When you hear the Below 100 tenet “Complacency Kills” what do you most often think? Failing to check equipment prior to each shift? Dropping your guard in “routine” situations such as answering repetitive burglary alarm calls? When reflecting on those words, we might not take the time to turn our attention to a routine activity like securing our gear inside a parked car, but we should.
Many officers carry a weapon and related gear in their car when they’re off duty. Many officers carry a bail-out bag that gets transferred between the patrol car and personal car. That bag may contain another weapon, ammunition and an edged or kinetic energy weapon. In some situations, officers don’t want to carry equipment on their person, so they temporarily leave it in their car. While not ideal, this has become common practice for many of us. The questions we have to consider: How secure is a car? How much risk do you take for yourself and others when law enforcement equipment is left in a vehicle?
As law enforcement officers, we know that items left in plain view inside a car provide a much greater temptation for passersby than items that are hidden. Hiding items such as weapons inside a car won’t prevent them from being stolen, but it is less likely, so hiding equipment is an absolute necessity.
Presumably, you would lock your car when you leave it, especially when something like a weapon is stored inside, but how many auto burglary reports have you taken where the victim swears he locked his car only to return to a wide-open vehicle with no sign of forced entry? Do you ensure your car is locked before you walk away? Is the alarm engaged, windows rolled up and doors fully shut? Don’t let complacency allow you to walk away, assuming the car is secure – check and make sure!
Even with the car locked, how secure is the interior? We all know that auto glass is minimally effective as a theft deterrent and can be easily defeated. In light of this, even when the car is locked the interior shouldn’t be considered totally secure. When you must leave equipment in the car, the trunk should be considered the lesser of two evils when compared with the car’s interior.
Regarding the trunk: If you’re lucky enough to be driving a newer model car, there may be a pass through between the passenger compartment and the trunk. Even without a pass through, most cars have mechanical latches or electrical switches that will cause the trunk to open whether or not the key is in the ignition. This means the trunk area is only minimally more secure than the interior of the vehicle.
When items are left in a vehicle, consider where the car is parked. A well-lit spot, clearly visible to passersby, is preferred. Even better is a secured parking area. Unfortunately, we’ve had a number of situations in which firearms and specialized equipment, including body armor, have been stolen from vehicles parked right in front of an officer’s home.
It’s also important to consider the appearance of the vehicle containing your gear. Is it clearly an unmarked police vehicle? Are there special license plates, decals or bumper stickers that would convey a law enforcement association? If so, added security is warranted and appropriate.
You can increase the security of your gear by placing it in a specialized lock box mounted to your vehicle. These boxes may be expensive, but they do provide a significant improvement over simply locking the gear in the trunk.
The fact that gear and weapons are being stolen from unmarked cars and officer’s private vehicles have led many agencies to implement policy that provides specific security guidelines. As an example, Lexipol, a company that provides strong policy guidance to agencies around the country, has a vehicle use policy that requires “all firearms and kinetic impact weapons [to] be removed and properly secured in the residence if the vehicle is not secured in a locked garage.”
As our good friend Gordon Graham would say, “Predictable really is preventable.” A car left unattended outside is vulnerable to thieves, even if secured, with its valuable cargo hidden. The Below 100 tenet “Complacency Kills” should remind us not to be complacent about where we leave our vehicles unattended and to ensure that equipment and weapons for which we are responsible are not stolen and used against another officer or an innocent citizen.
William Garrett is a retired Police Officer with over eight years of experience working patrol at the Pismo Beach Police Department (PBPD). Mr. Garrett was an Officer in Charge (OIC), Field Training Officer (FTO) and Rangemaster. He received the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) California Heroes Award four times for his efforts in ridding the streets of drivers who are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Mr. Garrett received the PBPD Lifesaving Award; and he was Officer of the Year at PBPD in 2009.
Mr. Garrett’s law enforcement instructional career began in 2007 at the Allan Hancock College Law Enforcement Academy where he teaches perishable skills, including arrest and control (ARCON), emergency vehicle operations (EVOC), firearms, including handgun, shotgun and patrol rifle, law enforcement driving simulator (LEDS) and force options simulator (FOS) to Academy recruits and advanced (experienced) officers. Mr. Garrett is a graduate of the High Performance Driving Course at Bonderant Racing; and the Force Science Institute has certified him as a Force Science Analyst.
Mr. Garrett is a graduate of the California POST Master Instructor Certification Course.