By Aaron White
As a street-level use-of-force instructor, I’m always annoying my coworkers with questions about why they did things a certain way, what did they learn, how could they improve. I see it as part of the job of any tactical leader to help people become the most effective police officers they can be.
Not the best cops ever — the best cop that they have the potential to be.
I’ve recently worked closely with two very different police officers. Their backgrounds and their styles are different, but they each suffer from the same problem.
Knowing Why You Know Something
The first officer continually makes the same errors in arrest and control techniques — constantly having the same types of resistance, the same issues with control, and always leading to the same results. This officer is constantly prattling on about “bad luck.”
The second makes good decisions, follows their “instincts” and because of it makes good files, makes good decisions on the spot, and finds that there isn’t much in the way of having to gain control. They step in to take control and do not count on the good nature of the suspects like the first officer does. The issue with the second officer is that they cannot articulate what leads them to their good decisions.
For example, on a recent file, by looking at a vehicle’s behavior they were able to properly predict that the vehicle was going to flee — as such, we had a “box” in place and were able to get our suspect. In our conversations afterward they could not tell me why they knew the vehicle would take off — only that it would.
A useless skill when it comes to court testimony.
Both of these officers’ issues stem from the same root cause — they are not aware of their experience. They don’t lack experience — in fact, each has a lot of it — but neither has made themselves aware of their own internal rule sets resulting from that experience.
When we call a dog catcher, we expect them to understand dog behavior. They can predict certain issues, and the same goes with experienced hunters, professional interviewers, and even tabloid photographers on the hunt for the next celebrity on the cusp of breaking down in spectacular fashion.
People can be unpredictable, especially people in crisis, but as you arrest more suspects and see more and more of the same or similar circumstances, you come to realize that although a lot of people are unpredictable, their behavior and responses are not.
The Finer Points of Reading Behavior
I would encourage everyone who reads this to begin to codify their experience. After someone takes off on you — once it’s safe to do so — break the scenario down and visualize everything that happened. Start to make mental notes about what they said, where they looked, where they leaned, where their weight shifted.
What was the area like where you made the initial contact? Is there an environmental factor that may have led the individual to believe it would be easy to elude you?
The same goes for violent encounters.
When you’re field training, take a moment after the usual “What happened? What did you do? What could you do better?” and say “Did you notice...”
You’ll save the new officer lots of frustration by pointing out the finer points of reading behavior. The new officer is trying to internalize a lot of very big information — without the assistance of the experienced trainer he’ll miss the little things.
You’re there to show your trainee more than where the pens are and how to fill out the overtime forms.
You can take all the classes you like. They can tell you all the bullet points you need to get started on the esoteric knowledge of the cop world, but it is up to you to take that knowledge, seek out real world scenarios, and make mental notes that are going to guide your “gut.” This will help you explain your actions in court — you’ll be able to speak from experience rather than “hunches.”
Building Your Experience Resume
Reading the characteristics of an armed individual is a good example. Most police officers can recite the highlights of the slide show, but their real world application is lacking. They aren’t using it outside the bar after close to spot people being sneaky. They aren’t watching behavior and making mental notes.
That’s a prime opportunity to build an experience resume that will assist you in identifying people that are attempting to conceal items that can jump off and assist you in your armed individuals as well. The officers have made a mental note of what to look for, but when everything is going fast on a call they aren’t aware of their own internal dialogue, and don’t have the experience and practical connections to the knowledge.
Don’t wait — start building an experience resume today. We are more than a paid duty belt that shows up with some options on how to deal with something. We have experience. We need to listen to it and hone it, so when the next suspect tries to pull one over on you, you’ll already ahead of him.
You’ve seen it all before. Respect that.