Weapons of opportunity in community corrections
Sit on both sides of the desk to assess the potential hazards in your office
A weapon of opportunity can be defined as any readily accessible hand-held object made of metal, wood, plastic, glass, ceramic, or any other materials capable of causing injury or even death.
Ask any veteran correctional officer and they will tell you that a well-educated inmate can turn almost anything they touch into a weapon.
Let us not forget that in a correctional setting, inmates are limited to just a few common items. Place those same people in an everyday location – your probation office – with common everyday items, and they have an arsenal at their disposal.
Improvised edged weapons
An improvised-edged weapon can be created from common objects, such as a soda can or a ceramic coffee mug. Objects with an edge or a point capable of making a puncture wound can be created from everyday objects. Common office items come to mind, such as letter openers, thumbtacks, nails, pens, scissors, pencils and broken glass from picture frames or coffee pots.
As a general rule, if a client can lift it with their hands, there is a high probability the item can become an impact weapon of opportunity. Magazines, case files and even several sheets of paper can be rolled up to create a makeshift baton.
Power cords, rope, belts, scarves, trash bags, a computer mouse with a wire – basically anything that can be used to establish a firm chokehold against an officer’s neck – can be placed in this category of weapons of opportunity. Officers should pay close attention to the proximity of these objects and the seating arrangement designated for clients.
These types of weapons in the right hands could place an officer in a major life-threatening situation. Always remember that something as common as a power cord can become a weapon in just a few seconds.
Weapons that burn
Think of the injury that could be caused by a hot pot of freshly brewed coffee. The picture you painted in your mind can happen, all too quickly. Consider removing coffee makers from your client-accessed office spaces, for safety purposes. The potential for injury outweighs the convenience.
A large fraction of your caseload
Your clients, at least those who have served time in a correctional institution, understand how to locate and use weapons of opportunity. You need to understand that this population of your caseload has an education level of a different kind.
When you work in the field of community corrections, a large portion of your caseload has been in and out of a correctional institution more than once.
This fraction of your caseload who has done a significate amount of time has been exposed to crime, including, but not limited to, theft, extortion, assault, sexual assault and blackmail. Survival in a correctional institution is dependent on street knowledge. Understanding this should give you a better sense of the need for self-observation in your office safe space when this faction of your caseload arrives for their monthly office visit.
Your setup is important
Sit on the other side of your desk and take a hard look at the items in your office. Use your creativity and, most importantly, try your best to look at things through the eyes of your clients. Knowing that these threats exist in your office, become your own investigator.
Locate weapons of opportunity within your office space and move them from clients’ reach. Keeping these items under safe and secure conditions allows you, the officer, to be safe and secure in an office setting. Placing your desk and chair in a ready position, with the fastest means of exit, is also beneficial to officer safety.
If things go bad
If a client becomes violent, the best option is to vacate the office. Push back in your chair and make a dash for the door. This creates space between the officer and the client. This also alerts others that there is a potential threat in your office.
Distance between yourself and an angry client with a weapon is your best friend. Once you have created a tactical advantage for yourself, you stand a lower risk of physical injury.
When an officer becomes a moving target, it is less likely that a physical confrontation will arise. If you are unable to create space and you are unable to get to your office door, you have but one last option.
Defend the castle
If you cannot exit your office, and you are unable to single for help, your remaining option is to defend the castle.
“My goal is to make it back home at the end of the day.” I preach this every time I speak to new officers during new hire orientation.
So, in this horrible scenario we have just created, my advice would be to grab something you can use as a weapon of opportunity to defend yourself from the attack. Hopefully, just as you sat on the other side of your desk to remove potential weapons of opportunity, you sat on your side of the desk to locate your own weapons of opportunity. Remember, that this moment, however long it may last, may very well be a fight for your life. Defend yourself until help arrives.
Coping with the never-ending evolution of inmate weapons
Inmates are adept at turning whatever materials are at hand into improvised weapons – the ongoing challenge for corrections officials is to detect these weapons
You could have the best personal action plan ever created, but your battle is already lost if you are not in the right mindset when you clock in at work. Your mind is your most powerful weapon. Mental readiness is critical to selecting and using improvised weapons in self-defense and the most important extension of your own commitment to safety in the workspace.
Author's note: I would like to thank my Executive Director, Faustino "Tino" Lopez, for allowing me the opportunity to submit this article for publication. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Leo Perez, Hidalgo County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, 3100 S. Bus Hwy 281 Edinburg Texas 78539; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.