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Tighten up those loose lips

Rookies saying too much is usually a matter of inexperience — with veteran officers it tends to be more an attitudinal misjudgment "wrapped up with ego"

Do you sometimes lapse into a common rookie mistake when you’re not thinking?

Namely: flapping your jaws so much you lose your edge over a suspect.

In a gritty new cop novel, Black & White, written by Det. Sgt. Wes Albers of the San Diego PD, a newly-minted officer almost causes a crisis by sharing too much information with a suspect on an FI before his partner can get in position to control the situation.

After the dust settles, the FTO drives home an important street tactic: “Never reveal everything you know until you’re ready to make it work to your advantage.”

“On the street, a mistake like that can be deadly,” Albers, a 23-year veteran, told PoliceOne recently. “Safely contacting a suspect is grounded in advantage and leverage. Sometimes that involves telling a suspect something, other times it comes by not telling something. You’re hedging your bet that what you say or don’t say will influence his behavior in the direction you’d like.

“Yet too often, I see young cops — and sometimes older ones who should know better — who reveal too much.”

He offers a simple example. “They get out of their car to contact someone on the sidewalk, and say, ‘Come over here. You have a warrant.’ Making a comment like that before you have your hands firmly on the subject, you’ll most likely see your fugitive bolt for the nearest fence.

“The wiser approach, of course, is to start the conversation with something that has nothing to do with a warrant, seems relatively benign, and doesn’t give any indication that the subject is wanted. The more you can lull the suspect into thinking you’re just there to chat, the more likely he’ll let you get close enough to control him when you finally break the news that he’s going to jail.

“He probably knows he’s got a warrant. Just don’t let him know that you know it until the timing’s right for you.”

Albers recalls a rescue call involving a suicidal subject who’d perched himself atop a freeway sign. As negotiations progressed, the fire department extended a ladder apparatus so he could climb down. “Things were going just the way we wanted until we realized that the FD had left one of their big door-busting axes on the mount along the ladder,” Albers says.

“Some officers might have been inclined to start barking orders to stay away from the axe, but the negotiators kept the distraught subject’s mind engaged in conversation and focused on surrender. Our leverage came from our understanding of the bigger picture. We didn’t invite the axe into the equation by divulging what he didn’t appear to see as he moved past it.”

Rookies saying too much is usually a matter of inexperience — with veteran officers it tends to be more an attitudinal misjudgment “wrapped up with ego.”

“They sometimes fall into thinking, ‘We’re the police and you’ll do whatever we tell you.’ It’s a verbal heavy-handedness, wanting to let a suspect know who’s in charge. And, of course, it can backfire,” Albers says.

“Better to be Lt. Columbo from the old TV series. Hold your cards close. Play stupid, so long as it gives you the edge.”

For a thoroughly entertaining read that sounds and feels like the real world of policing, pick up a copy of Albers’ new book in paperback. It’s available from Amazon.

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