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June 20, 2011
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Jim Guffey Rising Through the Ranks
with Jim Guffey

Officer safety and the practice of staying focused

Being guided by little more than an almost primordial urge to bring down a suspect is not a good mental state to be in when out on the street

Some months ago, an officer I’ve known for 20-plus years was involved in a pursuit. The actor was finally boxed in and then fled on foot and jumped over a concrete barrier. This officer also jumped over that barrier in pursuit. Unfortunately for both the officer and actor, the other side of that barrier was a 22-foot drop to a roadway below. The officer sustained multiple injuries, probably the most serious was a broken back. True to his stubborn nature however, he is doing well in rehabilitation and all indications are that he will make a complete recovery.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make it clear that this article is not about finding fault with the officer in any way. I wouldn’t do that to someone I consider a friend. However, where lessons are available to be learned, they should be learned. I wasn’t there for the chase, but I’ll bet anything that when the officer began to chase that suspect the one thought that kept going through his head was, “He isn’t getting away from me.”

How do I know this? Simple, I’ve had the same thought more times than I care to remember, and I’ve thrown caution to the winds on the same number of occasions.

Let’s be honest, if you are any kind of police officer, you live to catch the bad guys. Furthermore, if they run, then the heart beats faster, the breath comes quicker and, like any good hunter, you focus solely on your prey and the pursuit is on. Unfortunately, this is also when we can get into trouble. If the laws of averages happen to say your time’s up, as it did for this officer, then injury, or worse, usually happens. The problem is, saying that we focus solely on the object of our pursuit, is simply a long-winded way of saying we’ve developed tunnel vision.

We see, hear, comprehend nothing else except the object of our pursuit and this is where training, skill, knowledge and professionalism all get lost or pushed to the background. Being guided by little more than an almost primordial urge to bring down a suspect is not a good mental state to be in when out on the street.

So, while I’m happy that a good friend will return to duty sometime, my happiness is also tempered by the fact that it was a close thing at first. Therefore, I would like to present the following as a reminder for all officers:

• Before you jump over anything, take a quick look to see what’s on the other side
• Before you round a blind corner, take a tactical look first to see what’s around that corner
• Before you run into a room, take a tactical look right and left of the door before you enter through that door

Lastly, remember that if the bad guy gets away there will always be another day. In the meantime you get to go home to your significant other and enjoy life and, when that other day comes, you’ll be in good shape to make good on the catch that time.

Stay safe.


About the author

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Jim Guffey began his Law Enforcement career in 1977 with the Pennsylvania Capitol Police. In 1980 was hired by the Ross Township Police Department. He remained there until January 1, 2002. During that time he worked as a plain-clothes detective, on the traffic division, and was promoted on 1996 to Lieutenant. He remained the Administrative Lieutenant until his retirement. Not satisfied with retirement, he became the Chief of Police in Blairsville Borough in August 2003 and remained there until July 2004.





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