Keeping The Focus

Tense times call for resolve & a return to fundamentals

By Scott Hughes  |   Jul 21, 2016

The recent tragedies in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Kansas, to name a few, have no doubt left a bad taste in the mouths of American law enforcement officers. Coupled with the lack of support from “leaders” around the country, it’s obvious officers might not be excited about going to work. The evidence suggests that’s the case.

How long will this continue is anybody’s guess. But I’ll offer some advice in the meantime: Stay focused!

Now, more than ever, it’s vitally important for us to stay vigilant and aware of our surroundings. We operate in a fishbowl and must be cognizant of this fact. While some agencies are pairing up officers, this is often not realistic in smaller jurisdictions or rural areas.

Every time I have the honor of standing in front of a room of officers to teach, I remind them of this: law enforcement training is usually about the basics. From traffic stops to frisks—if you remember the basics you will increase your odds of going home safely at the end of every shift.

Therefore, let me address some of those basics in light of our current situation.

Always notify dispatch of your location: Regardless of how mundane the task might seem, let dispatch know what you’re doing. Ask any seasoned dispatcher what their pet peeves are and the response will often involves the officer not informing them of their location. Even if you are just going to be out checking a vacant house, or placing a parking ticket on a vehicle, make sure someone knows your location. This information is crucial and cannot be overlooked.

Wait for back-up, as appropriate: If you’re dispatched to a call that requires two officers and the other officer is on his or her way, then wait for their arrival. A great example of this is a “routine” (no such thing, I know) alarm drop or suspicious vehicle call. In many jurisdictions two officers are automatically dispatched on certain types of calls, for obvious reasons.

What becomes commonplace in some jurisdictions is for an officer to disregard his or her back-up. Officers will say things like: “I’ll check and advise,” or, “You can disregard my cover.” While I understand why this occurs, I would argue that today, with the random ambush-style attacks on officers, you cannot afford to disregard back-up even on a repeated alarm drop or domestic call.

We had a situation locally a few weeks ago where officers were sent back to a house on a repeated domestic call and the officer ended up taking gunfire and getting shot. Luckily, they will be OK. Don’t take unnecessary risks: Wait for back-up if it’s available.

Be aware of surroundings: This is one of the oldest clichés in law enforcement but so important today. If you have more than one officer on scene, try and use good contact-and-cover principles. Not just for the suspects you are dealing with, but with the surrounding area. If feasible, “assign” an officer to focus on the surrounding area, and scan the perimeter.

Just this week a police car was firebombed and a police station was fired upon.

Use caution when congregating in public places: I’m just as guilty as he next officer with violating this rule. We should be cognizant of how many marked patrol cars are visible from the street and to the public. Having three or four police cars parked in front of a restaurant or gas station sends a message to anyone wishing to target law enforcement.

Some agencies have policies limiting the number of officers allowed to take dinner breaks together, often because of concern of public image. Take this one step further and recognize that multiple police cars at one location makes us easy prey.

In Sum

None of the above is difficult to do. In fact, you’ve probably heard it all before. Bottom line: We can take proactive steps to enhance our safety in these difficult times. To do less would be irresponsible.

Please share your thoughts and tips on our Facebook page so that we can all stay safe!

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Chief Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of The Supervisor Training and Education program as well as The Police Executive Leadership College. Scott is also a graduate of the 133rd FBI-LEEDA Command Institute and is a certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE). Chief Hughes is an active member of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police where he serves on the education committee.