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September 03, 2000
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COMPLACENCY: THE OFFICER'S NUMBER 1 ENEMY

By Patrick Fagan

Police complacency is non-recognition of danger and a false security of contentment. This condition is a rarity among recruits who have recently graduate from a law enforcement academy. The new cadets are more cautious and more wary insomuch as to allude to paranoia by the senior police. There are differences, however, between this supposed paranoia and the cynicism of complacency practiced by many veteran officers. This article demonstrates that a little paranoia can be healthy; a little complacency can be fatal.

In the Harrison County Law Enforcement Academy of Mississippi, they show recruits videos of officers being assaulted violently and/or fatally while conducting traffic stops. These videos can be a valuable learning tool for the trepidation that is instilled in the new cadets. (Fear can be healthy.) The first viewings are difficult to endure because it is very disconcerting to watch a person kill another. Perhaps after the second or third viewing, the cadets begin to observe the obvious mistakes of the patrolmen. They supersede the horror of the officers’ death with wonderment, “How could they make such a mistake? Surely, they were taught not to do that in the academy.”

In the first video, taped in 1992, a South Carolina trooper questions a 300-pound motorist. The man answers all of the trooper’s questions. He is polite, he is coherent, and he makes no sudden or hesitant gestures. It is understandable why the trooper would perceive this traffic stop as routine. While holding a flashlight in one hand, the trooper begins to frisk the motorist from front. Nothing out of the ordinary has occurred to this point, but without any warning, the man knocks the trooper to the ground. Then the trooper is fatally shot with a .22 long rifle. (See Tip 1)

The second video demonstrated the fatal error of stereotyping suspects inaccurately. A Georgia deputy sheriff (January 1997) is seen approaching a vehicle that he stopped for excessive speed. The Walton County deputy barely has time to speak before he is shot twice by a 16-year-old male; however, a bullet-restraint vest saves his life. Police officers should infer from this video that a boy could kill as easily as a man, a female could kill as easily as a male, and a white man could kill as easily as a black man.

The final video shows excerpts of assaults that have successful conclusions for the officer involved. A South Texas Highway Patrolman is applauded for his handling of a deleterious gunfight in 1991. He maintains constant control over three suspects as he questions them. The trooper attempts to turn one of the suspects away from him and feels a slight resistance while losing sight of the suspect’s hands. Accordingly, the patrolman vigorously pushes the suspect forward to create a distraction and hastily retreats. During his retreat, the officer simultaneously weaves, to provide less of a target for the shooter, and unholsters his weapon. Upon reassurance of a gun in the suspect’s hands, the trooper lethally shoots the suspect while still retreating. (See Tip 2)

The police often use a modus operandi to facilitate their investigations. It would be logical to assume that some offenders will also establish an M.O. for police officers because most people have a tendency to ingeminate their habits. The experienced officer will recognize this flaw and will often examine his movements to preclude following an exact schedule. This “attitude check”: should not be considered a paranoia; it should be considered a healthful police style.

Tips 1) Do not frisk from the front. Never frisk while holding something; your hands should be free at all times so that you can react quickly. Maintain eye contact with the suspect. Stand erect and keep your shoulders straight. Do not look guilty. If you must read the suspect’s driver license or write anything, do so at least six feet away from the suspect. Never let the suspect get in a better position than you.

Tips 2) Before approaching the vehicle of a traffic stop, locate the nearest source of cover. Never walk behind a suspect’s car when its engine is running. Never talk to anyone while sitting in your car. Never get between multiple suspects. Never let a suspect stand behind you. Do not search the trunk of any car if opening the trunk will obscure your view of the suspects remaining in the vehicle. There is nothing wrong with sitting multiple suspects, one at a time, in your cruise while you conduct a search of the trunk.

Watch for any warning signs

Why did the suspect remove his hat when exiting his vehicle? Does that symbolize a possible fight?

Why do I have to tell this person more than once to do something?

Why is the suspect constantly looking around? Is he judging his success for possible escape?

Why is the suspect moving progressively but very slowly toward me while speaking to me?

Why did the suspect glance at my gun?







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