Contact & Cover ---& Communicate

Basic skills that can save lives or make a bad day better


Dale Stockton | Monday, October 12, 2009

This month we have a special feature on contact and cover (C&C), a concept so basic yet so effective that I want to make a point of emphasizing just how important this simple technique is to every law officer in the field. On the surface, it seems elemental and just plain common sense that one officer will engage while another maintains an overall awareness of the evolving situation, but in the real world of policing and human nature, it's very easy to slip away from this practice.

It's been 25 years since two San Diego Police Department (SDPD) officers, Timothy Ruopp, 31, with two-and-a-half years on the job, and Kimberly Tonahill, 24, with nine months on the job, were gunned down during a nighttime contact in a city park. Their assailant escaped temporarily but was later found cowering in nearby undergrowth and taken into custody. He was sentenced to death and sent to San Quentin, where, after a few years in custody, he hanged himself.

I remember the day I heard about the shootings, and I definitely remember the funeral. Ruopp and Tonahill were the fourth and fifth SDPD officers killed by gunfire within a period of only a couple of years. The number of deaths and the circumstances of the killings hit the department hard and resulted in an in-depth critical analysis of procedures.

There were a number of findings as a result of that review, the most significant of which was the recognition of the value of C&C and a formalization of its process. Although the approach may not have been entirely new, there s little doubt that the killings of Officers Ruopp and Tonahill underscored the importance of the role of the cover officer. The regional academy integrated the concept into its training, and numerous departments made it part of their field training programs. The California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training formalized the approach in the learning objectives for all California academies.

For C&C to work effectively, it must be an ingrained habit and realistically part of a department's culture. From the academy through field training, and even as part of the evaluation process, the basics must be reinforced. As supervisors and training officers (the bulk of our reading audience), it's vital that you walk the talk on this very important officer safety concept.

For our C&C feature, you couldn't ask for a finer author than Steven Albrecht, the man who literally wrote the book on the subject and runs a Web site by the same name. I highly recommend that you read this article thoroughly and then ensure that every officer with whom you have any influence reads it also.

Another C

As important as C&C is, there's another C that's important to mention: communications. I've often said that if I were to go through college again, I would definitely major in communications. This is because I've come to realize sometimes through hard lessons just how important it is to communicate effectively and how it 's all too easy to give someone an unintended message.

There's an old saying that actions speak louder than words, and that's especially true in police work. Departments can tout their mission statements, and catchy slogans can adorn every police car, but if your officers don't walk the talk, it s all for naught.

Recently, one of our regular contributors shared a heartbreaking story of a close friend who tried to get an agency to assist in locating her missing father. The father had some substance abuse history but had otherwise been very reliable, so his disappearance caused a great deal of concern. Ultimately, the daughter found her father s decomposing body in his truck which had been parked in a state parking lot. It appeared he had been dead for two weeks. This was an area that should have been part of a regular patrol routine, and the vehicle had been reported to the department responsible for patrolling the area.

Understandably, officers get busy and information doesn't always get passed on, but when the responding officer callously insisted that the daughter immediately do something about getting the truck out of the parking lot, she was understandably devastated by the insensitivity. What might have been just another dead body call will forever haunt that young woman, who will never forget the uncaring words of a thoughtless officer.

Conclusion

Remember:Your routine call could be someone else's tragedy. Choose your words carefully and try to go the extra mile whenever possible. The bottom line: Let's make a difference in someone's life in a positive way. --- Dale Stockton, Editor in Chief




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Dale StocktonThe editor of Law Officer Magazine, Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement.

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