Bluesheepdog has been emphasizing officer safety issues since its inception. Recently articles, videos, and stories from other sources have emphasized the dangerous job law enforcement has especially in the difficult times we live in now. Richard has posted the FBI research findings from interviews with prisoners who have felonious assaulted and killed officers. Videos have pointed out officer safety considerations during vehicle approaches and suspect contact, and articles have retold the stories of the victorious, and sadly the slain officers who have been confronted with the violent predators in society. In that context I wanted to share one of my experiences and my reflections on my own safety concerns and performance.
Just the other night I was heading home to grab a bite to eat during shift. I was tired and the shift was only a couple of hours from ending – something I had my mind on. It was my first evening shift on the road in over two weeks after a bunch of classroom training. I had just entered my neighborhood when I observed two suspicious vehicles parked door to door on a dead-end street where no new construction had begun yet. “So there I was … minding my own business … when …!” Good enough for me. I pulled up and called out the vehicle checks.
I could see that the Honda was empty, and just as I came to a stop a female exited the passenger seat of the Lincoln Navigator in a surprised and nervous fashion. She was wearing a short cut silky dress and had a very embarrassed look about her as she tried to scurry to the Honda. My first thought was – booty call! And that was my first mistake.
As I confronted the female about being where she was I got the typical “I’m in trouble” answers – “I have to leave, I live nearby, my children are at home, I was just ‘visiting’ with a friend”, etc. Recognizing the the hype of these statements only furthered my thoughts of a “meeting of indiscretion”. That was my second mistake.
Although I was scanning the vehicles I really hadn’t paid enough attention to the Navigator or my positioning. In an attempt to prevent the female from entering her vehicle I had placed myself between her and her car, and the Navigator. Although I was towards the rear end of the Navigator I would quickly feel claustrophobic about my choice of position. That was my third mistake.
Just about the time I was allowing my guard to drop due to the “non-criminal” contact, a rather large (6’4”/230 lbs.) male exited the driver’s seat of the Navigator. Now I inherently knew that someone else was with the female, but the sheer magnitude of the male figure now only 5-6 feet away from me, left me feeling quite exposed. I’m about 6’1”/200 lbs. and I consider myself to be in reasonably good condition. However, these vehicle checks were taking place in a rural neighborhood about 10-15 minutes away from the heart of our city where the majority of our officers are concentrated. That was my fourth mistake.
Reviewing my video did not make me feel any better about myself. In an attempt to keep both vehicles in view I had pretty much placed myself in a squared-up position facing the front of the Navigator. The male was putting on his shoes … which should have been a HUGE red flag, much like someone who takes their hat or glasses off
during contact with the police. Instead, I continued to allow this new person’s entrance to disrupt my O.O.D.A. cycle. Yep, mistake #5!
At about the same time I began to smell the very strong odor of burnt marijuana coming from the open windows of the Navigator. Oops! This “non-criminal” contact had suddenly taken on an entirely different look, and one that I had originally considered when I first observed the vehicles but allowed myself to discard. Unfortunately my 14+ years of experience did not immediately kick in and force me to reposition to a position of advantage. Instead, I remained in position and like a rookie officer or a Pavlovian dog (you decide) on his first dope arrest, I blurt out “who’s been smoking weed.” Deadly mistake #6!
Both suspects avoided the question entirely and continued their banter about just “visiting” with each other. Again I ask about the “weed” and finally the male admits that he’s been smoking and has more in his vehicle. He also begins the typical fight or flight behaviors of raising his hands to his head and pacing in circles saying “oh man”. Mistake #7. I asked for identification and got the female’s. The male said he had it in his car and reached for the door. Thankfully I wasn’t completely out of my wits and I ordered him to stay out.
Finally, I started to realize the gravity of the situation and take a few steps back, but I had my flashlight in my strong hand (my God what is wrong with me)! Thankfully the subconscious kicked in and that error only lasted a couple of seconds. My O.O.D.A. cycle began to kick in as I requested back-up, bladed my body position, positioned my strong hand on my duty belt for quick access of “tools”, and ordered the two to sit on the curb to the right of the Navigator. Thankfully big guy was a pretty decent citizen and didn’t want to duke it out.
Once the two were on the curb I still felt very leery about my situation, so I took a wide angle to come up behind the two and ordered the male to put his hands behind his back where I quickly handcuffed him from as advantageous a position as I could. I gave the guy a pretty standard warning when I confront big dudes or guys with prison time – “I’m alone, and you’re too big to fight, so if you move from that position I’m going to consider it a threat against my life and take appropriate action”. The message usually gets across loud and clear. The female was then handcuffed as my backing officer pulled up.
Mind you I have not cleared the Navigator of other occupants, but at the time I was focused on these two. Mistake #8. I was close enough to see that the Honda was empty. Thankfully the Navigator was empty now too. The guy was very polite and even told me how to find his dope bag.
What he did not tell me about was the loaded Glock 26 in his center armrest compartment. Thinking back now made me realize that I was heartbeats away from being a statistic in an armed encounter – had the male wanted to do me harm. First, he could have surprised me by exiting and shooting. I would be lucky if he was a bad shot or the shots at least hit my body armor. Second, if I was a little more off my game I would have allowed him to re-enter the vehicle allowing him un-viewed access to his pistol. Third, using his size advantage, if he had simply charge me from the get go my close proximity would not have allowed a reaction and I would have been in the fight of my life with that big guy.
Thankfully Mistakes numbering “eight” were not “too late” for me that night, but I assure you it was a very sobering wake-up call that the old Sarge needs to hone his patrol skills a lot more often. I’ve responded to the articles from my co-writers here at Bluesheep.com about our need to remain at Condition Yellow at all times in uniform, and to raise that awareness level to Condition Orange immediately on any type of enforcement call or investigation.
Use Boyd’s O.O.D.A. cycle for your advantage by creating tactical dilemmas to hinder the thought and act processes of your adversary, because I assure you that their actions vs. your reactions will do the same thing to you. By tactical dilemma I mean recognize that the suspect is already at “act”, and the only thing that is going to change that channel is you doing something that forces the suspect to go back to “Observe”. As soon as that change begins, hit them with 2-3 other “dilemmas” to distract them and prevent their brain from catching up to your plan.
Like Richard and Randall have said before – every activity you do is an armed activity because you brought a gun to the situation. We need to have the mindset that every call of a man with a knife is actually a man with a gun. Every call of a man with a gun is actually a man with long gun. And every call of shots fired is actually an active- shooter in progress. Go into those situations with that mindset and you’re likely to survive any lethal encounter because you’re mentally prepared.
Had I maintained my initial belief of “criminal” activity going on, I may not have been distracted to believe it was simply two adults in a sexual encounter. Hopefully my response to the stimuli would have been much more tactically sound – regardless I’ve learned my tactical edge isn’t as sharp as it used to be and its up to me to get back “in shape”.
Be safe, learn from the mistakes of others or your own, and prepare, prepare, prepare! The very next call may be “the one”!