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Keep Your Edge

With one of the deadliest Decembers just behind us, January 2012 has indications of being even more lethal. This is so serious that I want to encourage every officer and field supervisor to go into stand down mode long enough to assess where we are and what we’re doing. We need to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to prevent further losses. This is not to say that we’ve done something wrong—it’s just common sense.

We’re barely five days into 2012 and we’ve got three officers dead from gunfire. Two officers were killed on New Year’s Day, one in Puerto Rico and one in Washington. Both of these incidents were tied to vehicle stops or contacts. Yesterday, January 4th, six officers were shot in Ogden, Utah during the execution of a warrant. One of them is dead and at least one other officer is critical. Five days, three officers dead, many more shot.

No one knows enough about these specific incidents yet to start passing judgment on the officers and even if they did, that wouldn’t be appropriate. Their families and departments haven’t even been able to properly bury them. However, what we must do is immediately look to what we know about proper tactics and preparation so that we don’t compound our losses. Again, this is just common sense.

Traffic Stops

This is an area where officers frequently lose their lives or are seriously injured. Here are the basics:

1) They’re never routine.

2) The reason for the stop is known to you, but not to the violator who may feel the need to escape or take offensive action. Be ready for that possibility.

3) As much as you can, choose the location of the stop to provide a tactically sound and safe environment. Look for lighting advantages and be extremely aware of the real dangers of traffic—it can be as deadly as the occupants of the car that you’re stopping.

4) Watch for danger indicators like the driver moving around a lot, being slow to pull over and watching a little too intently in the rear view mirror.  

5) Whenever possible, consider a passenger-side approach. It works and often gives a better view of the interior of the car and the suspect, as well as provide more protection from passing traffic.

6) Use the principles of contact and cover. If you have the luxury of another officer present, make sure that one of you is serving in a cover role. Many officers are killed when more than one officer is present and this technique can prevent many of those losses.

Warrant Arrests & Service

1) Take advantage of every bit of information and intelligence known. Make sure this is shared with the rest of the officers involved.

2) In spite of what you know, plan for the unknown.

3) Check and double check your equipment and safety gear.

4) If you have people with emergency medical training, make sure they’re trained to operate in a tactical environment.

5) Carry a tourniquet and know how to use it.

6) Have clearly defined roles of responsibility.

Learn from Mistakes

If we do everything right, we’re still going to have losses. That’s the unfortunate reality of our job. Worse yet, there seems to be a much greater willingness to aggressively engage with law enforcement, sometimes initiating the attack without any offensive action from the officers. This means you have to keep your edge and remember that complacency kills.

We have to review every line-of-duty death and commit to learning from them. Otherwise we’re not honoring the sacrifice of those we’ve lost. Ask: What could have been done differently? What were the warning signs? Could the incident have been predicted and therefore prevented? Take a look back through the losses of this past year by going to The summaries are sobering and provide insights to the last moments of some of America’s finest.

As you get ready for your next shift, take a moment to check your gear. Take a close look in the mirror. What impression will you make? Command presence or complacent putz? Get squared away and make sure you have a WIN (What’s Important Now?) mindset. Cops carry guns for a reason—don’t ever forget that! Body armor works, but only if you wear it! Finally, remember the tenets of Below 100:

1. Wear your belt.
2. Wear your vest.
3. Watch your speed.
4. WIN—What’s Important Now?
5. Remember: Complacency Kills.

The point of Below 100 is to drive LODDs to an annual loss of less than 100. Plan now for the steps that you will take to make 2012 safer for yourself and those you work with.

About The Author


Law Officer is the only major law enforcement publication and website owned and operated by law enforcement. This unique facet makes Law Officer much more than just a publishing company but is a true advocate for the profession.

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