Even a rookie cop knows that you don’t make an entry on a building search or high-risk warrant by yourself. As a result we have developed tactics to ensure officer safety. One rule that I teach is that you have visual or physical contact with your partner(s) prior to an entry.
When all the officers are on one side of the doorway, they line up in a stack. One method of stacking has you place your non-gun hand on the shoulder of the officer in front of you.
That hand on the shoulder of your teammate signifies:
• I am ready
• I am here with you mentally and physically
• I am ready to deal with whatever is on the other side of the door
• We are safer and stronger then when we are alone
• I take responsibility for your safety, as well as my own
• I will pull you back if I see you headed into a situation you cannot handle
• I will not leave you to face this threat alone
• I am close enough for you to hear me whisper a warning if I see you headed into an unsafe situation that endangers us
I might say, “Slow down, take a breath,” if I see you rushing forward and possibly making a mistake. If I see that you’re tired I might whisper “Let me take the lead.” I might even tell you “Step out” if I believe that you are not prepared in this moment to perform the task at hand.
That hand on my shoulder means:
• We are committed to our safety
• I am not alone
• I have your support, your attention and your abilities focused on this task
• You have my back
• Together we will overcome whatever resistance lies before us
• You have my permission whisper a warning in my ear, and to pull me back if I head into danger
Your voice in my ear means that although I may not want to hear it right now, I must listen. Communication between us is critical for our safety.
How Do You Stack Up?
Yes, the stacking concept is also a metaphor for what we need to do for each other on a daily basis.
Anyone who is unable or unwilling to perform their job in the stack should not be on the team. Are you a good team member? Are you willing to speak up when you see your partner headed into a dangerous situation?
That situation can be tactical, professional, or personal. Your responsibility is to speak up before bad things happen, to try to prevent that misstep that could lead another officer into disaster physically, mentally, or ethically.
Courageous conversations don’t come easily. But, as a courageous profession, dealing with courageous people it’s our obligation to say the things that need to be said to that officer. Like a whisper in their ear, those conversations need to be one-on-one, not in public or about the involved officer to others. Talking about someone with another officer may give you an opportunity to vent or to seek advice on how to deal with the situation, but it doesn’t address the problem to the person who needs to hear it most.
Just as importantly, are you willing to listen when others talk to you? Nobody wants to be on a team with someone who points out everyone else’s shortcomings while being blind to their own. When you take on the duty of speaking up, you also take on the duty to listen up.
Speaking from personal experience it isn’t always easy to hear what others say. On more than a few occasions I have walked away from those conversations angry. But with a little time for the initial emotion reaction to wear off and time to reflect on the words of those that truly care about me, I’ve come to accept and appreciate their efforts.
Who’s On Your Team?
I’m not so naive as to believe that everyone in your life — or mine — is on the team. Pick good teammates — family, friends and coworkers — and then be a good teammate. By the same token, do what you can to try to bring around those who aren’t good teammates. In most cases it’s because they don’t know they aren’t doing their job, not because they choose not to do the job.
How do you stack up? Is that hand on the shoulder in front of you just for show, or are you ready and willing to take on all the responsibilities? Are you there just for you, or for others?
How do you stack up? Are you willing to give a warning or pull someone back if they are headed into danger, despite the fact that they may not appreciate your efforts initially or ever?
How do you stack up as a partner? Spouse? Parent? Friend? Let’s face it, none of us are perfect and we all have areas we can improve in. But if you never ask yourself those questions, there is no room for reflection and no chance of change.
Now, Stack Up!
We also stack up when one of ours falls. Members of law enforcement from around Minnesota stacked up on May 19, 2013, to show their respect and support to Officer Chris Bragelman of the Lino Lakes PD in Minnesota.
Chris was my friend — a trainer, cop, and former student of mine. He had a passion for firearms and martial arts, and I had the pleasure of being his sensei. Chris loved being a cop, and that was evident in the remarks made about him before and during the funeral. One of his former classmates and coworkers described him as a crime-fighting machine.
We kept in touch over the years. I would try to help him out anytime he had any questions. We would see each other at training, and occasionally he would write a comment on articles that I had written.
Out with friends one night his heart stopped. In shape and active, Chris died at age 37, leaving behind a wife and three kids.
By all accounts, Chris stacked up very well as a cop, husband, father, son, brother, partner, and trainer.
Rest in peace, my brother.