Book excerpt: Police IQ: 13 Police Proverbs and Street Wisdom
A candid journey through the rookie years of a Las Vegas Metropolitan PD cop
“Police IQ” is a candid journey through the rookie years of former Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sergeant Christopher Curtis. In this book, he shares some of the lessons he learned via time-honored police proverbs. Order here.
POLICE IQ PROVERB #1: Trust Half of What You See & None of What You Hear
The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) tracks emergency calls to 911. They estimate that 240 million calls are made to 911 each year. A large percentage of those calls are not actually emergency calls and are rerouted to non-emergency numbers or the more appropriate agency (NENA, n.d.).
From an intuitive perspective, one can learn a lot from listening to an emergency caller. Frequently police are dispatched to a report of, "I think something is wrong at my neighbor's house." Or "A strange man is standing on my street." With nothing further, the caller hasn't provided enough to route this as a 911 police dispatch call.
Notice, however, that I did not say this is not an emergency call. Digging deeper, one may uncover the necessary data to give an accurate picture of the incident.
Let's take the “something is wrong at my neighbor's house” call. Something made the person feel that way. The issue is they have not sufficiently put their finger on the feeling enough to articulate the specifics.
Maybe it is a door ajar, a light that’s on that is usually off, or the absence of a dog barking. Several things that are away from the norm make a person's internal alert system activate.
With “the strange man on the street” call at just that, there is not enough to elevate the call to a 911 dispatch. However, if a person makes you feel weird, inspect further as to why they make you feel that way and articulate each thing that seems off. It could be a long stare, clothing incongruent with the climate, or items that appear to be weapons. The list is long for things that make us uncomfortable.
People call the police and report that they can ‘feel' something is off about their new neighbors, or someone in a park looks suspicious. Then they request that we check said person. In such a situation, we test their intuition and ours and dig deeper even if all appears right to the naked eye. Sometimes they are right, even if they cannot pinpoint the specifics.
As our subconscious mind develops, our intuition grows stronger. With each experience, we hone the skill. Since police officers are better informed and experienced in the field of threat detection, we are the masters of the intuition game concerning human behavior. Police intuition is fully engaged while patrolling, investigating, questioning witnesses, assessing crime scenes and motives, shortlisting suspects, and catching liars.
For us, it's sometimes a matter of life and death. One error in judgment and lives are lost. For civilians, this might not be so crucial, but it is essential nonetheless.
THE POLICE THIRD EYE
I can recall the moment the light switch went on for me with one of my initial Field Training Officers (FTO).
My FTO's nickname was Beef. He was sitting in the car and said: “Now let's go out and find crime.”
I asked him what it was that I was supposed to be looking for. He told me "a dirtbag in a shit car or a dirtbag in a nice car... That's who you stop.”
The definition of dirtbag varies from person to person, but in this situation, it was clearly defined because as soon as he said it, a late seventies El Camino drove by us eastbound on Flamingo Road from Spencer Street. The driver was a white, male adult wearing a tank top, was unshaven, and had long straggly hair. There was smoke billowing from the exhaust, and there were several other equipment violations on the car which left me surprised that he could even drive the thing.
My FTO said, "That car right there.” I hit the gas and pulled behind the El Camino.
I went through the textbook steps of the misdemeanor car stop.
- Observe the violation;
- Project the stop;
- Call out the stop to dispatch;
- Activate emergency equipment;
- Position vehicle;
- Contact driver.
I then started my textbook questioning. "Hello, my name is Officer Curtis. I stopped you for smoke emitting from your exhaust." Then I went into the basic questions.
Instantly, I felt very strange about the way that the driver was responding to my inquiries. At the time, I wasn't able to articulate with words why he made me uneasy. He just did. And apparently, he made my FTO feel the same because he motioned to me over the top of the car, out of view of the suspect, to have him exit the vehicle.
I asked the subject to exit the vehicle. As soon as he exited out of the car, he jetted. After a short foot pursuit, I took him into custody. I catch anyone that runs.
Huffing and puffing, I walked him back to the patrol car about a block away, and my FTO was standing at the driver's side with the door open and motioned for me to look inside. There, between the seat and armrest sat a fully loaded semi-automatic handgun.
To this day, over 25 years later, I can see that gun as clear as day. Even though the suspect was in custody, the incident shook me. Knowing I was that close if the guy wanted to shoot. There were also several grams of methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia inside the car.
My training officer looked at me and said, “That's the kind of car." The feeling superseded the blatant vehicle violations that were present. It was a feeling. The Police Third Eye, similar to the metaphysical use of the word, is an intuition that exceeds the obvious. Anyone that has an issue with this arrest or methodology, learn or do a refresher on Whren v. United States, 1996. Beef would look at me and say, "You feel it. Act on it!" This relates to all interactions you have in life – a new person you are dating or the weird feeling about the babysitter or the teacher. You feel it and then act on it. Make the move. Dirtbag is more about a feel than a look.