Tips In Police Tactics From An Old Timer. Can Police Administrators, politicians and modern police learn from the experience of police from the past?

Back In The Day

Yes, way back in the day we did walk a mile to school. Even on some days when it snowed, but contrary to what you might hear it was only uphill in one direction.

When I was a rookie police in Baltimore, I started the academy in October of 1980, the equipment we were issued was much different than today.

As a matter of fact, the vast majority of our marked police vehicles didn’t even have sirens. Our marked radio cars had the single bubble gum blue light on the roof. During emergency calls we would activate our blue light, turn on the headlights and blow the horn. For added effect we would flash the high beams, with a foot activated floor switch, when they were working, and yell “move out of the way” out the drivers window.

The first vehicles that all came equipped with bar lights and sirens were AMC Concords, which arrived around 1983. While it was great to have real lights and sirens, the Concords left a lot to be desired when it came to comfort and reliability.

(Courtesy of https://baltimorecitypolicehistory.com/)

(Courtesy of https://baltimorecitypolicehistory.com/)

We were issued Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolvers, loaded with a semi-wad cutter +p round, a very light nightstick and a can of mace. We always said that the mace only worked on police and innocent bystanders. We were issued front panel only ballistic vests. The soft body armor we were issued was only rated to stop handgun rounds and it didn’t carry a high caliber rating.

In case you were wondering…No, I would not go on the street with a revolver now. I had an interesting conversation with a Baltimore City Council member describing what it was like to face down a murderer, in a gunfight, who was armed with a high capacity semi-automatic pistol armed only with a .38 revolver. I carry a .40 cal semi-automatic now and have not seen a revolver in decades.

Yes that was a long time ago, but does any of that experience carry over to today?

I saw a few interesting articles some time ago, about what police today can learn from the law enforcement officers of days gone by, in particular the 1970s – 1990s. Some of the points were very good, and others were so watered down, that they were pointless.

Before anyone starts to say that things were different then and less dangerous, I’d like to point out a few things.

1.) A lot of Police were killed in the line of duty back then, especially from 1970 – 1990. During that time more Officers lost their lives on most years then in recent history. (See chart below from NLEOMF.org.)

(From https://nleomf.org/facts-figures/officer-deaths-by-year)

(From https://nleomf.org/facts-figures/officer-deaths-by-year)

 

2.) There were plenty of violent terror groups that were attacking Law Enforcement, other first responders and civilians. To quote CNN, “the real Golden Age of terrorism in the United States was during the ’70s”.

3.) There was plenty of political unrest, some of which was violent. And in particular bombings were quite frequent.

4.) The drug problem was described as epidemic. We endured Heroin, Cocaine, LSD, PCP and Crack Cocaine drug gang violence that was constant.

What we didn’t have was social media, the internet, cable news channels, cellphones or cellphone cameras, dash-cam and body-cam videos.

Tips From The Old Time Police

So, I thought I would share some of the lessons that I was taught by the old timers when I came on the job.

Many of the old time experienced officers that taught us were Vietnam veterans and the really old timers and commanders were Korean War vets. They knew combat violence in other Countries and knew how to handle the violence that was plentiful in American cities, like Baltimore.

 

(Police 1970s Vietnam protest source info Original photo from Flickr, taken by Katie Simmons-Barth Photography. Original photo was cropped, height was shortened to fit our dimensions. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

(Police 1970s Vietnam protest source info Original photo from Flickr, taken by Katie Simmons-Barth Photography. Original photo was cropped, height was shortened to fit our dimensions. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Hopefully some of these points will help Officers on the streets today and the communities they serve. I also hope that Police Administrators will pay attention, but I doubt they will.

1.) Treat everyone with respect, until they change the tone of the conversation. Under no circumstances were we to ever disrespect someone in their neighborhood, in their home, or in front of their friends on the street. Unless, they changed the tone of the conversation by being disrespectful to us. Because… many people would be watching us.  If we, the police officer, were viewed as a push over by a disrespectful or threatening loud mouth, that would open the door to future challenges and some of those challenges could involve violence against us. In my opinion, from watching numerous body-cam and cell phone videos many Law Enforcement Officers today tolerate too much disrespect and disorderly conduct. They have become on many occasions too passive which often emboldens the offender and others around them. Remember this “treat everyone with respect, until they change the tone of the conversation.”

2.) If you must use force, or go hands on as it is often called today. Be swift, be decisive and do your best to neutralize the violent offender quickly and with least amount of blows possible. In other words, don’t wrestle and don’t hold back. All use of force looks bad, and prolonged use of force incidents look even worse. Plus, the longer a violent incident takes place the more chance that your combatant can gain control of your service weapon, or you might have to shoot the assailant. These weren’t prize fights with rules, the goal was to survive by any means necessary and to neutralize the combatant as quickly as possible.

3.) We carried nightsticks, or as they were called in Baltimore, “espantoons”. I realize that many police and members of the community have no idea what I’m talking about or view these as archaic implements from the past. The nightstick will save the life of a law enforcement officer and the life of the assailant more than any other device we carried. The sticks we were issued were very light, upon graduating from the academy many of us purchased large, heavy espantoons, or nightsticks. They were capable of incapacitating a violent person quickly. Without the nightstick, you were more apt to have to resort to the gun. I know that tazers are the current go to for many departments, but I’d hate to have to rely on a piece of electrical – mechanical equipment that for many reasons, won’t work all the time. Plus, the huge ever present nightstick served as a visual deterrent that caused many possible attackers to keep their distance.

(Police with nightstick. This work is in the public domain courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.)

(Police with nightstick. This work is in the public domain courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.)

4.) Whenever we had free time, no calls for service, we were expected to get out of the car and walk around. Get out of your vehicle and talk to people in the neighborhood where you work. Walk into stores or restaurants and introduce yourself, even in places where they do not like the police. That was how people got to know us as a person and vice a versa.

5.) Unless it is pouring rain, no matter how cold, or hot it might be, roll the window down in your patrol car at least half way. So you can hear the sounds of gunshots or people screaming for help. This might help save your life, or the lives of others.

6.) Last and most important, remember the motto, “I’d rather be tried by 12, than carried by 6.” Most people, even when they are very upset and angry are not violent. But, if violence comes to you, NEVER, NEVER give up, no matter how bad the situation. Do whatever you have to do to survive and go home at the end of your shift. You may experience disciplinary action from the Department and possibly even legal action, but you will be alive. Remember this, it is better to take a beating, or face charges than a post mortem exam.

I realize that some will totally misconstrue what I’ve written and will accuse me of advocating violence, nothing can be further from the truth. The best days for me in my police career involved no use of force, or violence of any kind. The worst days were those that included use of force. But the end result was to finish our shift alive and in the same physical health as when we started.

  • A note to Police Administrators and command staff, if you don’t put equal emphasis on taking care of citizens and your own rank and file officers, you are part of the problem. I suggest that you care for your Officers welfare with the same emphasis as members of the community, or move over and make room for someone who can do both.

Hopefully the ramblings from this old, retired “wheel gun” cop can help others doing the job today. If there is interest in more tips from this old retired cop, there might be a part two in the future.