Night Moves

Night shift patrol tactics: 5 tips for keeping safe

By Scott Hughes  |   Jul 17, 2015

It’s a given that tactics change with conditions. Well, we all know that working nights is a different—and more dangerous—beast. Check your call logs and I’m sure it will confirm that the night shift accounts for more requests for service involving domestic violence, intoxication and, in general, mayhem than your day shift. Add to this the challenges of low light and you see what I mean: Your tactics need to be solid going into your shift.

Following are some tips for your safety.

Flashlights: Ensure before you start your shift that you have at least two functional flashlights. I recommend officers carry a large (three-cell style) flashlight in their cruiser and a more compact flashlight on their gun belt. Before you purchase a flashlight do your homework. For night shift officers, battery life and brightness should be a top priority.

(Note: Weapon-mounted lights are superb. If your agency allows you to use a weapon-mounted light on your sidearm, I’d highly recommend it).

Turn off your patrol car: When you arrive at the scene of a dispatched detail or radio run, make sure you are shutting off your police car when you arrive at the scene. Turning off your cruiser will remove your cruiser’s engine noise, thereby providing you with a significant tactical advantage by being able to hear what’s going on around you. Remember: Stop, look, and listen—before approaching any scene!


Overhead Lights: When you arrive on-scene to assist a fellow officer ensure you aren’t “blinding” them with your red and blue lights. A great example of this is on a traffic stop: as you are pulling up behind the primary unit, shut off your headlights (or reduce to parking lights only) and activate only the rear facing lights on your light bar. In other words, only activate the rear flashers. These lights provide the most ample warning for vehicles approaching your scene.

Primary Unit: When possible turn off your light bar when a back-up officer arrives and parks their cruiser directly behind you. Turning off your overhead lights helps your back-up officer by allowing them to have a clearer view of the scene, preserving their night vision.

(Note: Turning off your light bar may affect in-car video cameras, always follow department policy and procedures.)

Cruiser Spotlight: Cruiser-mounted spotlights are an excellent piece of equipment, especially for traffic stops. Unfortunately, many officers use their spotlights inappropriately and are making themselves easy targets for ambushes and attacks. An example is driving down the street using the spotlight to locate an address. Keep your spotlight usage to a minimum and, when feasible, use a flashlight instead. You can easily take your flashlight and use it to locate addresses versus the extremely bright patrol car spotlight.

What I’ve outlined above are simple and common sense. But, in my experience, they work. What tactics and tips would you recommend to others? Leave your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Until next time, stay safe.

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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.