After more than two decades in police work, I sometimes struggle not to get complacent on patrol. After you have conducted thousands of traffic stops and, most of the time, nothing bad has occurred, you may not use as much caution as you once would have. After checking your 500th false burglar alarm, do you find yourself nonchalantly checking a business or a residence?
I have heard similar stories from other cops over the years.
There were times I wasn’t as switched on as I should have been during a traffic stop or other incident. When I recognize that, I try to raise my awareness and keep it that way immediately. But then, complacency slowly creeps back in.
So, what can we do to prevent complacency creep? A little mental preparation can help. I will visualize an event, usually a worst-case scenario, and how I will respond. For example, what will my reaction be when I attempt to stop this car, and the driver immediately gets out with a firearm? Do I approach the vehicle? What if they drive off? Doing this keeps the worst-case scenarios fresh in my mind and keeps me on my toes during patrol. And hopefully creates a slightly quicker response to this problem since I’ve already gamed it in my mind.
Oddly, I have some things so ingrained I never forget to do them. I always take my seatbelt off before getting to where I am going. I even do this in my car if my wife is lying waiting for me when I get home. My patrol rifle and shotgun are always accessible, and I check them every payday for lube, problems, battery, etc. I change the batteries in my optics and flashlight every time I change the clocks. I keep my flashlight in my weak hand and carry a spare light with me. I wear my vest and carry a backup gun.
One instance of a positive outcome – I responded to an attempted burglary in a neighboring town. We have checked numerous buildings throughout our careers, and they are rarely, if ever, an actual burglary. I arrived at the address, a real estate office in a senior citizens community. This community had its own public safety officers who are EMT-trained security guards. They had found an office door that had been partially pried open. The alarm had gone off an hour earlier, but the security officers could not respond because of a medical call. The town police were tied up on a fatal wreck and asked for a state trooper (me) to check the building. While walking the exterior of the building looking for signs of forced entry or damage, I would usually check the property surrounding the building. As I swept the area with my flashlight, I noticed a tree with arms rather than branches. At least, it looked like it had arms because a person was trying to hide behind the tree, and his arms were sticking out both sides of the tree. He was arrested and later admitted to attempting to break into the office. Had I just walked around the building and not been looking and paying attention, I might have missed him hiding in the woods.
If you become complacent on patrol or in police work, try a bit of worst-case-scenario planning. You could run through possible issues with your wingman. If you can teach, or be a role player for, recruits, take it. You may find that it helps.
What other things have you tried that worked in keeping complacency at bay?