The role of the cover officer is critical, and there’s no room for complacency. Duties include monitoring all radio communications that come in and observing the suspect and surrounding area. PHOTOS by Mark C. Ide
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Every cop’s been in the role of cover officer. Maybe it was before retired San Diego (Calif.) Lt. John Morrison formalized the name contact and cover, but the principle has been around as long as there have been cops and bad guys. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Batman had Robin. And old Doc Holliday probably covered Wyatt Earp’s back more often than Earp’s own brothers did.
There are some jobs that should always be two-person calls: DVs, silent alarm trips, and burglary or robbery-in-progress runs. But I don’t want to focus too much on those calls. Instead, I want to talk more about when and how a zone or sector partner should roll in as a cover officer or second officer.
I’ve probably responded as a cover officer more than I have as a road boss. When I served as a street sergeant and patrol lieutenant, I always told my troops that when “you see me roll in on an in-progress call, I’m there first as your backup and second as your boss.” Although there’s no guarantee that simply having a cover officer present is going to make you bulletproof (because more than half of all officer assaults occur when there’s more than one officer on scene), there’s no doubt in my mind that four eyes see more than two and two guns are better than one. The unspoken force presence that a second officer brings to the scene cannot be overemphasized.
This column examines some of the tried-and-true concepts for how to be a good cover officer. But first, let’s recap why the contact-and-cover concept is important from the cover officer’s perspective.
The cover officer’s job is essentially two-fold: first, to observe the suspect(s) and protect the contact officer from a position of control; and second, to provide that unspoken force presence I mentioned earlier.
The cover officer’s duties include monitoring all incoming radio communications, such as an updated dispatch on an outstanding warrant for the suspect the contact officer is dealing with or a “pick up and hold” that just came over the wire. Monitoring radio communications is always done without taking eyes off the contact officer and the suspects.
The cover officer also constantly observes and watches both the area and the suspects, including any escape routes. They also prevent the destruction of evidence and, by their demeanor and positioning, actively discourage any assaults that these mopes might be contemplating.
Finally, the cover officer maintains a position of readiness by being prepared and equipped to go hands on at a moment’s notice to prevent an assault, ambush, disarming or other extreme threat that may arise during the contact.
Now, let’s discuss tactics for being—as well as using—a good cover officer. In fact, I just brought up a key concept: discuss. Let’s start there.
As the primary, you have to communicate with the second or third responding units and tell them what’s going on. Back when ol’ Dave had a full head of dark brown hair, before MDTs became standard equipment, we had to communicate via radio. In these cases, voice inflection said a lot—certainly more than a few punched codes on a keyboard that appeared miles away on a computer screen ever could. The increase in pitch in my zone partner’s voice said a whole lot more than “backup requested.”
In today’s age of unspoken technology, we sometimes forget the impact of the spoken word in conveying messages. Even if it’s a busy night and calls are stacking up, you might want to consider switching to the TAC frequency (or go to “car-to-car” mode if your city’s radio system has that capability) and tell your patrol neighbor exactly what you have. After all, there’s only so much the dispatcher can relay by translating “civilianese” to “cop talk” for radio broadcast purposes. Example: “See the man at 1218 Front Street, Apartment 2-C, upstairs in the rear, for a neighbor trouble, man threatening” may not convey the true urgency of the call. But if you’ve been there before and the 6'7", 278 lb. moron who lives in the unit offered to rip your head off and defecate in your neck last month during a similar call, you have to talk to your zone partner so they know what to expect before they arrive. Surprise parties are nice, but not in street police work.
Contact & Cover Checklist
1. Stage before committing.
2. Anticipate the need.
3. Observe and watch the suspects and the area.
4. Maintain a position of readiness.
5. Monitor all radio communications.