Is there anyone besides me who thinks we may have reached the point where “tactical” as a description of what we wear, carry and how we work is perhaps becoming just a bit overused? Or, in some cases, misused? Make no mistake of where I’m coming from. In addition to believing in the survival mindset, I’m a strong advocate for those things we can legally use and do that give us a “tactical” advantage when dealing with serious bad guys. I’m a bit concerned that in addition to being used as a marketing tool (justifying higher prices), the word “tactical” is giving too many cops a false, and thus potentially dangerous, sense of security as they go about their business.

Making Appearances

I recently watched a relatively new officer as he prepared to begin his patrol shift. His weapon was adorned with aftermarket tactical grips and a tactical light — great if they give him a better grip and he can see better in dark places. He was also wearing a very expensive pair of tactical boots, which again, is not a problem if they provide him with a higher level of protection.

Sticking out noticeably from behind his magazine pouches was a tactical knife … not a folder, but a fixed blade. I looked at it from the perspective of a potential adversary and thought how easy it would be for even an old guy like me to relieve him of it. I’ve always carried a knife on-duty and off; it’s easily accessible but its location is not advertised to a potential assailant.

Carefully enclosed in his external, tactical vest carrier was a 50′ piece of paracord and a couple of packs of blood clot material. I carry both too, but my paracord is on my wrist in the form of a survival strap. I’ve not had occasion to use either on-duty, but it’s better to have them and not need them than not have them in a moment of need.

Perched at a rakish angle atop the front of his head was a pair of what appeared to be rather expensive sunglasses. I actually asked him about those and he proudly told me they were ballistic rated and quite expensive. Whatever floats your boat I guess …

What Tactics?

Not an hour after this officer went into service I happened to be behind him on a main street in town; he activated his overhead emergency lights and made a traffic stop. It wasn’t until after he made contact with the driver and returned to his vehicle that he got on the radio and called in the stop. This department doesn’t have GPS-linked MCT’s allowing stops to be “called in” with the push of a button. I pulled in behind him and covered him until the stop was completed and he was back in service.

What I saw from this one young officer in the space of an hour got me thinking. The “tactics” he used (or didn’t use) on the traffic stop were dangerous. Is it possible with all the tactical accessories he was carrying he succumbed to the deadly sin of thinking all that stuff made him invincible? And if this were the case, how many other officers across the country subconsciously think that with the right amount and type of tactical equipment, tactical thinking and tactical planning aren’t as necessary as they once were?

Know The Difference

I made it a point to visit with the officer soon after the stop and asked him why he failed to call in the stop before he made it. His excuse was that the radio was busy. I reminded him the stop was for an equipment violation, thus there was no urgency in making the stop. He could’ve and should’ve delayed the stop for the few seconds it took for the air to clear. We discussed the tactics involved in safe traffic stops.

Perhaps tactics aren’t as glamorous as the tactical pen, light, boots, knife, etc. he’d invested so much money in. But, in the big order of things, all the tactical “stuff” in the world will do no good if tactical mindset and tactical decision-making are overlooked. You can’t buy good tactics and you should know the difference between “tactics” and “tactical.”

I regularly teach at a regional law enforcement training academy. I appreciate the opportunity to meet and talk with those entering this profession, which a few years down the road I’ll be leaving. I’m generally impressed by the enthusiasm, motivation and dedication of those just starting out, but I sense from many of them the same reversed priorities I observed in the officer on the traffic stop. Their focus of attention seems to be on “stuff”: What weapon? What retention holster? What patrol light? Which boots? Which gloves? All good questions, but I really wish they, and all the more experienced fellow cops, would focus on tactical thinking — first.

By Jerry Boyd