Why curbs are an officer's best friend

The engineers who designed curbs may have had some big plan about guiding traffic, but really their best use is for officer safety


I’ve got a rule when I’m dealing with people. It is very simple. They sit down.

“Sit down. Put your legs out in front of you, and cross your feet. I’m not chasing you — you’re faster than me. If you sit down, we won’t have to deal with that problem...

“I don’t care if you’re wearing $300 pants. You shouldn’t have worn them when you were out dealing drugs.”

Thank You, Civil Engineers
Curbs are strategically-placed chairs. The civil engineers who designed curbs probably had some big idea about guiding traffic, but really their best use for a curb is for officer safety.

There is so much apprehension in having someone sit down. Is this a stop or a contact? Obviously, we cannot make people sit down in a straight contact.

If you utilize the proper language during a stop, you can get someone to do just about anything you want. Consider this scenario...

Officer: “I need you to sit down please.”
Suspect: “But these pants” (which aren’t mine) “are $300!”
Officer: “That’s a shame. Sit down now so we can talk and send you on your way.”
Suspect: “[Insert expletive of your choice].” (...subject sits down).
Officer: “Thank you. Now, put your legs out in front of you and cross your feet.
Suspect: [Insert various grumbles and complaints]
Officer: “Do what I said so we can finish and send you on your way.”
Suspect: (Does as was told — now it’s game time).

In this scenario, the officer (you!) has reduced the suspect’s advantage significantly.

You’ve established control and the suspect has heard you repeatedly advise they will be on their way soon.

Your suspect may be thinking, “If the officer keeps saying that, she must not know what I’m up to. She’s just fishing, and I’m smarter than her.”

By the way, any female officer has to be aware of the fact that historically speaking, we have not always been viewed as the “smarter/stronger sex.” In general, your suspect has already underestimated you. Rather than get upset about that — because we all know there are many women who are the smartest and the strongest — exploit it!

So begins the mental manipulation. Men have been saying this about us forever — use your innate talents, ladies.

Kill them with kindness while always keeping in mind, “Ask, Tell, Make.”

Betty Crocker, Physics Professor
I’ve never much cared about expensive pants or suspect “comfort” and it is true that many of the use-of-force reports in my career involve the curb and someone’s nose.

This is not a technique — it’s an issue of physics.

Those suspects with whom I speak are always seated on the curb, and they always land there when they attempt to confront me or flee. Physics.

The issue there is this: They outweigh me and I am responsible for putting them on the ground — away from me — and it’s my responsibility that I go home without injury.

Unfortunately for them, the curb is an effective stopping point. It always helps that there have been witnesses (citizens) so it’s never been a problem. Public perception can be everything.

Fortunately for those of us who look more like ‘50s-era Betty Crocker advertisements, we know how to use it.

Visualize it for a minute from the citizen’s point of view:

“That ‘lady officer’ told him to sit down. He kept getting up and she kept telling him to stay down.”

What about the suspect standing up looks anything but aggressive? I gave direction, the suspect failed to listen. Anything beyond a yes can be deemed “uncooperative.”

Documentation is Simple

You have covered all the bases — you asked, you told, and they sat down
You told them to extend their legs out in front of them, to cross their feet
The first, (and second, and every subsequent time) the suspect uncrosses their feet; you addressed it
You made them aware that you were alert
In order to stand up, the suspect has to uncross his/her feet, bend the knees and stand
You have two very clear warnings that this is about to occur— each act of “defiance” in this has given you a.) something to document and b.) the mental state of the suspect

You don’t have to be a body language expert to see these movements. They are preparatory acts and warnings. Address them.

Leave the Pants, Take the Machete
If you have the benefit of a cover officer, they can simply stand behind the seated suspect with a full view of your background.

If handcuffs become necessary, there is no reason to have the suspect stand up. Cuff that person on the ground! You’re in control, and you have the position of advantage. Why relinquish it?

I am reminded of a rookie I trained. We covered my entire speech about sitting. She stopped a subject (in middle of the night in an area known for narcotics activity).

All the factors were in our favor for reasonable suspicion. He was scanning, he was nervous, and he was wearing $300 pants.

She was apprehensive about making him sit down, so I intervened.

I asked, he protested. I told, he sat.

When he sat, there was great care being used with his right leg. He did not seem capable of bending his right knee. Then the handle end of the machete began to protrude from his right front pocket.

I could not have created a better scenario for training.

Going Home...
As I went home that night, with my terrible habit of listening to the radio after shift, I heard a female officer check out with a couple subjects.

I knew her; I knew that she did not exercise confidence or control on stops.

I called my rookie on the phone and told her to turn on her radio.

As expected, “I’ve got one running!” was the next radio transmission.

I told my favorite rookie, “That... is why we make people sit down. Have a good night.”

This story makes me laugh because seven years later, that rookie still tells it. She has turned out to be an amazing officer — better than I was at her tenure.

You come first. Make them sit down. They can wash the dirt out of the pants later. Besides, as we’re all aware, they don’t know who owns the pants anyway.

Be safe. Be vigilant. Your victory day is coming.

About the author

Sgt. Nancy Fatura has been a law enforcement officer since 1999. She attended the University of Wisconsin/Madison before joining the US Army Reserves in 1993. Nancy became a Behavioral Science Specialist, and upon her return from deployment to civilian life she joined the Tucson Police Department in 1999. Her duties have included patrol, field training, and hostage negotiation.

As a trainer, Nancy teaches Mental Health Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Psychology of Survival, and Stress in Field Training for her agency, she is a subject matter expert for the online PoliceOne Academy, and she presents her signature class, “Unleashing Your Inner Warrior” at conferences and events around the United States. Nancy can be reached at nfatura@jdbucksavage.com

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