Our second class in the Citizens Police Academy provided insights in the patrol functions of the Hatboro and Horsham (Pennsylvania) police departments. The presentation was once again very interesting and educational. However, the night’s presentation started off with some sobering statistics as provide by Sargent Peter Van Dolsen of the Hatboro PD.
- Hatboro, the primary focus of the patrol presentation, serves 8000 inhabitants in a borough just 1.4 square miles in size.
- The borough’s police department answers approximately 5000 calls per year
- Nationwide an estimated 50,000 police officers are assaulted each year
- 30% of these assaults occur during domestic disturbance calls
- In 2014 122 police fatalities were reported for officers in the line of duty. (This statistic covers all manner of death, including issues of health, accidents, and the result of criminal assault.)
- Four officer deaths occurred in Pennsylvania.
Sobering as they are, these statistics highlight the difficulties and risks our law enforcement officers face each and every day as they perform their essential community functions. Besides situations of domestic disturbance, an officer’s most hazardous duties are – not surprisingly – found in the overnight hours when the cover of darkness invites criminal activity and when many people have been drinking and/or using drugs.
When I walked in tonight, Lt. Jon Clark, Horsham PD, called me over. “We were talking about you …”
Uh oh …
But it was just about a courtesy e-mail I had sent the Police Chiefs in both townships before I took the liberty of using our police instructors’ names for this blog. Afterwards I went on my way, but the quick conversation would reemerge later that night.
Later Sargent Van Dolsen embarked on an interesting discussion of the scale of public interaction officers face each day while on patrol. The most innocuous interaction is the mere encounter, a chance contact with a citizen that arises unexpectedly in the normal course of patrol. Usually, there is no indication of wrong doing. An example might be a courtesy check on a lone individual walking down the street on their way home from work or a friend’s house at 2 a.m.
Reasonable suspicion might involve a situation similar to the above, where the officer’s observations (suspicious behavior, evasive answers, no connection to the neighborhood, etc.) and community awareness (recent burglaries, car break-ins, etc.) would lead to the reasonable conclusion that the person has or is about to engage in criminal activity. Under these circumstances an officer can stop and frisk an individual without violating their Fourth Amendment rights (See Terry v. Ohio) .
The highest level of police interaction is probable cause, a situation in which the officer has the reasonable justification to make an arrest, to conduct personal or property searches, or to seek a warrant where a crime has been committed and sufficient information indicates a specific individual(s) were involved.
The key factor to understanding the escalating nature of each incident is the ability of the police officer to articulate his decision to escalate the interaction. The Court will require the meeting of the reasonable person standard supported by the officer’s observations and hard evidence that led to reasonable suspicion or probable cause by the officer.
A scan of our audience reveals the following demographics:
- Class size: 20-25
- Age spread: 16-75 estimated
- High school/college-age: 6-8
- Female: 35-40%
Other topics and my take aways from each during our second session:
- Miranda Rights: Not at time of arrest, but required before questioning
- Spontaneous utterances: Why it makes sense to wait until questioning to Mirandize a suspect …
- Warrants: standard, “no knock”, and night-time warrants
- Differences between day-time patrol and night-time patrol
- How officers protect themselves through situational awareness, physical positioning, and teamwork
- Managing a felony car stop (known criminal activity)
- Evolution of police training in the response to physical threats
The most interesting topic of the night was a discussion of the OODA Loop, a decision-making model developed by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd. The OODA Loop is an ingrained four-step decision-making process (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) that everyone uses constantly – though subconsciously – throughout every day without even knowing they are doing it.
In the world of law enforcement, as well as that of fighter pilots, the person that completes the OODA Loop in the shortest period of time wins (or survives)! The average person processes an OODA Loop in roughly 1.5 seconds. A successful major league baseball player standing at homeplate – bat in hand – will complete his OODA process 0.5 seconds after the ball leaves the pitchers hand!
Which explains why I could never hit the fastball … or the curve … or “fast pitch” softball …
Police officers are trained extensively in the OODA Loop for one very good reason. It could save their lives! Distance is an officer’s best friend. In the time it takes an officer to process a threat; draw his weapon; and fire if necessary, the average person can cover a distance of 21-30 feet, depending on the officer’s mindset and expectation of a threat.
It was a fascinating discussion about how an officer faced with an uncertain or clearly threatening situation must be mindful – even if it’s subconsciously so – of working inside the other person’s OODA Loop. The stakes can be incredibly high.
As the night ended I headed for the exit, but popped into the community center canteen to say good night to Lt. Clark.
He called out, “Mike, I might not be here next week, so Happy Birthday!”
I stopped, pleasantly surprised by the thought expressed … until something else crossed my mind. “How’d you know it was my birthday?”, I asked.
He looks me right in the eye, and deadpans, “I’m a cop.”
My mind went racing …. our earlier conversation, “We were talking about you, the Chiefs and I.” Talking about me … What else were they talking about? Who’s been talking? What do they have on me? How long’s my “rap sheet”?!?
My OODA had turned to gouda …
“You’ll be 59, right?”, Clark adds.
Damn it! …. Cops!