The bad news about good police tactics
You are your best coach because you are always there — when you do something correctly and safely, give yourself a mental high five
If you’re taking the time to subscribe to and read PoliceOne, you’re probably doing it for a number of reasons: to stay up to date on the latest happenings in law enforcement, keeping up with the latest technology, and to learn what it takes to stay safe out there on the streets and highways that you patrol.
As a dedicated officer you take the time to do all those things and the most important among them is staying safe and going home at the end of your shift. That idea was planted in your head during your initial training as a cop in your academy. The basics of tactics and officer safety were drilled into your head through repeated practice.
Once you got on the street you were turned over to a training officer who took those concepts, reinforced them and then added more to it. When you finished that training period you were let out on your own. Now no longer under the watchful eye of another officer whose job it is to critique and encourage good tactics it has now became your job to keep those habits of good officer safety and tactics alive and well, and in practice every day on duty and off.
But there is a down side to good tactics. They're boring! Which do you think would be more exciting?
• staying behind cover and talking a felony suspect back to you on a felony stop OR rushing forward, gun drawn, throwing open the vehicle door and dragging the suspect out to the ground, pouncing on him and then putting on the cuffs?
• waiting for back up, setting up a perimeter, using the PA to talk to any occupants inside the business you found with the back door booted in at oh-dark-thirty and having the suspect walk out and surrender OR going into the building by yourself and finding the suspect?
The obvious choice is the second in both cases. Very exciting choices! You might even feel your heart rate rise just thinking about doing it! Dave Smith did an excellent video called, “The Risk Thermostat” a few years ago that chronicled this exact problem.
We get into this job for a lot of reasons — one of them is the adrenaline rush. We are (or we become) adrenaline junkies. Think back to the first traffic stop you ever did. Remember that sense of anticipation and the excitement? Now think about how you feel today when you do a traffic stop. Same old thing... yeah, watch the hands, look for furtive movement, try not to get run over by passing traffic. That old level of excitement you had back then is gone now, and it’s gone for a lot of reasons.
In the beginning, everything was new and therefore more exciting. Now you have done how many hundreds or thousands of traffic stops? How many felony stops have you done? How many alarms have you responded to?
Those repetitions have lowered your stress level and you have become used to it, so the adrenaline rush is lessened. So where do we get that rush? Look at the above examples and you’ll see. The longer you’ve been on the street the more likely it is to happen to you.
Be honest with yourself: what have you been doing lately? I know when I saw “The Risk Thermostat” video a few years ago I had started down that road — just a few baby steps but that was where I was headed. Are you?
To put it simply, we do best when we get a reward. The adrenaline junkie can go down the wrong road seeking the adrenaline fix. In the academy and FTO process (if you had one) you had the evaluator giving you positive feedback when you did well. Who’s giving you that feedback now? Very seldom have I had a suspect tell me what a great job I did. “Gee, officer, that was great. If you hadn’t maintained distance and waited for backup and tried to arrest me by yourself I was going to taken your gun away and kill you with it! You rock — that was good officer safety!”
You are your best coach because you are always there. When you do it right, give yourself a mental high five. Just that simple self praise can keep you on the right track. By the same token if you find yourself slipping acknowledge it and fix it. If you are one of those cops who work primarily by yourself, then you don’t have any other choice.
If you are lucky enough to have backup available to you and have other officers around then they should be your next line of defense. A simple “nice job” or “good tactics” from (or to) another officer can help keep us on the road to good officer safety. By the same token, being willing to be negatively critiqued (and just as importantly having the courage to point out problems you see in others) goes along with the job too, be open minded enough to except what others may see.
If you are a supervisor then part of your job is to be doing this on a regular basis. Usually an officer who is headed in the wrong direction will start will small things and gradually build. If you get them back on track as soon as possible the situation is easier to fix.
So the bad news about good tactics is they can be a lot less exciting and far less dangerous than bad tactics. Bad tactics can get you seriously injured or killed. Which do you choose?