The backup officer you hate to see coming

Knowing your role as a cover officer will help you stay in your lane, and make my contact safer


Nothing feels better than seeing that second officer arrive to cover you on a contact.

Except that one guy. You know him.

The officer who takes over

Your job is to fill in the gaps in my perception while I’m engaging with the subject. (Photo/PoliceOne)
Your job is to fill in the gaps in my perception while I’m engaging with the subject. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Thanks for the help, but it’s my contact. Unless I’m missing a hazard, don’t confuse my audience by adding a redundant voice to what is already likely a tense situation. Your presence and vigilance is an asset; yelling, “Don’t move” while I’m ordering, “Show me your hands” is not.

The officer who explains to the subject for me

Maybe I didn’t make everything crystal clear with my contact. Give me a few minutes to muddle through. Correcting, amending, rephrasing, or “mansplaining” diminishes my credibility and refocuses my contact’s attention. If you see me digging myself in a hole, hopefully I’ll have the presence of mind to tap out and make a dignified transition to you.

The officer who starts a fight I have to finish

If I’m fighting then feel free to dig in, no questions asked. If I’m not being actively assaulted, I’m winning at maintaining control. Arguing over my shoulder or stepping in front of me and stabbing your finger into my contact’s chest demanding that he pay attention to me is not going to end well. You’re assuming, probably correctly, that I’m going to help you take this person down when they react to your aggression. That use-of-force report should belong to you, but now it’s mine.

The officer who takes command knowing a ranking officer is on the way

The general rule is first on scene is in charge. Sure, that command can change, but that officer taking command from me should be the one who will likely remain in charge. If you are only slightly senior to me but not the shift commander, let’s maintain some continuity and don’t send me off to direct traffic three blocks away. Get the briefing, find out what resources we are going to need and determine the most likely stable scene commander who is on the way, then we can collaborate on what happens next.

The officer who wants to teach me something

Peer learning is a great cultural value for a department to have. No matter how long you’ve been around, there’s always something new to learn and you might learn it from a rookie. So, I’m happy for you to point out something I could do better. But there is a time and place for everything and that is rarely in front of the contact. What I want from you is to cover me. That means watching the people I’m dealing with in a way that makes them certain they are being watched.

The officer who wants the investigation to begin now

Don’t act like a K-9 and start alerting on clues to criminal activity. Anything that diverts your attention, no matter how well-intended, from watching my back and my flank and my subject, is secondary. Launching into a drug interdiction search or interrogation doesn’t make me safer. Watching my back does.

The officer who doesn’t like your style

Everybody has their own style of relating to people. If I happen to want to play friendly cop, that’s not your cue to be bad cop. If I want to let silence hang in the air after I’ve asked a question, that’s not your cue to break in on the conversation. If I’m explaining consequences, that’s not your cue to remind me about another statute I could cite. If I’m pretending not to see the baggie the suspect obviously dropped, don’t disrupt the mind game I’m playing by pointing it out.

The best backup

Cover is a specific assignment for operational safety at a scene where the first officer is engaging a suspect. We know that tunnel vision will take place at some level as I’m making contact. Your job is to fill in the gaps in my perception while I’m engaging with the subject. Watch for behaviors – both mine and my contacts – that could get me killed or injured.

You are not assisting me in the contact unless I specifically ask. You are my eyes and ears, keeping a 360-degree perspective – especially if there are bystanders – intercepting distracting radio traffic, deploying and staging additional assets if needed, and being ready to employ deadly force.

Knowing your role as a cover officer will help you stay in your lane, and make my contact safer.

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