“Shots fired! Officer needs assistance!” These are some of the scariest words you can hear come across your radio. They are part of the law enforcement life and can happen at any time.

Roughly four decades ago, Pierce R. Brooks penned a book called “…officer down, code three.” Brooks, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, identified 10 common mistakes made by officers killed in the line of duty.

With violence against police officers on the rise, now seems like a good time to put that list in the context of 21st century police work.

1. Failing To Maintain Equipment & Proficiency

Your equipment can literally be the difference between life and death. Inspect all of your gear and your patrol car before starting your shift to ensure everything works properly. If there are any equipment problems, fix them before checking in for service. Train with your firearms and gear on a regular basis. Seek training outside of your agency or department—on your own dime if needed.

2. Poor Searches & Incorrect Handcuffing

Always search a subject with the expectation of finding weapons, handcuff keys and other contraband. When you find one weapon, assume there are more. Do not assume that someone else has properly searched a prisoner.

Make sure you properly apply handcuffs to put an arrestee in a position of greatest disadvantage. Ensure the handcuffs are double-locked. Assume the suspect has watched the many YouTube videos depicting how to escape handcuffs.

3. Sleep Deprivation

Officers are working longer shifts, spending more time in court and working extra jobs to make ends meet. Sleep deprivation will slow your response time, decrease your alertness and impair your judgment. Make sure you get plenty of sleep before you put on the uniform. If a criminal sees your weakness, he will exploit it.

4. Relaxing Too Soon

Offenders may act compliant in an effort to lull you into a false sense of security. The moment you relax is the moment they will attack. Do not let your guard down when dealing with a suspect. Stay alert and expect danger.

5. Missing Signs Of Danger

Far too often, an officer will miss the clues that should tip him off to impending peril. Pay attention to the body language of those at the scene of your call, as well as what they are saying. If you know what to look for, you can spot trouble before it hits.

Don’t forget to use your in-car computer to research the history of a call location prior to arriving. If you don’t have a computer—or time to check it—have dispatch do it. In some cases you might even be able to check the social media accounts of a known suspect to see if they’ve made statements of special concern.

6. Poor Positioning

Understand where you are and put yourself in a position of best advantage. Don’t park in front of the target address. Don’t use your flashlight indiscriminately. Know where cover is and what your avenues of escape are. As
time permits, use the Street View in Google Maps to help you plan an approach.

7. Ignoring Their Hands

Humans are tool users, and most suspects who try to hurt you will use some type of weapon. The hand is what pulls a trigger, holds a knife or throws a rock. Make sure suspects keep their hands visible and away from any unsearched areas.

8. Tombstone Courage

Do not take unnecessary risks. Sometimes you have to rush into a scene alone to save a life. On the vast majority of calls, you do not. If you have time, wait for backup and plan your approach.

9. Distractions

Devote 100 percent of your attention to the call you are on. Don’t play with your new phone or other gear. Don’t engage in idle conversation with your partner while still on the call. Work to improve your at-home life to reduce intruding preoccupation with finances and relationships. Seek out the employee-assistance program if needed.

10. Apathy

Thinking you’ve seen it all or that bad things can’t happen to you are just a few of the ways that apathy can manifest itself. Approach every shift with a fresh set of eyes and with the expectation that the unthinkable can happen to you. Apathy will cause you to commit all of the nine previous errors, and it is therefore the most deadly mistake on this list.

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