In our very first training program, there were so many police officer safety issues that it almost boggled the mind.
It was In the Line of Duty series Volume 1 – Program 1, and to this day, more than 20 years later, it can still save cops’ lives, as it has since 1995. It is in your face proof that when the most garden variety officer safety tactics are discarded, even broad daylight stops can turn into horror stories in seconds.
In that program, circa 1995, a Georgia State Trooper (Benjy Hodges) had stopped a vehicle for speeding along infamous I-95.
He had approached the passenger in the front seat, and an officer from the county’s s.o. had gotten the driver out and was supposed to be monitoring him while Hodges dealt with the passenger.
It turned out to ultimately become the first officer involved shooting ever caught on tape in which a cop shot a subject.
When my partner (Don Marsh) and I first saw the cruiser cam video at the St. Louis PD’s Film and Police Video Unit, we just looked at each other and really didn’t say a word.
It was obvious that cruiser cam video was going to be a seismic shift in the way police officers were trained and educated. Video documented events will helps answer a critical questions: Does law enforcement in the US need improved training?
That single clip of crystal clear video of an officer involved shooting was mesmerizing to us, and we knew for a fact, that it would do the same for cops everywhere in the U.S.
In the Line of Duty series was effectively ‘born’ that day when we realized how very powerful it would be to combine law enforcement video with analysis and lessons learned from the actual police officers involved in critical incidents.
Now, depending on whom you talk to in law enforcement agencies, there are anywhere from three to 10, 20 or more officer safety rules of the road which should never be violated if a cop truly wants to get home safely to his family at the end of the shift.
There are dozens more in the subsets right below anyone’s top 10 (or however many).
For many years, Sgt. Richard Simpher was Line of Duty’s technical adviser, and he was as solid as it gets.
Over those years, Rich superbly analyzed many of the police videos we featured on our Line of Duty series programs, and he became so good, all we had to do was ‘wind him up’ and let him go.
He was the Energizer Bunny in human form—with a lot more energy and smarts.
I have learned that , at most, officer safety issues could be boiled down to 3 things:
- Never let your guard down on contact and cover
- Always watch deadly hands
- Always practice superb arrest and control tactics
If ever there was a police/ cruiser cam video where those officer safety tactics went down the toilet, it was the traffic stop Trooper Hodges made that sunny day on I-95. Not Trooper Hodges’ officer safety tactics but rather his back-up.
The police officer, a pretty near dead-ringer for Rod Steiger in “In the Heat of the Night” or Jackie Gleason in “Smokey and the Bandit” probably did the best he could.
However, it turned out to be such a harrowing performance as cover officer, to this very day, it will cause veteran cops to cringe and shout at the screen.
For, he lost any semblance of composure and focus, waffling back and forth from the subject he’d supine on the trooper’s cruiser hood and watching Trooper Hodges interact with the passenger. At one point, Trooper Hodges’ spidey senses had piqued, and he told the deputy that if the driver made a move to “shoot him”.
That seemed to further exasperate the deputy, and when you watch the cam video, you’ll clearly see that, as he’s turned towards Trooper Hodges, his gun and holster were literally in the driver’s face.
The holster itself was a Level Zero, and by that I mean there was no safety on the holster, and all anyone would have to do is grab it and shoot.
Two or three times, the driver looks at the gun and holster with the look of a ravenous wolf.
Any cop on earth, watching that video, would have zip, nada and zero doubt the salivating driver could have grabbed the gun, killed the deputy and, quite possibly, the trooper.
As far as ‘watching deadly hands’ is there a single veteran cop who would say that, as long as a subject’s hands are unrestrained, they COULDN’T be potentially deadly? Hmmmm?
There were also no arrest and control tactics, none.
So, when Trooper Hodges saw that the passenger had a gun on the console and told him (the passenger) not to go for it or he’d shoot him, you can only imagine how the deputy basically emulsified on the side of the road.
Trooper Hodges did end up shooting the non-compliant passenger, and somehow by dint or miracle neither officer was harmed. Still, complacency, confusion, utter lack of tactics could have made the outcome an ugly one.
Did I mention that the deputy was not wearing a vest?
That program will never fail to rivet police officers’ eyes and ears, and it is a living testament to Sgt. Simpher’s very astute observations.
In looking back, it’s amazing to me how many officer safety programs we have produced where Rich’s simple, yet profound observations continue to hit the old tenpenny nail square on the head.
I’ll have more to say about critical officer safety issues, so stay tuned, please.
Merry Christmas to one and all.
Ron Barber – Line Of Duty