Police officers rely on their training and experience to get through a single tour of duty. No matter what shift an officer is assigned to, the day tour, four-to-twelve, or midnight tours, the one thing keeping law enforcement officers attentive and careful is the desire to go home at the end of their shift. Much of the training recruits receive in the academy is focused on remaining alert and vigilant while on routine patrol. The ability to concentrate on details such as suspicious vehicles or individuals behaving in an unusual way, or hearing cries for help, are key aspects of effective policing. However, it is human nature to become lax, careless, and tired; this could be dangerous. Boredom and a fatigue are huge factors leading to poor performance, and to combat this, officers can develop good habits while on patrol.
There are techniques cops can use which will keep them safe even when they are suffering from exhaustion and there seems to be no activity in their sector. An officer can enter a dangerous situation and need emergency backup while on foot patrol or in a marked sector car quite unexpectedly. Calling for assistance on the radio and while unaware of one’s precise location can prove fatal. When chasing a suspect into a building, failure to take note of the address and losing track of which floor you’re on will prevent you from getting backup. An experienced officer will be able to inform the central dispatcher of their street address, the floor they are on, apartment number, and the nearest cross street without having to think about it. The ability to recite vital information under duress comes from not only becoming familiar with the area where the officer is assigned, but from taking note of the street name, direction of travel, and numbers of the businesses or homes. By keeping a running, internal monologue of these details, especially during periods of inactivity, cops can save themselves and citizens in need when a call for urgent backup is necessary.
Another technique employed by experienced officers in urban locations is to always look up before entering a building. Veteran cops will take the time to scan the structure from the top down from a safe distance to notice anyone who may be on the roof, or at the windows, and to also observe any items tossed at them from above by individuals willing to hurt them. As a rookie New York City police officer, I was taught by senior officers in my squad to beware of debris tossed from rooftops and out of windows at unsuspecting officers. While many in the community welcome police patrols in their neighborhoods, the sad reality is that there are those who do not. As such, there are individuals who will harm police officers by such means, and often they can escape arrest by retreating anonymously into the building.
Reciting aloud license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles, before pulling them over helps cops remember them more effectively in case the officer needs to provide this information to the central dispatcher if the driver pulls away. Saying the description of a vehicle (color, year, make, model, etc.) or a suspect (their clothing, hair color, height, build, etc.) audibly helps an officer recall these details efficiently. Getting into the habit of speaking the numbers, a person’s description, and even one’s location, increases your ability to remember them.
Finally, monitoring the radio for activity outside your sector is of extreme importance while on patrol. In busy precincts, officers have all they can do to pay attention to what is going on in their immediate surroundings. However, staying aware of the activity in neighboring sectors and precincts is crucial because often times officers will call for backup and you may need to come to their aid. There are also scenarios where other units are in pursuit of a vehicle or a suspect on foot who is heading in your direction and you will find yourself in position to intercept them. Also, if an officer informs the central dispatcher that they have a vehicle stopped at a certain location, and later on you hear that officer calling for assistance, knowing that officer’s last known location is vital to being able to respond to their call for backup.
Police work is inherently dangerous, and when performed with due diligence while utilizing proper training one can still fall victim to harm. However, if officers develop good habits while on patrol, they reduce the risk associated with their duties and may return home safely after a successful tour of duty.
About the author: Michael J. Kannengieser is the author of the police thriller, The Daddy Rock. He is a retired New York City police officer who lives on Long Island with his wife and two children. Michael worked as the Managing Editor for Fiction at The View from Here magazine, a U.K. based literary publication. Currently, he is employed at a performing arts college as an Instructional Technology Administrator. He has been published at The View from Here, and in Newsday, a Long Island newspaper. Michael speaks as a guest lecturer on campus.