2 pedestrian stop safety tips that could save your life

Any discussion about pedestrian stops is not complete until we review two major areas: 'moving in" and 'contact/cover"


My January column reviewed pedestrian stops (PS) and their inherent dangers, while also providing some suggestions to decrease officer risk. The two most prominent risk-mitigating suggestions were:

  • always have an object (police car, mailbox) between the suspect and yourself
  • substantially increase the typical standoff distances (upward of 10 feet)

These two officer behaviors are key assets to increasing an officers performance through visual capabilities (better view of full body), action / reaction concepts, and most importantly, in preventing the “one shot” knockdown. Science supports these tactical theories as increasing officer safety, but only through testing can we confirm the hypothesis.

Regardless, these initial advantages are only worthwhile if they are followed up by continued good judgment and optimal officer safety techniques as the stop progresses. In keeping with the sound training methodology of performing to a natural conclusion, the PS discussion is not complete until we review two major areas: “moving in” and “contact / cover.”

Have a Plan
Before you move in, have a plan. Remember, the same human factors affecting you also apply to the suspect. A quick plan will help you move expeditiously and ensure you act before the suspect reacts.

Aside from performing your plan with speed and surprise, a secondary consideration should be placing the suspect at the most disadvantageous position before you move in.

This entire methodology is supported firmly in Boyd’s loop theory as it is advantageous to act quickly and with purpose while confusing the opponent and operating “inside” his OODA Loop.

A few examples to think about, depending on your situation:

  • Place the subject in a position easiest for you to gain a control hold (Advantage: You!)
  • Have the subject lift his shirt and perform a 360 turn while you are ready to take whatever action is necessary at a distance and behind cover (Advantage: You!)
  • Have the subject sit on the curb or on the ground with legs crossed and outstretched and hands interlaced in their lap or behind their head (Advantage: You!)
  • Have the subject assume the felony prone if necessary (Advantage: You!)
  • Approach from the suspect’s blind angle (Advantage: You!)

Each of these options provides you with obvious tactical advantages, but there is another concept warranting consideration. The suspect has shown a level of compliance by performing these types of demands and placing himself at further disadvantage. Although you never ever drop guard, seeing negative suspect behavior early on can certainly give you an advantage on what to expect and how to proceed.

Contact / Cover
Contact / Cover is an essential protective measure reducing risk and elevating our advantage over a suspect. It allows one officer to concentrate on the search / handcuffing while the second is focused on pre-assaultive indicators. This division of responsibility is based in sound scientific data concerning human attention abilities.

Science has provided mounds of evidence stating human beings simply don’t perform well during divided attention tasks. Multi-tasking is not a reality and those who believe they do it well are fooling themselves. For these reasons, it’s scientifically safe to hypothesize that officers conducting searches or handcuffing by themselves are increasing their own risk while searching, maintaining suspect control, remaining vigilant for attacks, and talking to the suspect all while attempting to remain vigilant for an attack.

A suspect-initiated assault during the search phase places the officer in a high-stress, cognitive overload situation, where overcoming adversity becomes more difficult. This is a situation where the suspect is inside your OODA loop process and is something we want to avoid at all costs. Contact / cover can provide the milliseconds you may need to recover from an initial assault and to re-engage while both officers overwhelm and overcome the suspect’s resistance.

Lone Warriors
I’m sympathetic to those officers who do not have the luxury of a cover officer. You have a job to do and a discussion on resources is not my purpose here. I can only add that you must perform a personal risk assessment when cover is not available.

Ask yourself whether the next enforcement steps you take are worth suffering serious injury or maybe losing the most precious thing you have — your life.

The idea of “simply letting this one go” is unpopular, but there is always another day when more resources may be available. Live to fight another day!

Please remember my suggested variations to your current tactics are intended to provide optimal officer safety based on human performance concepts. There is no “one way” of doing things and these tactical considerations are provided to get you thinking, implementing and testing new ways of doing things — hopefully better ways. LEOKA continues to show the close range suspect contact as the most dangerous job task a patrol officer performs — we might benefit from enacting some if not all of these tactics when faced with situations that justify them. Be safe, always! 

About the author

David Blake retired from a northern California police department after 15 years of federal and local police. He is a Force Science Certified Analyst with instructor certifications in DT, Firearms, Force Options Simulator, and Reality Based Training. His career included duties within SWAT, Force Options Unit, Field Training, Gangs, and Narcotics. He currently teaches Human Factors and Force Encounters Analysis for the California Training Institute as well as being an adjunct professor of criminal justice, police academy instructor, and owner of the Blake Consulting and Training Group. Blake holds a BS in Criminal Justice Management and a M.Sc. in Psychology.

Contact David Blake

  1. Tags
  2. Officer Safety
  3. Officer Survival
  4. pedestrians
  5. Pedestrian Stops

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