Pucker Factor. Two simple words that, when spoken separately, have truly harmless meanings.

1. Pucker: a rounded shape by folding or wrinkling, such as puckering your lips.

2. Factor: an element contributing to a result.

But, when those two words are combined into a single phrase they take on a whole new meaning, a meaning that now refers to the instant tightening of a particular southerly body part.

It’s odd, but when you consider the usual function of that persnickety body part, things like “early warning system,” “saving lives,” and “draw your weapon,” don’t normally come to mind. Actually, even in a puckered state one wouldn’t normally associate those things with that tiny muscle. No sir, not at all.

“Drawing” a service weapon

However, ask a cop his first reaction to the instant puckering of the factor muscle and he’ll probably tell you that he’d draw his service weapon, prepare to fight, or do whatever it took to stay alive because danger is present.

Yes, the Pucker Factor is indeed a cop’s early warning system. It causes rapid heart rate, sweating and, hopefully, an immediate reflex action that causes the officer to revert to his/her training, because reasoning skills are greatly diminished during a Pucker Factor incident.

The “pucker factor” sometimes causes strange reactions.

For police officers, the Pucker Factor can be triggered by a number of events, usually all danger-related. For example, a traffic stop at night where the suspect reaches for a firearm in the glove compartment, or while searching a vacant building for a wanted person the crazed suspect pops out of a closet and charges the officer with knife in hand. Even a radio call directing an officer to the scene of a shots-fired call can bring on an onset of PF.

So what can an officer do to reduce the possibility of encountering PF-inducing situations? Here are 5 ways to decrease the dreaded PF’s.

1. Wear your seat belts, and SLOW DOWN! Losing control of a patrol car while responding to an in-progress call is one of the top causes of PF. Remember the first time you “fishtailed” at 85mph? How about rounding a curve at 90 during a pursuit and meeting a car driving on the wrong side of the road?

Both 9’s on the PF scale.

2. Never assume that people see your blue lights and heard the siren. This happens all the time … officers, while running lights and siren to answer an emergency call, pull over to pass a car and suddenly the vehicle in front drifts over into the passing lane to make a left turn. They didn’t have a clue that the police car was there because the driver was (a) talking on a cell phone, (b) drunk, (c) daydreaming, (d) were playing their radio at peak volume and never looked in the rear-view mirror, etc. And, let’s not forget the person who slams on brakes when they realize a police car is behind them.

Vehicle suddenly pulls in front of you or slams on brakes.

PF score of 7.

3. Patience. Take the time to assess the possibilities that could occur during a traffic stop or while answering a call. Is the suspect wanted? Did you run the plates through NCIC to see if the car was stolen? Is the guy sitting on the couch agitated? On drugs? Why is he sweating profusely? Where are his hands? Run all the checks before diving in any situation!

You’re in a hurry because your shift ends in fifteen minutes, so you skip running the guy through the system. Result? He’s wanted for armed robbery and decides killing you is better than going to prison. He pulls a gun from his waistband. PF score of 10.

4. Never operate on the assumption that everyone will do the right thing or obey your commands. Not everyone respects the badge and your authority. So keep your guard up and be prepared to use force every single time you respond to a call. That pretty young woman in the mini-skirt, or the handsome man in the business suit? They can fight, shoot, stab, and cut as well as anyone.

Pretty girl who catches you by surprise by pulling a gun from her purse while yours is still holstered because she had gorgeous eyes and really long legs … PF score 8. Stupid score = 10.

5. No ambush. No ambush. No ambush! Always plan an escape route!

You get a call at 3 am. It’s a “female needs assistance” call. She’s in an alley that has only one way in. You wave off backup and head in thinking it’s “only a girl.” Suddenly, a car pulls in behind you and shots are fired. The girl’s boyfriend is a cop-hater you arrested a year ago. He served nine months in the county jail and spent 8 of those months planning his revenge.

PF score 10.

Police officers are human and they, like most people, want to see the good in others. Unfortunately, that “good” is becoming more and more scarce with each passing day, while PF instances are constantly on the rise. I guess the real trick to reducing pucker factor instances is using commonsense, not taking chances, and attending regular training.

Remember officers (both real and fictional) – Always watch the hands!

3 replies
  1. Shane Gericke
    Shane Gericke says:

    I intend to join your merry crew as soon as my body quits betraying me! I’ve been through a couple of these police academies and they’re very informative and fun, but it’s been more than a decade and high time for a refresher course. Doing it with my writer buddies would be fun.

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Good points, Shane, and I certainly understand where you’re coming from. But, keep in mind that officers don’t simply walk up to people and start yelling commands … unless the situation is already at that point when they arrive (an armed person, someone is combative, etc.).

    In normal situations (traffic stop, etc.) the person merely needs to obey what the officers says, sign and accept the ticket, and it’s over. It’s when people become argumentative and agitated that officers become defensive and rightly so. They do not have a clue what the person is going to do. Officers typically first try to talk the person down. They don’t want to fight any more than you or I do.

    Fighting is not fun. Neither is being stabbed or shot at (been there). But things can go wrong so fast (quicker than the blink of an eye) that … well, you just have to be in their shoes to understand. And I agree, it would be ideal for officers to able to calm everyone down who becomes agitated, but some people do not want to participate in civility.

    Shane, I wish you could attend the WPA just one time. We’d place you in these situations and believe me, it’s an eye-opener you’d never forget.

    Better yet, let’s start a conference that focuses on teaching about police procedures and how to interact with police. Police officers already receive tons of training on interacting with the public, but they could attend and learn from the non-police attendees. Oh wait, I just described the Writers’ Police Academy.

  3. Shane Gericke
    Shane Gericke says:

    Nice list, Lee. From a citizen, not officer’s, point of view, I would strongly urge officers to combine Nos. 3 and 4. People who don’t instantly obey your commands–particularly if barked like a drill sergeant or announced at gunpoint!–are not necessarily doing it to be jerks, criminal, or disrespectful. They can just as easily be frightened, panicked, brain-freezed, or at loss for words because they’ve never been stopped by the police. It’s not up to the citizen to calm things down, because they don’t know WTF is going on unless you tell them. The officer is in charge of the situation, and needs to be patient and explain the situation calmly and with humor instead of getting angry when a citizen appears to start “disobeying.” Patience in understanding what a police encounter is like for most Americans, who haven’t been in one before, is critical to get both sides through the day unscathed.

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