By Mikey, Retired LAPD
One of my passions during my law enforcement career was officer safety and I preached it at every opportunity. Officer safety is a philosophy not a program; programs fail, and you can’t fail at officer safety. It is all about situational awareness. In terms of cognitive psychology, situational awareness refers to a decision-maker’s dynamic mental model of his or her evolving task situation. In other words, what you perceive, and your response is all about experience vs. the situation. It all starts at the threshold of the event. What do I have? Do I understand what I have? Can I handle the situation/event with what I have at my immediate disposal?
A good example was a radio call of a robbery in progress at a bank. As a training officer and his probationer rolled up to the front of the bank an armed suspect with a shot gun exited the front door. He saw the officers and immediately dropped the weapon. Back at the station the probationer asked the training officer why he hadn’t shot. He said he did not observe the suspect’s left shoulder drop or the barrel of the shot gun swing in their direction. If any of those two events had occurred, he said he would have shot. The training officer asked the probationer why she hadn’t shot, her answer, “’Cause you didn’t.”
Another point I would emphasis is “partners can not get stupid at the same time, ever!” On the LAPD, the majority of patrol is conducted with “A” or two officer patrol cars. There are very few “L” or one officer patrol cars. On smaller agencies, “L” cars are the norm. Depending on the patrol policies of the agency, two or more “L” cars can be dispatched to a radio call, depending on the seriousness of the call. So, the point is made regardless. Cool heads must prevail, or partners will suffer the negative consequences of an internal/external investigation, lawsuit or termination. I responded to an officer involved shooting in Rampart in ’92. Because of the officer’s bill of rights, there are few questions me as a supervisor can ask. Before I asked the questions, one of the officers involved said, “Sarge, we didn’t get stupid at the same time. We didn’t get stupid at all. We just want you to know that.” They displayed effective controlled fire and communicated throughout the event. Guess they were listening at roll call training.
“O.W.B.E” or Over Whelmed by Events is not an option. Stay in control is the overall theme here. For some reason in critical situations that I have been in, I visualize a light switch. Who is going to turn it off? Is it my switch? Is this it, and is this how it ends? No, you work the problem because there is always something else to do. I have often said that if the light switch is turned off, it’s because, “I didn’t see it coming.”
In training, I put LAPD on the chalk board and ask the officers if they are willing to die for these letters? Next, I put a street gang name on the board and ask why a banger can take multiple gunshot hits and live? Because he willing to die for his gang and will continue to fight to the end. That’s what he lives for—expecting the worst. He expects the worst!
Most coppers don’t have that mind set going into a critical situation. A good example was a sergeant I worked for at Northeast Division in 1977. He rolled up on a ‘415 man with a gun’ call at a bar and as the sergeant entered the bar, alone, he confronted the man and was immediately shot. I am going to quote the sergeant. “I got shot and said to myself, well I’ve been shot so I guess I’m supposed to fall down.”
And that is what he did. He said he was lucky the guys didn’t stick around to see if he was dead.
I hope this ROLL CALL sends a message and stimulates some critical thinking.