Tag Archive for: officer safety

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.

However, when those two words are combined into a single phrase they take on a whole new meaning, a meaning that 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. Nope, not at all.

“Drawing” a service weapon

However, ask cops about their first reaction to the instant puckering of the factor muscle and they’ll probably mention drawing their service weapon, preparing to fight, or do whatever it took at that moment to stay alive, because danger was imminent.

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 related to threats and a crisis at hand. 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. Officers, 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 10’s on the PF 1-10 scale.

2. Never assume that people see your blue lights and heard the siren. This happens all the time—while running lights and siren to answer an emergency call, officers change lanes 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 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. 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 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 into any situation!

You’re in a hurry because your shift ends in fifteen minutes, so you skip running the subject’s name 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 each person encountered 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 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.

The woman who catches you by surprise by pulling a gun from her purse while your firearm is still holstered … 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 driver of the car that blocked you in the alley, the person who’s sending a barrage of 9mm rounds in your direction, is the young woman’s boyfriend, the 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, reminding constantly aware of your surroundings, and attending regular training.

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

“Shots fired! Officer down! We’re taking rounds from somewhere but we don’t know where! It’s a set up. Send help. Now!”

Ambush. It’s a nightmare scenario for police officers, and it’s a nightmare that’s difficult to predict. It’s also a nightmare that’s nearly impossible to avoid because when people call and say they’re in trouble, well, the police have to respond. It’s what they do and the bad guys know this and they use it to their advantage.

However, there are some things officers can do to protect themselves. Like assessing all situations before plowing in head first. But that’s just plain old common sense.

The best avenue for safety is to think like the bad guys. Be creative. How would a crook set up an ambush? What are some scenarios that would lure a police officer into the spider’s lair?

Well, this should all come as second nature for a cop. After all, police officers ambush bad guys all the time, and they’re quite good at it too. But most officers probably never considered that ambush is one of their best tactics.

Let’s compare a crook’s ambush plan to a police officer’s plan of attack when arresting a dangerous suspect. Any similarities?

1. Good guys –  Police officers gather intelligence on the suspect before moving in.

Bad guys – Study the habits of their police officer target before making a move.

2. Good guys – Before attempting to arrest a dangerous suspect try to get him alone, away from partners.

Bad guys – Before attempting to kill a highly-skilled police officer try to get him alone, away from his partners.

3. Good guy – When making the arrest always be in charge. Go! Go! Go! Stay on the offensive.

Bad guy – Don’t wait for the target to make a move. Be aggressive. Go! Go! Go!

4. Good guy –  Get the suspect on your turf and terms. Maintain control of arrest/take down location.

Bad guy – Get the cop off balance. Take him out of his element. Call 911 and report a crime in a deserted area. Maintain control of kill zone.

5. Good guy – Always find and use cover. Stay protected.

Bad guy – Stay hidden. Never expose your location.

6. Good guy – When the time is right go with all your might. Take ’em down fast and hard.

Bad guy – Cut him no slack. Take him out, fast.

So, you see, a cop’s arrest planning and execution is quite similar to a crook’s planning and execution of an ambush. Cops should definitely use this “inside” knowledge to help protect themselves against an attack.

What’s the best defense against an ambush?

1. Always assume that someone could be waiting to ambush you. Don’t take a risk to save time, or because it seems foolish to take an extra precaution. Being teased by fellow officers is much more appealing than having your kids grow up with only memories of a parent.

2. Habits are costly. Never stick to a routine. Change the route you to take to work/home. Don’t eat at the same restaurant every day. Don’t sit in the same booth. Don’t stop at the same coffee shop on the way to work each morning. Don’t jog the same path after work.

And never, ever sit with your back to the door. Always, always, always sit where you can see all entrances and exits. If possible, have a quick look at everyone who enters. Note their body language and demeanor.

3. Don’t enter locations/situations with only one way out. Always have a retreat strategy and plenty of backup.

4. Look for things and places you can use for cover BEFORE you need it.

5. Go with your gut. If that extra cop sense tells you not to go, then don’t. Wait for back up. A cop’s instinct is usually on the money, so believe in it. Trust your gut and trust your training!

Finally, it’s not your job to be a hero. Your duty is to protect the public. Besides, a dead hero is never anything more than, well, dead.

Let’s see how well you do with a common scenario that officers often encounter. Good luck, and remember the tips above.


The call is at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The caller, a Mrs. Munster, reported that her husband has been feeling a bit green with jealousy and has threatened her with a gun several times during the past few days. In fact, he’s waving one around right now, she says, and tells the dispatcher to please hurry before he kills somebody.

Officers respond. A neighbor meets them at the curb, telling them she heard lots of screaming, yelling, glass breaking, and what she thought was a gunshot. The patrol cops thank the neighbor and ask her to go home where she’ll be safe. Then they knock on the Munster’s front door.

Ms. Lilly Munster answers (she has a black eye) and says her gun-waving husband is now calm and is in the bedroom watching his favorite television show, COPS. She says everything is okay and then invites them inside to have a look. But she seems nervous. Very nervous.

What should the officers do? Immediately go inside to speak with Mr. Munster? Wait for back up and then storm the house? Order Mr. Munster outside? What about Mrs. Munster? What happens to her?

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Obviously, officers cannot predict and/or prevent every bad situation. But using caution, training, and common sense are crucial elements of living to see another day.

Thanks to author Kendra Elliot for allowing me to photograph her during her time at the Writers’ Police Academy firing range. That’s Kendra at the right (and above), taking aim. I was not harmed even though Kendra is a crack shot. Of course, the rifle was not loaded nor was I standing in the line of fire. Instead, we’re simply good at staging photos.

Also on the WPA firing line was author Melinda Leigh (below left). Both she and Kendra are longtime loyal sponsors of the event and we deeply appreciate their continued support.


Officers must be on high alert at every moment during each and every traffic stop. Actually, they must remain in that heightened state of “ready for anything” from the moment they activate their blue lights until the stop is complete and they’re back in the safety of their patrol cars and the stopped vehicle is on its way..

After all, officers never know what to expect. A driver could be wanted for a serious crime, such as murder or rape or threats against the lives of police officers. Is he carrying dangerous drugs or other contraband? Is he armed? Are there explosives in the car? Is this an ambush? Suicide by cop? The list goes on and on.

Police academy instructors teach recruits how to be safe. They set up mock exercises simulating scenarios that officers could encounter once they hit the streets. Role-playing is a big part of academy training. Still, all the training in the world cannot cover every real-life situation. No two traffic stops are the same, nor are any two calls.

In spite of the intense training, traffic stops are one of the most dangerous duties of police work. There are many unknowns. Too many. And the danger level is amplified many times when stopping a car at night.

Imagine that it’s 2 a.m. and you’re patrolling a lonely stretch of highway when you spot a black SUV parked on the shoulder of the road. Headlights and brake lights are both on. The driver, of course, has his foot on the pedal, meaning at least one person is inside the vehicle.

You pull in behind the car and flip the toggle switches to activate your blue strobes and takedown lights (to let them know you’re a police officer and to illuminate as much of the area as possible). *See bottom of page for more takedown lights.

Then, after sizing-up the situation, you step outside and immediately hear loud music blaring from the car’s speakers. The car’s windows are tinted black and you can’t see inside, but the motions of the vehicle tell you people are moving around.

To make things even worse there’s no moonlight or streetlamps. For all you know, the driver and an unknown number of passengers could be pointing machine guns at you. Your nearest backup is a good twenty minutes away. Believe me, it’s unnerving, to say the least.

Each officer has his/her own way of doing things and they often develop routines to help avoid missing details. The officer in the picture above, for example, has positioned her patrol car on an angle to the roadway, with the front tires also angled out toward the street. Any idea why she chose do park her patrol car in such a way?

Patrol car parked on an angle

Patrol car parked on angle with wheels pointed out.

She has her left hand on the trunk of the car. Why not her right hand? She’s looking ahead at the passing car while keeping the driver in her line of vision. She’s standing a certain way. Actually, it appears that she’s doing everything right. Good for her, because she had no idea a photographer was behind her. We were pretty sneaky.

Hand on the trunk

Left hand on trunk lid. Right hand free. Body angled as well.

Wait a minute. If a camera-toting writer and her supervisor could sneak up behind her … well, why couldn’t a cop killer do the same? The answer is yes, and it’s extremely important hat officers remain aware of all surrounding while approaching a car and while dealing with the driver, passengers, traffic, pedestrians, etc.

Okay, enough of my rambling. It’s time to put the shiny shoe on the other foot. I’m asking each of you to tell me why the officer decided to do the things she’d done. And, is there anything else she could have done to ensure her safety?

Remember, she wants to go home at the end of her shift, and she wants to make it there without any bullet holes perforating her body.

Light Bar

The light bar on the vehicle’s top features white takedown lights (front), and side alley lights. These lights are merely white spotlights that’re used to illuminate specific items, or people, during traffic stops and other situations. Alley lights can be switched on to illuminate areas to the side of the patrol car, allowing the officer to see down alleyways, inside store windows and door areas, yards of residences, etc. An excellent tool for patrol officers.

Takedown lights


Alley lights

In addition, they have use of a movable spotlight that’s mounted to the driver’s side between the doorframe and windshield. Officers sometimes store an extra set of cuffs on the spotlight control arm.

Here’s an interesting point to note for writers who’re searching for a bit of flavor to a scene.

While driving along, especially on bumpy and curvy roads, etc., there’s a constant “click” of metal tapping metal as the handcuffs hanging from the spotlight arm sway with the motions of the car. After a while, though, the noise is “tuned out” and simply becomes a part of the cacophony of sounds inside the patrol vehicle—constant police radio chatter, FM radio station, the drunk yelling and singing from the backseat, and even a partner going on and on about his kids or the big fish he caught, or the mangled dead body they’d discovered at a crash scene earlier in the night.

The light bar is also equipped with red and/or blue emergency lights. Some light bars are equipped with speakers for the siren (siren horns are also mounted behind the front grill). Other light bars contain hidden radar antennas. The positioning and style of light bars depend on the individual department policies.

Light colors and the combination thereof may be dictated by state or local law. Such as, in Virginia:

Code of Virginia

§ 46.2-1022. Flashing or steady-burning blue or red, flashing red and blue or blue and white, or red, white, and blue warning lights.

Certain Department of Military Affairs vehicles and certain Virginia National Guard vehicles designated by the Adjutant General, when used in state active duty to perform particular law-enforcement functions, Department of Corrections vehicles designated by the Director of the Department of Corrections, and law-enforcement vehicles may be equipped with flashing, blinking, or alternating blue, blue and red, blue and white, or red, white, and blue combination warning lights of types approved by the Superintendent. Such warning lights may be of types constructed within turn signal housings or motorcycle headlight housings, subject to approval by the Superintendent.Law-enforcement vehicles may also be equipped with steady-burning blue or red warning lights of types approved by the Superintendent.

Please help me

I need your help. I’m desperate. Truly desperate.

Our daughter has been in an exhaustive battle with cancer for just over a year. She’s a real fighter and her last scan showed no signs of the disease. Excellent news, believe me. A miracle, actually, But her troubles didn’t stop there. She’s still very ill and weak and is suffering greatly from the effects of chemo and radiation.

Hospital, doctor, and pharmacy bills are over the moon. She just received two bills totaling over $13,000, her part of the bill after insurance paid theirs. Ellen’s family is experiencing a financial crisis. In addition to the cancer-related expenses, she had surgery on both eyes this week, and their home and property experienced damage during the recent hurricane. Part of that damage caused their septic system to fail. They now must use a port-a-john that’s situated at the end of their drive way. They pump water from their bathtub and sink using a sump pump. Having cancer woes is bad enough, but to have to go outside to an outhouse in the middle of night during the winter is awful.

Paying everyday bills along with the mountain of medical bills and insurance premiums is a juggling act just to keep utilities working and switched on.

Now it’s Christmas time, Ellen’s favorite time of the year. She cherishes it, actually. She missed last Christmas due to treatments. She has no memory of it at all. The same for much of the past year.

This year she’s well enough to enjoy the holidays. However, her husband, who’s the sole wage-earner, has been working reduced hours and, as a result, they often have to supplement his pay so that their health insurance will continue. Yes, he’s actually paying the company because he’s not earning enough to cover insurance. His company had to reduce hours because they make parts for GM vehicles and, as you’ve probably heard, GM is closing plants and laying off workers. Having to pay to work at the company means there’s no money for food, heat, water, gas, etc. Sometimes it’s less than no money.

They have a teenage son who’s trying to help out, but he missed two months of school after the hurricane destroyed much of his school.

Their gym and training area is still closed, meaning he and his teammates have no place to train and to prepare for matches with competing schools.

Tyler’s longterm goal is to earn a wrestling scholarship so he can attend college. He’s aware of the devastating effect that cancer has been on family finances. His sights are also set on the Olympics.

So, like a true champion, he borrowed mats from his coach and rolls them out in his backyard where he and a few of his teammates practice on their own time and as often as they can.

Tyler, a true champion, recently first place at the Swiss Bear Wrestling Classic. He won the 170 title match via a 52-second pin over the final competitor. Last weekend he won the gold in his weight class at the massive Beast of the East wrestling tournament. 178 wrestlers competed with only 14 winning the top spots.

Ellen and her family are true fighters but currently they’re at the bottom of a very large and extremely steep hill. With nowhere else to turn for help I’ve come to you. So if you can, please. No amount is too small or large. Anything to help them at least experience a good Christmas.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Please click here to contribute (it’s Ellen’s GoFundMe page).

Ellen, my sweet little girl. Always.


How could feeding a pet lead to police searching your home, without a warrant? Well, let’s look at the case of Greg Imakiller, a serial murderer who’d eluded capture for a long time until a sharp police detective figured out an end-around way to gain access to the bad guy’s house. Here’s how it went down, followed by supporting law. And, by the way, this is a cool thing to feature in a work of fiction.

The Case

Greg Imakiller is a person interest in a string of homicides in and around Usedtabsafe, Delaware, a tiny town a short car drive over from Philadelphia. Detectives in Usedtabsafe had their eye on Imakiller for several months, watching his every move. They’d learned he follows a strict weekly routine. They made notes and I was lucky enough to get my hands on them. Here’s a copy.

Case File #666

Surveillance – Greg Imakiller

Reporting Investigator – Bucky B. Watchin

Monday is Imakiller’s day for feeding the ducks in the Quacky Park Pond. Tuesdays he hangs out at the gym where he mercilessly and unsuccessfully flirts with Donna Darlin, the shapely redheaded receptionist. Wednesday is the day reserved for eight hours at the town library to make eyes with Rhonda Reads, the chief librarian. Again, he has no luck. And, he receives a parking ticket for overstaying the time limit in the spot.

Thursday he visits his mother, Beretta Imakiller, at the state prison where she’s serving time for a bank heist. Beretta and her coconspirator, Betsy Rimfire, robbed the Third Eighth Bank over on Sycamore. The pair was caught two hours later while counting the loot—less than a thousand George Washingtons—in the parking lot of a nearby pancake joint.

Each Friday, Greg Imakiller sits on a bench seat inside the shopping mall where he people-watches and whistles at young girls as they pass by. He does this from 10 A.M. until noon at which time he purchases two corn dogs, a large order of onion rings, and a Cherry Coke. After lunch he moves to the second floor of the mall in front of the “As Seen on TV” store to do more people watching and catcalling. He’s back at home in time to catch the 5 P.M. airing of Judge Judy. He adds another parking ticket to his collection for overstaying the limit in his favorite spot out on the street.

Saturday he mows the lawn and does handyman-type stuff around the house. Saturday nights are for partying at the Jiggly-Wiggly Gentleman’s Club. There, he’ll drink until his eyes spin or until the bouncers toss his butt outside for getting a little too touchy-feely with the nearly topless women who bring him watered-down twelve-dollar-each mugs of  beer.

Sunday is football day. He sits in front of a big flatscreen eating corn nuts, cooked-from-frozen pizzas, drinking can after can of PBR, and farting so loudly that it nearly pops the eardrums of my partner whose listening in on the bug we planted in a lamp made from a lower-leg prosthesis that sits on the end table that holds the bowl containing the corn nuts and beer cooler. We heard rumors that he’d taken the wooden leg as a souvenir from a guy he whacked back in the sixties. Had an electrician friend turn it into a lamp a couple of weeks later.

You could set your clock by his routine, including the two things he does every single morning. One, he smokes a single cigarette at 7:45 A.M., sharp. Two, he feeds his pet iguana at 8:04, on the dot, immediately after the three minutes it takes him to puff on the Lucky Strike and then stomp out the remaining burning butt on the concrete stoop.

We needed more evidence relating to Imakiller’s latest homicide. We knew he was good for it but our crook-loving judge wouldn’t grant a search warrant. Here’s how Imakiller’s pet iguana helped solve the case.

We decided to make our move at 8:03 because we had to catch him outside, but near enough to the house so the plan would work. Using the unpaid parking tickets as probable cause, we obtained a warrant for his arrest. It was a BS arrest, but it was worth a shot

With no hope of obtaining a search warrant to look for the murder weapon, at 8:03 A.M., on a Monday morning, my partner and I, with misdemeanor arrest warrant in hand, walked up the sidewalk and placed Greg Imakiller under arrest and cuffed him. Hands behind the back.

Imakiller cried and screamed and struggled and squawked until he finally quit squirming after realizing we meant business. Then he yelled for his attorney, of course.

As we slowly (stalling a bit) walked him toward our unmarked surveillance van, Imakiller asked if he could feed Ruben, his pet iguana, before we took him to jail to wait for his high-priced attorney to get him out. It worked. The plan was in motion.

We took Imakiller to his front door, still handcuffed, of course, and we stepped inside the home. Yes, we were in.

Imakiller told us he kept Ruben’s food in his bedroom, in a closet. I took him here there, looking over the house as wet. So did my partner. In the bedroom, we observed a pistol on the nightstand, one that matched the caliber used in the murders. We also saw photos of the murder victims tacked to a wall. On the floor were items taken from the murder scenes.

Bingo. Case solved and all without a search warrant, and all because of a hungry iguana.

Why is the Search Legal?

First, Courts have ruled that, incident to arrest, officers do not need a warrant to conduct a search of a person and the immediate area around them, including containers.

The premise is that officers have the right to protect themselves by searching for weapons and to guard and preserve evidence that the suspect might attempt to destroy.

These absolutely legal warrantless searches include vehicles, homes, offices, etc. Anywhere a subject is arrested is fair game.

See – Chimel v. California (click here)

The same is so in a situation such as in the case of our fictional Greg Imakiller. The moment he asked to go back inside his home to feed his pet iguana, knowing the officers must at that point accompany him, was an invitation for them to enter his home. Therefore, anything in plain view is subject to seizure by officers.

Th choice was either let the officers inside, or to allow Ruben’s stomach to start growling from hunger. Well, Ruben was the apple of his eye, so Ruben and his hungry belly won. Imakiller was not as fortunate.

However, had Imakiller not asked to go back inside, officers could not have legally entered the home.

Searching Cellphones

An exception to the rule is a cellphone.

Since cellphones are not “typical containers—cigarette packs, boxes, luggage, tupperware, etc.—” something that officers may search incident to arrest, police must obtain a search warrant to examine the device.






No. 13–132. Argued April 29, 2014—Decided June 25, 20141