Tag Archive for: training

No doubt about it, police officers have a dangerous job. Sure, their training teaches them many ways to stay safe, but time passes and officers develop their own routines. Unfortunately, the “it won’t happen to me” mindset often tags along with a “routine.” As a result, well, sometimes unfortunate things happen when an officer lets down his guard and/or ignores his training.

No two calls are exactly the same. Events unfold differently. No two suspects act in the exact same manner. No two houses or businesses are exactly the same (layouts and furnishings differ). Vehicles and their occupants differ. Even the people with whom officers interact with on a daily basis behave differently from one day to the next—moods change, life events affect disposition, etc.

Cases and scenarios are never exactly like those taught and practiced in the academy. And, well, you get the idea—officers must be able to react appropriately to every single situation, even when they change course every few minutes or even as quickly as a fraction of a second.

So, using what they’ve been taught, combined with a handful of common sense, state, federal, and local law, and a boat load of department rules and regulations, officers go about their daily business of keeping people safe while enforcing the laws of their communities and states. Easy money, right?

After all, what could possibly go wrong if officers follow rules and the procedures they learned during training? Well … there is a slight problem. You see, police officers are human. I know, that’s a bit of eye-opening news. But it’s true. Let’s all say it together. POLICE OFFICERS ARE HUMAN. And what is it that humans do on occasion? That’s right. They make mistakes from time to time. We all do.

The problem with a police officer making a mistake, even a slight one, is that his error could result in the loss of a life, including their own. Think about that for a minute. We make a mistake like … oh, let’s say we slipped up and left a grocery bag on top of the car and then drove off spilling prune juice, Preparation H, and a couple of boxes of Depends along the way home. What’s the worst that could happen other than our neighbors learning about our pesky bowel troubles?

Police officers, however, make one little mistake, such as forgetting to load their gun after cleaning it, and the next thing they know they’re in a one-sided shootout.

So let’s explore a few things cops should NOT do. Here’s a list of ten.

1. When accepting a prisoner/suspect from another officer, NEVER assume the other officer conducted a thorough search. Always, Always, Always search every suspect before placing them inside your patrol vehicle, even if it was your captain or your training officer who delivered the prisoner to you.

2. Never assume a suspect is compliant, even if they seem meek and mild at the time of arrest. You never know what will set them off. Handcuff every suspect/arrestee, with hands behind the back, before placing them in your car.

3. Never give up during a fight. Remember, you WILL survive and you WILL win. No exceptions, even when the bad guy is bigger, meaner, and stronger … and green.


4. Never lose your temper. Remaining calm allows an officer to think through the situation. Knee-jerk reactions often occur during moments of anger, and knee-jerk reactions are not always, if ever, the appropriate response to the immediate situation. Be cool and your training and common sense will tell you what to do next.

5. Never allow anyone to invade your personal space. Keep them (especially criminal suspects) at least an arm length or more away from you. Any closer and you’ll not be able to react properly should an attack occur.

6. Never hold your flashlight in your “gun hand.” Doing so would prevent you from drawing your weapon should you need it in a hurry.

7. When knocking on a door, never stand directly in front of it. Doors do not stop bullets (the same is so for drywall, plywood, etc.).


8. Do not allow emergency situations to cloud your judgement and thoughts. This includes when at the local jail or other places where you’ve secured your weapon inside a lockbox while processing a suspect. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the scene of an intense shootout where you suddenly realize that you’ve left your gun at the county jail. As they say, been there done that, and I’ll never forget it. I was at the county jail booking a prisoner I’d arrested when an “officer needs assistance call” came spewing from my portable radio. A deputy had stopped a car driven by a wanted armed robber. I turned the prisoner over to the jail officers and rushed out to my car to head to the scene.

When I arrived I hopped out of my car and reached for my sidearm before we approached the vehicle. That’s when I realized that I’d I’d allowed adrenaline to overcome my thoughts and, well,  I’d left my gun in the lockbox at the jail. At that moment, the key to the lockbox in my pocket felt as if it then weighed a ton. Fortunately, though, I had a shotgun in the trunk of my car. Otherwise, I was completely useless to my fellow officer. By the way, “gun in the lockbox” faux pas happens quite bit.

9. Always use enough force to overcome a suspect’s resistance, but never use a level of force that’s unreasonable or too great as to cause unnecessary pain or injury. If a few strong words is enough to convince a suspect to allow an officer to apply restraints, then that’s all the force that should be used by the officer. However, if the subject is punching, head-butting, kicking, biting, scratching, and attempting to rip the officer’s gun from its holster while shouting “Ima kill you if I can get this gun,” then it’s time to use whatever force is necessary to stay alive. Remember, these situations can often erupt in a split second; therefore, there’s not time to stop and formulate a plan of action before reacting to the situation. It’s sometimes easy to overreact, which is why it’s so important for officers to receive regular training. But, with department budget and staffing shortages, extra training these days is often a luxury that’s not available in many areas.

10. Never, under any circumstance, give up/surrender your weapon. That’s NEVER, as in NEVER.

The sleepy and exhausted detective in the top photo is fingerprinting a suspect at 3:00 a.m. He’d worked around the clock the previous day to gather enough evidence to obtain a search warrant for a private residence. He and an entry team served the warrant around midnight the following night when the detective arrested the man for possessing and selling large quantities of cocaine. Do you see anything that’s wrong and/or absolutely unsafe?

How about safety rule #11 …


As police officers, we’re often presented with the opportunity to meet various celebrities and other important people. Sometimes, we’re even placed in the unfortunate position of having to arrest a few of those VIP’s.

For example, I once served as training officer to a rookie who stopped a large, fancy tour bus for speeding, and the officer was quite surprised to see one of his favorite musicians behind the wheel—a very famous musician. The singer/guitarist was quick to announce his identity, as if the verbal identification had been necessary, hoping his fame would be enough to satisfy the appetite of the officer’s squalling radar unit.

The still wet-behind-the-ears officer, totally starstruck, tongue-tied, and rubber-kneed in the presence of the legend of stage and Radioland, immediately knew what he had to do. That’s right, my babbling trainee, with the speed and grace of a wild cheetah, was quick to snag the driver’s autograph, and then send the celebrity and his bus on their way to the next concert on the tour. And, when the officer returned to our patrol car he was grinning from ear to ear, like a mule eating briars.

The rookie officer shoved the signature-clad paper into my hands so I, too, could have a look at his prize. Sure enough, scrawled across the bottom of the traffic summons was the signature of one of the all-time greats of the music world. A golden voice and fancy guitar, though, do not qualify as exemptions to posted speed limits, especially when driving 82mph in a 45mph zone. I’d taught the young officer well.

Of course, I’ve had my own share of encounters with well-known celebrities and other people of fame, and such was the case of the man from Mars who insisted his use of a rusty ax to hack his sister-in-law to death was a direct order from his superiors on the red planet.

“You see,” he told me, “she wouldn’t allow the mother ship to return to earth. I had no choice. She’s evil, you know. Besides, she wouldn’t give me no money for cigarettes.”

Then there was the time I responded to the call of a man walking in the median between the north and southbound lanes of a major interstate highway. When I finally located the man, I pulled my patrol car off the roadway and approached on foot. He stood waiting for me in the center of the median strip, in the soft light of a near full moon. My gaze was immediately drawn to his sandal-clad feet and long, wavy brown hair fluttering gently in the night breeze. He held out his right hand for me to shake and, in an unusually soothing and calm voice, introduced himself as …

I must admit, I paused for a second before moving along to serious questions, like, “Do you have any identification?” Of course, when I did ask, he gave me that look. You know the one. The “Seriously, you need to see MY identification?” look. Well, as luck would have it, the guy wasn’t the Son of God after all. Instead, he was a slightly out of touch homeless man from Richmond who actually thought he was Jesus. And to think that I could have been the first in line to meet Him when He returned.

Of course, there was Elvis, the rock and roll legend I had to remove from an elderly lady’s refrigerator once or twice each month so she could watch TV without the interruption of endless choruses of “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Not to mention how annoying it can be when Elvis slips in behind the cheesecake to steal our radio and TV signals.


Things could have been worse, I suppose. At least I never encountered one of today’s politicians. Although, I did stop the speeding car of a diplomat, and that was a can of worms I wished I’d not opened. And then there was the time I arrested a man who was wanted by the Secret Service and FBI for threatening to kill President Clinton.

If my handcuffs could talk … oh, the stories they could tell.

It’s been well over two decades since I and my narcotics K-9 partner attended our first day of school. We’d spend the next sixteen weeks together learning how to locate hidden drugs. However, my new partner was no stranger to the job since he’d already served as a narcotics dog with the U.S. Border Patrol. I’d served as a narcotics officer for quite a while, both undercover and as a detective. But this, having a four-legged partner, was a first for me.

We left home early that day, both freshly bathed with bellies full and hearts thumping with excitement.

I drove, of course, while the dog rode in a large crate secured in the rear compartment. I sensed his excitement during the ride by the way his thick tail steadily beat against the sides of the container.

When I turned off the main road, Midlothian Turnpike, just outside of Richmond Va., it was déjà vu all over again. Because directly in front of me was the training academy of the Virginia State Police. It is there where Va. State Police recruits attend 30 weeks of academic, physical, and practical training. After graduation from the academy, the new troopers report to their individual duty assignments across Virginia where each of them are required to spend an additional six weeks with a field training officer while learning their new patrol area.

The day my drooling pooch and I arrived the basic academy was in full swing, with recruits going about the daily grind associated with their training. I believe there were approximately 70 -80 recruits attending the academy at the time and they must have been nearing the end because a few dozen brand new, shiny blue and gray Va. State Police patrol cars were lined up in rows at the rear of the property.

I recalled the butterflies-in-the-stomachs experienced by recruits when they, as did I, saw waiting patrol cars, knowing they’d soon be assigned one, a car that would soon become their mobile office and sanctuary from evil. Seeing them parked there was also a sign that they’d made it. They’d endured 30 weeks of running, exercising, shooting, classroom and driver training, and running, running, running. Many were in the best physical shape they’d been in their entire lives. Their brains were overflowing with new knowledge and their nerve-endings pulsed with the electricity that fuels all rookie cops.

But, instead of heading to the main training academy buildings, I turned to the left and aimed my car to the area designated for K-9 training. This portion of the academy featured two sets of kennels capable of housing many dogs. One set was designated for patrol dogs, the mean and nasty biters. The other was a long, double row of covered kennels where the narcotics and explosive dogs would sleep and eat for the next 16 weeks.

I checked in with the lieutenants in charge and was assigned a kennel for my dog along with a stainless steel food dish and a rubber water bucket. A trooper showed me where the dog food was stored and told me that I was responsible for daily cleaning and hosing and scrubbing my dog’s quarters. We each rotated weekend duties, the feeding, watering, and cleaning of all kennels.

I would spend my nights in the barracks where my wakeup call was at 5 a.m.—lights on and a loud buzzer followed by the door being flung open by a sergeant who quite enjoyed shouting. This joyful eye-opener was immediately followed by barracks inspection, a quick shower, shave, and breakfast with the other K-9 handlers-in-training, as well as the academy recruits.

Our first morning was by far the easiest day of training. We spent it outdoors listening to our trainer, a lieutenant who provided a tour of the K-9 training grounds—obstacle courses, large and smaller fenced fields, classrooms, and even a building equipped as a letter and package processing facility, complete with long conveyor belts. This building was where we’d train our dogs to search packages as they breezed by on the conveyors and when stacked in tall, long rows. Yes, the dogs actually walked and ran on the conveyors while packages zipped by their keen noses.

K-9 Handlers Are On The “Dumb End” of the Leashes

The lieutenant then explained what we could expect during the next three months. He made sure we were aware that drug dogs are typically hyper and that they have four legs and prefer to use the full capability of those limbs. And that it was up to us to keep up with the animals, in spite of our handicap of having only two legs.

We were in no way to slow down the forward progress of our dogs. In other words, we were expected to run every day all day, without exception, for the duration of our training. If our dogs ran, we ran. And only when the dogs took a break were allowed to do the same.  Training for the dogs was fun. It’s a game to them and their end goal is to be rewarded for playing. Their treat … more playtime, and we were their sources of entertainment. Tug-of-war with a rolled up towel was their favorite activity, one that was enjoyed whenever they found hidden drugs. Therefore, they searched frantically knowing that if they succeeded they’d enjoy a session of towel-fun-time.

The lieutenant made certain that we knew to trust the noses and intelligence of our dogs, and that we were on the dumb end of the leash. Never try to force a dog to alert on something when you suspect it to contain narcotics. Always allow the dog do the work. They know what they’re doing. “Handlers are ALWAYS on the dumb end of the leash!” I heard that sentence at least a thousand times during the academy training

Run here, there, and everywhere!

I wondered why in the world, as a police detective who had his own air-conditioned office, a comfortable chair and substantial desk, clothing allowance, and who rarely had to run anywhere (that’s what rookies were for) … why did I ever request to attend this sort of punishment training. But no … I had to have my very own narcotics K-9. A dog who ran like The Roadrunner and was as hyper as Speedy Gonzales, the cartoon mouse.

We trained at the Richmond, Va. airport, searching for drugs in all passenger jets and luggage. We traveled to secret and quite secure government three letter agency facilities where we searched and cleared areas. Our transportation for those trips was a marked state police van pulling a long double-decker trailer containing forty individual compartments for our dogs—four rows of ten compartments, ten on top of ten on each side.

We ran everywhere we went and the dogs loved it. By the final week of training I’d lost 25 pounds.

The K-9 handler’s training academy was far tougher, physically, than regular basic police training. Not even close, actually. But I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. And, as a bonus, I had one of the best partners in the world.

And then, a couple of years later, I did it again. I had to have a patrol dog, a dog who tracked and was extremely skilled at suspect apprehension. So back to the state police academy I went, for another 16 weeks. This time, though, the training involved fast dogs with large, sharp teeth.

Running came easier this time around because the motivation to do so was greater. Instead of having our dogs on leashes out in front, we were given a head start before a handler sent a barking and snarling K-9 to bring us to the ground, by force. We also had to run for miles to hide somewhere so the dogs could find us. Tracking us across those distances was a fun game for them. For me, not so much.

By the way, bite suits are extremely hot and heavy, and some of the larger dogs had teeth that were able to penetrate them. I still have a few leftover scars to prove it.

Again, though, I’d gained another great friend.

Both dogs lived at our home.

The drug dog, a black lab, was funny and playful. The patrol dog was a very large Rottweiler who feared nothing. Well, he was a bit intimidated by our toy poodle, but tolerated her.

The dogs were a joy have in our household, all three of them. When I left police work the two police dogs retired along with me.

Now, sadly, all three are gone.

The 25 pounds is back, though, and then some.