The best law enforcement relationships are built on absolute trust, total candor, and a true dedication to keeping each other safe. The depth of that bond certainly comes into play when you stand shoulder to shoulder in the chaos of combat conditions, but it comes into play at other times as well. With that in mind, take a second to candidly answer these two questions:
1.) When I see another officer acting in a tactically (or professionally) unsound manner, do I take steps to correct that officer?
2.) Do other officers feel like they are able to — in fact, welcome to — correct me if they see me acting in a tactically (or professionally) unsound manner?
If you answered “no” to either question, think about the possible ramifications. It’s understandable that officers resist nosing in on how other officers conduct their business but when it comes to keeping each other safe through tactical observation and correction, there is no room for hesitation, emotion, or egotism.
If you see another officer making a tactical error, remember that silence CAN be deadly. Consider it your duty and responsibility to call that to the officer’s attention. You don’t have to do it loudly or publically so as to embarrass or belittle. Simply approach that officer and say, “Hey, I gotta tell you something because I care about you and I want you to stay safe. I don’t bring this up because I’m trying to piss you off by being a nag or a know-it-all. I think your approach to [INSERT SITUATION HERE] might be safer if you [INSERT ALTERNATIVE TACTIC HERE].”
It goes back to the adage, “Never bring just a problem. Always bring a suggested solution.” And your suggested solution is almost never the only solution to be considered in the subsequent conversation (more on that in a minute).
Expanding that Thinking
In addition to the tactical life-and-death considerations that are always top of mind for cops on the street, what about the professional side of things? It’s a decent bet that cops are far more likely to make that ‘tactical correction’ than a ‘professional correction’ which — although not life-threatening — could put a friend’s career in jeopardy.
We’re not talking about all-out misconduct or behavior that that would fall under some hideous IA investigation — that’s a totally different bucket of stuff. No, we’re talking about small, subtle, strategic behavioral modifications aimed at continually increasing a colleague’s standing in the organization (and in the community at large). Would you be able to say to a fellow officer, “Hey, I gotta tell you something because I care about you and I want you to get the most out of this job. I don’t bring this up because I’m trying to piss you off by being a nag or a know-it-all. I think your approach to [INSERT SITUATION HERE] might be more effective if you [INSERT ALTERNATIVE HERE].”
What it comes down to, really, is working as best you can to cultivate a culture of tactical and professional correction — “constructive criticism” if you will, although I’ve always hated that term — which elevates everyone in the organization. By watching out for your brother and sister officers’ tactical and professional well-being, you (hopefully) are inherently more cognitive of your own tactical and professional well-being.
First, Last, and Always... Listen!
Finally — and maybe most importantly — make sure to let fellow officers know that you are 100 percent open to friendly evaluation should they see you doing something that might get you or any of them hurt. In fact, you should make it clear that you’re asking them, as a favor, to let you know if you can improve your tactical performance. Guarantee them that they aren’t going end up locked in an ego battle should they feel the need to share some tactical insights with you.
The best way to ensure that you’ll be heard by others is to make it a practice to actively listen to others when they’re speaking to you. Simple stuff, yeah, but when Type-A, Alpha-Dog egos and whatnot start getting into the mix, that concept can quickly be forgotten.
Cops never know how many crimes they prevented merely by being present in an area — the violation that never happened simply because your squad just rounded the corner. Similarly, you may never know it in the end, but a friendly tactical observation made out of true concern for a fellow officer could end up saving their life, and an observation about a fellow cop’s professional behavior may one day save their career.