The shooting of three officers in Clementon, N.J., should be a stark reminder to all that the building where you work should not be considered a safe haven. Here’s some important tips for officer safety in and around police facilities.
1) Controlled access should be the first layer of security. Most departments have some type of walk-in police lobby and that’s an understandable public expectation. But going past that lobby should be controlled and require visible identification. If you’re in a small agency and know everyone, it’s easy to let this one slide but it’s still important. And remember, propping the back door open is not a good practice--all sorts of vermin can walk in that door.
2) Search and search again. Just because someone is in handcuffs does not mean they don’t have a weapon. Multiple officers died during this past year at the hands of a suspect who had been searched and handcuffed. Security of prisoners is everyone’s responsibility. Search as if you know there’s something there and, when you find something, view that as an indication that there must be more.
3) Don’t take weapons into booking, processing or confinement areas. Provide secure lockers for firearms while prisoners are being processed and use them!
4) Wear your armor! If you’re wearing a badge, you’re a target. Just because your primary work assignment is inside four walls doesn’t mean you won’t be in a gunfight. If wearing your armor seems like overkill, think of this: Would you walk around the station without your badge and gun? Then why would you walk around without your armor? Bad guys don’t stop being bad guys just because they’re inside a police department. In fact, there are multiple examples of shooters intentionally coming to a police facility to attack officers. One of the most blatant happened in Detroit when a shotgun wielding suspect walked into a precinct lobby and shot several officers.
5) Secure firearms. Never, never stick a gun in an unlocked drawer. (Detectives have been known to do this frequently when they’re pushing paperwork.) It’s easy to become complacent in familiar surroundings but leaving a gun in an unlocked drawer is an invitation to disaster. That gun could easily be turned against you or a coworker by someone brought in for an interview.
6) Safety retention holsters work! Get one and practice like crazy so you can learn how to make the most of it. Nothing is worse for a cop than having his or her gun taken away. Safety retention holsters protect everyone and they’re a big boon to officer safety.
7) If something goes wrong, communicate the threat clearly to other officers. We recently recognized Officer Justin Conley, Mt. Orab (Ohio) PD, for a body armor save where he was shot in the back by a suspect who was hiding near the back door of the police department. Body armor saved Officer Conley and he had the presence of mind to clearly communicate to another officer where the shooter was so that the officer didn’t exit the building into the shooter’s line of fire. Working together, the officers were able to return fire and kill the suspect.
Bottom line: Officer safety is just as important inside the police department as it is on the street. Stay safe out there AND in your building!