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Preparing for violent encounters

Imagine this: It’s two o’clock in the morning and you’re doing a row walk to make sure that everybody is still breathing. Your partner is actually watching you this time instead of preparing the court line paperwork or mulling over a Sudoku. You’re two-thirds of the way down a long row of 22 cells.

Up to this point, all the natives are on their racks apparently asleep…but you know better. You reach cell 17 and look inside. The new inmate you put away at the beginning of your shift is sitting on the bunk staring at you. You could tell from the first time you saw this guy that he was going to be trouble, not because he was mouthy or gave you an attitude—you know that’s mostly posturing when it happens. No, there was something just wrong about this guy. He said very little and seemed to go along with the program, but there was something flat about his demeanor. It was like his body was in custody, but the rest of him was still free in some dark place inside his head. You are about to ask him how he is when he stands up and walks toward the cell door and smiles at you.

It is not a friendly smile.

Just then, something that isn’t supposed to happen actually happens: the inmate slams the door with both of his hands and it swings open. He is less surprised than you are, and he is on you faster than you can imagine. The fight is on.

Could the above scenario happen? Well, as many of you know, a version of this might have already happened to you or one of your partners. In the moment when you suddenly find yourself on the other side of the cage with the lion, the only resources you have are the ones that you bring with you.

So just what do you have? Are you mentally prepared? Have you practiced and trained for this possibility? And just what tools do you have ready access to – and how familiar are you with them? The question is, are you more like Batman or Barney Fife?

Prepared _____________ Unprepared

I grew up in the 1960s. Adam West’s ‘60s Batman may have been campy, but there he had everything on his utility belt ready to use in a pinch, and he always knew how to use his equipment.

On the other hand, Don Knott’s Deputy Barney Fife was another matter. He was the poster boy for the overeager and inept. He was unfamiliar with his tools and his decision making skills were so weak that his boss only trusted him with one bullet for his gun.

Batman was slick, cool, always prepared, and had the right tool for every occasion. Barney was overconfident and incompetent with all his tools—a very dangerous combination. Individuals like Batman are rare in our profession, although there are a few. Nobody thinks of themselves as a Barney, but we all may have a few Barney tendencies.

Laziness and incompetence are especially dangerous if you are a supervisor because these can put your staff at risk.

Take the short test below and see whether your level of preparedness is closer to Batman’s or Barney’s. Hopefully, you will like the results.

1. Do you mentally prepare for violent encounters? This includes visualizing success and employing good self-talk.

2. Are you keeping yourself in good physical shape, including a workout program that includes a cardio-vascular component so you will have endurance?

3. Do you check your tools before starting each shift to be certain that they are working properly? Do you carry all the tools your facility permits and are they where you can access quickly?

4. Do you always carry a radio with you? Do you make sure it is working and verify that the battery is charged?

5. If you have the opportunity to carry a TASER or other less lethal tool, do you do so? Is it with you at all times?

6. Do you make sure you have backup when required and always escort inmates with the staffing ratio prescribed by your facility?

7. Do you plan your security walks and consider avenues of escape should they be necessary?

8. Do you play the “What if...” game with your partners and talk through possible force scenarios?

9. If you are a supervisor, do you trust your personnel enough to carry the less lethal tools they need, or are they locked in an armory and only deployed in an “emergency”?

10. As a supervisor, do you conduct frequent drills and training with your personnel in emergency response and hostage situations?

How did you do? Those who answered “yes” to the majority of the questions are the individuals most likely to come out of a dangerous scenario with the least injury.

As line officers, it is your job to be ready at all times. Complacency is a killer. As supervisors and managers, it is your job to make sure that your people get the tools and training they need to do their job safely. In tough economic times, training is usually one of the first things to be cut. Unfortunately, failure to train is also one of the first things that we are sued over after an incident goes sideways. Find a way to keep your people ready. Keep yourself ready. Inmates have nothing but time to think, plan and prepare. Be ready for them.

Stay safe.

Lieutenant John J. Stanley, M.A., is a twenty-seven year veteran of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. He has worked a variety of assignments including, custody, patrol, training and administrative support. He is considered an expert on less lethal weapons and tactics. He provided corrections scenarios for the Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University and contributed to its on-line Less Lethal Weapons class. John spent over a decade at LASD’s Custody Training Unit teaching classes such as Tactical Communications, Jail Intelligence Gathering, Tactical Weapons, Squad Tactics and Cell Extractions. John also was the lead instructor for LASD’s Custody Incident Command School (CICS) a class designed for sergeants and lieutenants and the Executive Incident Command School (EICS) for captains and above. He is a member of the California Tactical Officers Association and has published almost forty articles on law enforcement tactics and legal history.