Inside the Fishbowl

7 tips for working safer in your cruiser

By Scott Hughes  |   Jan 6, 2015

Being inside a marked police car is often compared to a fish bowl: we’re behind glass in the public eye. This visibility makes police officers in their patrol vehicles easy targets for those wishing to cause us harm. 2014 was another tragic year for American law enforcement, with 118 officers killed in the line of duty and many more injured. Some of these attacks were launched on unsuspecting officers who were simply sitting in their police cars completing routine tasks, like report writing, eating lunch, or waiting for red traffic lights to turn green. This was brought home for us recently with the horrific murders of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in their patrol vehicle in Brooklyn.

Yet more than ever before we’re forced to sit in our patrol cars. Since most modern police cars are equipped with MDC’s, which are necessary (and often required) to do our jobs, we find ourselves frequently staring at screens, and paying attention to these computers can make us susceptible to attacks.

With that in mind here are seven simple actions you can take to make yourself safer in your patrol car.

1) Don’t get boxed in. When you are stopped in traffic make an effort to keep distance between you and the other cars. This extra distance and open space could be vital in the event you’re attacked and need to remove yourself quickly.

2) Pay attention. What types of vehicles are around you? How many occupants do you see and are they paying attention to you? What is the description of the subject standing on the sidewalk? What street are you on? Simply put: Don’t drive around in “Condition White.” Be aware of your surroundings, especially when driving or sitting in a marked police car.

As a young officer in training I was riding with my FTO one day when he shouted: “STOP THE CAR!” I applied the brake as quickly as I could—driving my foot through the floorboard—and said, “What—what did you see?” He replied calmly, “What street are we on?” I thought: Huh? What street am I on? I replied: “I’m not sure. I just know what neighborhood we are in.” He then proceeded to explain to me the problem with not being aware of your surroundings. He continued logically: “If you had to summon help on the radio what would you say?”

This training exercise, which many of you have been exposed to in some fashion, holds true even after recruit training. Ensure you know where you are at all times! Be able to confidently broadcast your location to dispatch in the event of a confrontation.

3) Prevent gun belt obstructions: Ensure you can draw your weapon while sitting, and make sure your seatbelt doesn’t prevent you from removing your gun from its holster. Once you’re proficient in this you should be able to quickly remove your seatbelt without looking at the buckle.

Practice, practice, practice!

Unload your weapon and draw it from a seated position. You will soon realize (if you haven’t already) that removing your weapon while seated is tougher than you may think. Once you’ve practiced drawing from a seated position, apply the seatbelt and continue practicing until you feel somewhat proficient … Then continue practicing!

4) Turn off your engine and roll down the windows. I work in the Midwest and it gets cold (not as cold as some parts of the country, but cold nonetheless). Therefore, I understand the need to keep the heat on in the cruiser and the benefits of staying warm. However, you need to be aware of how much noise is created by your cruiser’s engine. I want you to hear (and see) somebody pulling up on you or walking up to your car. By simply cutting off your engine you will quickly discover how much more you are actually able to hear.

5) Place cars side by side with tactics in mind: When parked next to a fellow officer make sure they’re also turning off their engine. Try to position your vehicles in such a manner that both of you have an unobstructed view of the lot and you both have an escape route. This most likely will mean parking in the middle of the lot.

6) Remove your seatbelt: When you are going to be sitting stationary for an extended period of time, remove your seatbelt. In the event of a violent confrontation you may discover that your best course of action is to bail out of the car. Don’t get “stuck” in your cruiser due to your seat belt.

Option: When somebody is approaching your car on foot, exit your patrol car and greet them. This prevents you from being “stuck” in your cruiser.

7) Keep your passenger seat clear (unless of course you have a partner): Again, if you have to bail out the passenger side of the car you are going to need to do so as quickly as possible. You’ll already be dodging computers, radar units, in-car cameras and more. Keeping that passenger seat cleared off could be critical. Carry only the necessary paperwork up front, keep everything else in the trunk.

Conclusion
If you read this article and thought, “I’m already doing this,” that’s awesome. Keep it up! For those of you that aren’t practicing one or more of these steps, now is a great time to start. As I discuss in both Street Survival Seminar and TNT: Tactics in Traffic, the time to decide what you’re going to do isn’t when it’s happening. It’s the mental rehearsal and mental conditioning that often makes the difference.

Play the “what if” game the next time you are driving around or sitting in a parking lot.

  • If I’m at a traffic light and somebody pulls up to my right and starts shooting, what am I going to do? What if they are on the left? Can I quickly accelerate my car from this location to safety?
  • If a suspect walks up to me in this parking lot and starts shooting what will I do?
  • Where is my cover? Where is my concealment?
  • Can I bail out of my passenger side right now if I had to?
  • What if … ?
  • How about … ?

Run through different scenarios in your brain, and prepare accordingly.

Do you have other tactics, techniques, or tips that you’ve used? If so let us know on www.Facebook.com/StreetSurvival or @calibrepress on Twitter. I can be reached at scott . hughes @ calibrepress . com (no spaces).

Stay safe!

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Scott Hughes
Chief Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of The Supervisor Training and Education program as well as The Police Executive Leadership College. Scott is also a graduate of the 133rd FBI-LEEDA Command Institute and is a certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE). Chief Hughes is an active member of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police where he serves on the education committee.