what’s going on or the moment you start to relax is the moment you become most vulnerable.
Freeze the situation
You don’t have to solve anything right away; you just need to keep things from getting worse. Figure out the most important thing to do to make things safe. Is there a medical emergency that needs attention? Does somebody need to be cuffed up? Do you need to disengage or redeploy? Worry about life safety first, suspects getting away second, and evidence last. One of the most powerfully stabilizing things you can do is to get everybody’s identification. Collect IDs right away. Take cell phone pictures or videos of persons present. When people lose their anonymity they become invested in the outcome.
Don’t leave until you’re finished
No need to rush. You’re in charge. You have all the time in the world once you’ve stabilized the scene and identified all the parties. Time is now on your side. Before you leave make sure you have all the information you need for your reports. Don’t assume you can go back later. If you need pictures or measurements get them now. Take one last look over the scene to generate any new investigative insights. If it’s safe to do so, review your notes at the scene while everything is fresh.
Being calm only comes from a sense of control. Control comes from having a plan. The best plans are the simplest ones. If you need an acronym think ROSE – Respond carefully, Observe objectively, Stabilize the situation, and Exit only after your work is finished.
Now take a deep breath and handle the next call with a solid plan in mind.