There are over 750,000 law enforcement officers in the United States. Each interacts with a number of people every day. The vast majority of those interactions go amazingly well, and for the most part, the police are problem solvers. They are called in times of need, despair, anguish and turmoil. They overwhelmingly respond with professionalism and act accordingly. At the end of the interaction, there is typically a resolution. Unfortunately, there is also oftentimes, a party who feels that they were on the short end of the stick. They were either arrested, summonsed, or had an otherwise unhappy interaction. Conversely, there is usually someone who is pleased with the response, who had an issue or problem and received service commensurate with their expectations.
Unfortunately, we very rarely hear about the millions of daily interactions between the police and the public that turn out well. We only hear about the one or two that can be portrayed by the media to be 'sensational' or 'controversial'. More often than not, once the smoke clears, the officers are found to have performed their duties in conjunction and accordance with the law. For that is what they are trained to do.
This article is directed to those officers who are responding to calls for police service, who must step out of their safety zones and interact with violent citizens. There are 5 essential things you must do each and every time you arrive on a scene.
1. ARRIVE ALIVE - Very plainly, you are useless to everyone if you wrap your patrol car around a tree, or crash into another vehicle when responding to a call for service. I speak from experience, I have been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Bottom line, drive with care and caution, using the skills you were taught in your EVOC course, and arrive alive to every call
2. TAKE CONTROL OF THE SCENE - Use verbal commands, a professional presence and your people skills to command control of the scene. A study was conducted of violent criminals who had shot, assaulted or killed law enforcement officers. When asked why they took the violent steps they did, the answer was a resounding "The officer gave me an opportunity, and i took it".
As a responding officer, you are of absolutely no good to anyone if you become the target of a violent criminal at a call for service. You do not have to be the biggest or the baddest cop to take control and convey a sense of command. I have seen small female officers control a scene with exceptional ease. It is all in the body language, your appearance and the manner in which you comport yourself.
3. USE YOUR LANGUAGE SKILLS TO COMPREHEND THE NEED FOR SERVICE - I can tell you at least one hundred stories detailing situations when the responding officers didn't listen to the information being presented, and the bad guy got away, or a report was filed in error, or there was a serious issue and the call was ended as unfounded.
When people call for the police, they are generally in a state of upset, shock or anger. Conversational language is best suited when trying to determine the circumstances, what needs to be done, and how best to do what needs to be done. Yelling and screaming is not the best way to converse, particularly with victims and witnesses. There is oftentimes a tendency to discredit witnesses and victims who do not speak English. A concerted effort should be made to secure a translator who can assist in determining the true cause of the call for service, so you can address it properly.
Use your people skills and remember that we are in a service oriented business. Most of us took the job because we had a desire to help people, not just because we look great in polyester pants and clip on ties.
4. BE PREPARED AND PROPERLY TRAINED TO USE THE NECESSARY PHYSICAL FORCE AS NEEDED - There will be times when you will not be able to talk your way out of a potentially violent situation. When this occurs, remember several things -
- There is no shame in falling back to the rear or flank and awaiting backup
- Time is your ally - Use it wisely
- Your most important task is to protect life, including your own
- Use your observation skills to remember identifying factors on the individuals involved. We can catch them another day if they get away.
- Remember the Force Continuum that you were taught in the Academy. Follow that continuum and you will have a better defense, in the event that someone overzealous prosecutor tries to make a name for themselves on your back, or the media start circling.
- Once the party is over, the party is over. No more dancing. Cuff all prisoners and be prepared to articulate what you did, why you did it and when you did what. If a serious physical injury or death results for an opponent, ask for an attorney and do not speak with anyone. You have rights just as others do.
- DO NOT carry or use weapons that are not authorized or for which you have not been properly trained and certified.
BONUS ROUND - REMEMBER THAT WE ARE ONE BIG, DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY - TREAT OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS LIKE BROTHERS AND SISTERS, AND TREAT OUR EXTENDED FAMILIES AS YOU WOULD WANT YOUR OWN FAMILY MEMBERS TO BE TREATED. CITY AND STATE LINES OR DIFFERENT PATCHES SHOULD NOT CAUSE US TO VIEW OTHERS AS STRANGERS. SOMEDAY YOU MAY BE STANDING IN FORMATION AT A FUNERAL FOR A BROTHER OR SISTER, OR THEY MAY BE STANDING AT YOURS. THE WORLD IS SMALL, AND OURS IS EVEN SMALLER.