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The Ten Deadly Errors
July 6th, 2008
The Ten Deadly Errors were part of the police academy I attended in the mid-90′s. The Errors were mentioned at the start of a officer survival training block, but they were not emphasized. I didn’t think much of it at the time, as I had been involved in armed security for several years prior to that and had read books like Street Survival on my own. The Errors were already part of my thinking.
I recently was talking to some new officers, and on a whim, I inquired about their knowledge of the Ten Deadly Errors. I was a bit stunned to learn that they didn’t really know what I was talking about. Some of the information they knew, but the information wasn’t ingrained into them.
Detective Pierce R. Brooks, a Los Angeles PD homicide detective, wrote a book called “…officer down, code 3″ way back in 1975. While I can’t say that this book was the start of the officer survival movement, it was certainly a key player. Brooks listed the Ten Deadly Errors that he identified as being the most common, repeated reasons for officers being killed in the line of duty. Brooks, some of you may recognize, was an investigating detective in the infamous Onion Field killings.
So, as a refresher to the vets, and as a learning experience for the new guys here are the Ten Deadly Errors:
1. Failure to Maintain Equipment and Proficiency - Clean your guns, magazines, and handcuffs. Keep your flashlights charged. Keep a fresh battery in your radio. Get to the range and practice shooting. Work with your zone partner on handcuffing techniques.
2. Improper Search, Improper Use of Handcuffs - A lot of cops have been hurt or killed because of a poor search. Learn how to do a systematic and thorough search of prisoners and frisks of suspicious people. Understand that weapons can be secreted anywhere on and in the body. When handcuffing, make sure they are on properly and double locked. Always handcuff behind the back. Here in Florida, we lost three law enforcement officers after a murder suspect was handcuffed in front and retrieved a handcuff key hidden on his person.
3. Sleepy or Asleep - If you do not get enough sleep, you become a danger to yourself and your partners. A lack of alertness is exceptionally dangerous.
4. Relaxing Too Soon - Do not relax until the call is over and you have left the jail and gone back in service. Most veteran officers can tell stories about a guy that was “cool” and then suddenly snapped. Offenders may act relaxed, but do not let them lull you into a false sense of security. If you slack off while around someone who wants to hurt you, you invite disaster.
5. Missing Danger Signs - Danger signs could be verbal cues, non-verbal cues, bulges, clothing, location, or any number of other things. A suspect who keeps touching his hip while talking to you could be giving you a non-verbal indication that he is armed. A suspect who doesn’t directly answer a question could be hiding information. A specific type, style, or color of clothing could be an indication of gang affiliation. Become informed of what danger signs may exist and then actively look for them.
6. Bad Positioning - Know where you are and figure out the safest place to be. For example, if you can get the cars in a traffic accident into a parking lot, wouldn’t that be a safer place than standing in the road to conduct your investigation? In a Terry Stop, how close are you to the suspect? Where is your cover officer? Can you effective respond to a sudden attack from your current position? Is there some form of cover you might be able to use?
7. Failure to Watch the Hands - Their eyes may be the windows to their soul, but their hands will kill you. Although watching the hands falls in with missing the danger signs, this error has hurt or killed so many officers, it is deserving of its own place on the list. Humans are tool users. With little exception, this means offenders will use their hands to obtain a weapon to attack you. Hands will retrieve a gun from the waistband, a knife from the pocket, or a baseball bat from behind the door. Can you see their hands? Where are the hands? What are they doing?
8. Tombstone Courage - Don’t rush in if you don’t need to. Take your time and wait for backup. Sometimes you have to go in alone. Most of the time you don’t, so wait for your partner!
9. Preoccupation - If you are messing with your computer or cell phone, how can you watch their hands or pick up on other danger signs? Also, if you are so stressed about your finances, relationship with your spouse, or about your drinking problem, how are you supposed to remain alert all shift? If you are stressed out, talk to a peer counselor or request help from the employee assistance program at your agency. There is no shame in asking for help, especially if it can prevent you getting hurt on the job.
10. Apathy - Don’t think it can happen to you? Think again. Bad things happen on all sorts of calls, on all shifts, and to officers of all levels of experience.
Richard is a police officer with a medium sized, central Florida department, and previously worked for a Metro-Atlanta agency. He has served as a field training officer, court officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, watch commander, commander of a field training and evaluation program, and general pain in the butt to management-types looking to cut training hours.ALSO (a related post that's decent reading):
Police Tactics Used Against the Police
June 29th, 2011
As I was reading another officer down article the other day, it struck me that our own tactics are the very ones being used so effectively against us.
When I went to SWAT school in the late 80’s, most police teams visually resembled the British 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). You know, black BDU’s, black balaclava hoods, black nylon load-bearing vests, black MP-5’s.
After all, the Iranian Embassy hostage siege in London was still fresh in people’s minds. The iconic images of the SAS storming the embassy on foot and by abseil (rappel) were very strong indeed. The 22nd SAS were the US Navy SEALS of that era. Police SWAT teams sought to mimic the look and attitude.
The dynamic entry doctrine used by American SWAT at the time was appropriately called SAS: Speed, Aggression, Surprise
. (Note from me: the US military tends to call it "Speed, Surprise, and Violence of Action" [or "Violence of Execution"])
These are the three very principles being effectively employed in ambushes to kill police patrol officers on our streets.
Speed is just what it implies, a rapidity of action. In this arena, speed is the ability of the suspect to quickly attack or very quickly access a weapon to attack.
Aggression is also referred to as violence of action. This aggression is a committed, overpowering attack, which is sustained until the opponent is defeated.
Surprise is to attack suddenly and without warning.
These three characteristics in combination have led to numerous officer deaths. The key to this doctrine is initiative. Action beats reaction. It is a pre-planned strategy, not one born in the give and take of a casual encounter. Used by a suspect on the street, it is premeditated murder.
The best defense against this style of attack is to negate it through situational awareness and solid officer safety practices.
If I say trust no one, I do not mean be impolite. I can have a proper, professional interaction with a citizen and still have a plan to go to deadly force in an instant. I do not preach police paranoia; I advocate police preparedness.
The difficulty of our job is in the rules of engagement. There are no obvious signs of who is or is not the enemy. We cannot treat everyone as a non-threat, nor can we handle every person as a combatant.
If we held all persons proned-out with their hands to their sides (palms up), legs crossed, face away, while they were at the social end of an AR-15, well then there would be no surprise attacks.
There are tactics to defeat the three SAS principles. We can eliminate a suspect’s ability to use Speed, Aggression, and Surprise in many ways during personal encounters:Contact and Cover
Weapons Pat Down
Proper Interviewing Distance
No Person Unobserved
Limit Their Mobility
Enough Back-up Officers
Focus on the People
Sounds like the reverse of some of The Ten Deadly Errors. The ambush is one of the hardest things for us to defend against. Let’s do everything we can to take away a suspect’s tools.
Randall is a twenty-three year veteran officer of a mid-size Florida police department. He served as a SWAT team officer for over 21 years, to include 12 years as a Team Leader. He is currently the Midnight Shift K9 Sergeant and department SWAT Coordinator.