We’re all human – and even very well trained humans still have human desires, needs, instincts that can be at odds with good strategies and tactics.
Last night on patrol with the Guardian Angels, I saw a handful of guys standing against the wall, with a handful of officers standing behind them. I moved about 50 feet away, and told my partner I’d like to see how they do what they do. The first thing I noticed was that as far as I could see, all the officers were a few feet behind the subjects, facing them. I couldn’t see any discernable “cover” officers – at least none I could see. Even if they existed, their value as visual deterrents were certainly lacking.
We also saw that a few of them had not been handcuffed, but were ordered to cross their arms at the wrists behind their backs. Every now and then the subjects “forgot” and let their arms hang down, and were reminded by the officers to re-cross them. If that’s a tactic taught to the officers, that’s totally fine with me. If they’re complying with orders, that’s a good sign.
Eventually a female officer arrived with her partner in another car, and they both ran up to assist somehow, and she was immediately put into a “cover” role, with her back to the wall, facing the crowd (which was building steadily). I was relieved to see that she was working her position … until a few folks wandered up and started talking to her – taking her attention from the crowd, and clearly into dealing with those few questioners.
One of the subjects too far for us to see clearly was making some noise, getting a little rowdy, and ended up with a few officers taking him to the ground for control. They seemed to do it well enough from what we could see. The trouble was that more officers arriving on scene went to help with that one takedown.
In total, we saw at least 20 police cars at the scene (and none seemed to be single-officer cars, indicating at least 40 officers on scene). At one point, we noticed an officer walk toward the scene with a bright-green shotgun slung over his shoulder, and realized it was time to move on out of the way.
We had probably gone less than 100 feet before we saw another police car pulled over, and a subject yelling the stereotypical “I didn’t do nothin’!” while clearly resisting their efforts to put him in the car. (Note: even if you didn’t commit a crime, you’ll almost always be better off complying and talking – even if you end up taking them to court for something later. There’s very little good that can even be imagined from physically resisting.)
Another car pulled up, and both officers from that car ran in to assist. That’s four officers facing one way, and a crowd building up behind them to watch. Sure enough, four more officers came running over from the original scene to assist with this one. We watched eight officers carry this one handcuffed guy into the car. I think I saw them get a leg hobble-style restraint on him once he was in the back-seat, so I’m assuming he was resistant beyond just the yelling.
What to Learn
It’s really, really tempting to “help” when you arrive at a problem. That’s especially true if your friends need assistance. I’ve heard of EMT training in which students fail tests by running up to help an unconscious victim before noticing that the victim was on top of a simulated downed power line. Adding yourself to the list of victims is not part of the ideal help you can offer.
Numbers Theory for Fights:
It’s absolutely true that three of four of us can more peacefully restrain a person than just one of us could. Alone, it’s possible that I’d have to use more violent force options to stop a resisting person: if I ask someone to stop some troublesome action, and he decides to swing at me, it’s likely that I’ll end up at least attempting to put him on the ground, whereas with a couple of partners, I could talk to the subject while they could each grab an arm, and escort him away – no strikes, no takedowns.
However, if I only have those two partners to help me, at least one of them should really NOT be involved directly with the subject. I absolutely want that “extra” person to stand back, and watch carefully. If I’m struggling with somebody, I likely won’t see his friends at all, and I certainly won’t notice some random person from the crowd who decides it’d be fun to shoot at some good guys, and pulls out a gun. My “cover” partner might notice that, and could alert me, possibly even taking action at that point to stop the threat from being as dangerous.
But it turns out that’s really hard to do! If I see my friend or patrol partner struggling with a potentially dangerous situation, my initial feeling is to jump in and help. I’d feel awful if they got hurt while I stood nearby, watching the whole thing. And that’s exactly what was happening with those officers last night, too. Nobody wants to “do nothing” while their partners are in danger.
The trouble is that we have to recognize the added danger they face without an overwatch of some kind. In most police training, that’s now called “cover” while the people engaged in actively working with a subject are called “contact”. This makes our lives a lot safer, but there’s a huge problem in getting people to do it.
My Solution Today
If we can incorporate into training the idea that the active, “contact” person will stop to ask their “cover” person for an update after certain predetermined actions, then their partner will more readily understand that they are indeed helpful in their role. Example: If we train to give an order to “turn around, hands behind your back” immediately followed by, “Partner, what’s the status?” Then our partners will immediately recall their role, and watch for any trouble, in order to give an answer. Maybe we then approach, cuff, search, and ask again. By formulaic addition of a question directed to the “cover” person, we will create their feeling of participation. This might be the missing link – I hope we’ll try it soon.