A bead of sweat rolled down the brow, following a path furrowed by years of experience. The sweat slipped into the corner of the sergeant’s eye, stinging it sharply. This had not been an easy arrest. The suspect had fled first in a stolen car and then on foot, but the sergeant’s determined pursuit had brought them to this moment. The suspect was now handcuffed and the sergeant was escorting him back to the squad for transport.
Just then the miscreant turned to the sergeant and growled, “Pig! When I get out I will rape your wife, kill your family, and burn your house with your family in it!”
He then emphasized his point by spitting on the sidewalk, some splattering on the shoe of the sergeant.
The imaged attacks instantly conjured by the sergeant caused rage to well up in him like the blast off of an Apollo rocket launch on its way to the moon. The sergeant’s grip on the suspect tightened, as his opposite fist clenched and a tell-tale temporal artery began to bulge from the internal pressure.
“Sergeant, they are calling you on the radio,” said the steady voice of the young officer who had seen the instantaneous reaction the words of the suspect had caused.
The sergeant took a breath and responded, “Thanks. I didn’t hear them. Take him to the squad.”
He passed the suspect to the younger officer.
“Search him again,” the sergeant directed, while slowing his pace.
He took some deep breaths and feigned talking on his shoulder mic. The sergeant immediately regained his composure. Rage changed to pride. He had trained the young officer well and that training may have just saved them both.
The sergeant more than anyone realized his career was saved by a tactic called in the State of Wisconsin, “officer override.”
This simple tactic is best utilized when officers — who know each other well — have discussed it in advance.
Here’s how it works. Instead of waiting until the temper is lost and blows are struck, which will undoubtedly be ruled as “objectively unreasonable,” partners become even better back-up officers by preventing the blow-up. When a backup officer sees that something that has been said or done purposely by a suspect to enrage their partner has had its desired effect officer override is a tactic, which can be employed.
The cover officer says, “Partner. They are calling you on the radio.” This is a pre-arranged signal — which both officers have agreed upon in advance to use — when a suspect has gotten under a partner’s skin. The roles then switch and the primary contact officer is now the cover officer while the contact officer takes a step back employing some autogenic breathing to bring their heart rate back down and return perspective to the moment.
There is a fine line between a defensible use of force and a battery. That line is drawn by justification. Criminals are aware of this fact, and try with great effort to illicit an indefensible reaction from officers to a relentless even vile verbal assault.
The suspects who officers come into contact with are often master-manipulators. They know a digitally recorded, unjustified beating can lead to the biggest pay day in their life — very much like winning the lottery. By contrast, for the officer it will be a career ender.
Save a Career
Officer override should be trained as a career-survival tactic for a specific purpose. When a fellow officer succumbs to the verbal taunts of a suspect the career of every officer present will be affected. If a backup officer observes indicators that their partner, supervisor, or friend is falling victim to the manipulations of a suspect, remember that you can quite possibly save all present a lot of grief with seven little words, “Partner, they are calling you on the radio.”
About the author
Lt. Dan Marcou retired as a highly decorated police lieutenant and SWAT Commander with 33 years of full time law enforcement experience. He is a nationally recognized police trainer in many police disciplines and is a Master Trainer in the State of Wisconsin. He has authored three novels The Calling: The Making of a Veteran Cop , S.W.A.T. Blue Knights in Black Armor, and Nobody's Heroes are all available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. Visit his website and contact Dan Marcou