12 steps to policing a presidential visit

Being part of a detail guarding the President of the United States should be looked upon as anything but routine

If someone was to ask me, “What was the most important thing you ever did as a police officer?” I would answer, “I protected good citizens and three of them were American presidents.”

Protecting the President

Being part of a detail guarding the President of the United States should be looked upon as anything but routine. For example, while protecting President Truman, Officer Leslie Coffelt was killed and Donald Birdzell and Joseph Downs were wounded in a dynamic gunfight with two terrorists, saving the life of our 33rd president.

In this Monday, Jan. 1, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport, in West Palm Beach, Fla.
In this Monday, Jan. 1, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit’s stop led to not only the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald for killing President Kennedy, but also to Officer Tippit’s death.

District of Columbia Police Officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service Officer Timothy McCarthy quite literally took bullets for President Ronald Reagan, saving his life.   

Consider these 12 suggestions in the event you ever find yourself assigned to a presidential detail:

1. Hang your political preferences up in the locker.

Stow your political biases. You have to be 100 percent committed to the protection or our President whether he, or someday she, is a Republican or Democrat.  

2. Update your training.

Update these critical skills that may come into play during a presidential visit:

  • Hands-on control skills to enhance your ability to control suspects quickly and professionally in the crowd while the world is watching.
  • Crowd control training. Enough said!
  • Firearms training for officers and counter-snipers to fire at realistic distances depending on their assignment.
  • Disarming techniques in preparation for a sudden assault in a crowd.
  • Emergency vehicle operations update (especially motor cops) since more officers have died in traffic crashes escorting dignitaries then in gunfights protecting them.

3. “Loose lips sink ships.”

As a police officer with an assignment you will be given intelligence on the event that few others are privilege to. Keep things like dates, times, locations, routes and surprise visits to yourself. If this information leaks out early then officers, citizens and even the president may be endangered.

4. There is no unimportant assignment.

A plan for a presidential visit has many moving yet connected parts. It is imperative every officer perform their assignment to the best of their ability. Assassins historically exploit a weak link. Don’t be that weak link.

5. Pay attention, scan and process.

A presidential visit by either party brings out those who are passionately opposed and sometimes even downright angry. There will be many emotionally disturbed individuals off their meds who will be drawn to these events as well. As an officer with knowledge of your jurisdiction, you will be in a position to immediately identify inherently dangerous subjects and either report, monitor, or intervene depending on which is most appropriate.

You also will watch potential hides like open windows, sewer-grates, roof tops, berms and abandoned vehicles, as well as spot abandoned back packs, packages and equipment for the possibility of an I.E.D.

This scanning and processing should take place before, during and after the event in your area of responsibility.

6. Possess an extra-mag mentality.

Extra-mag mentality means this is a time when you want to be mentally, physically and tactically ready for anything. Take the time to find a spot for an extra magazine, or more. The act of doing this kicks things up a notch in regard to your mental defense.

7. Don’t be the photo-op cop.

You can’t be protecting the President when your primary focus is sending a selfie, or hanging around in uniform like a groupie to get a photo of the President. If you do so during a personnel-intense operation, you take yourself out of the protection mode for a photo-op.

8. Don’t listen to the speeches; once again, scan and process.

When the speeches start is your time to ignore words and watch people. If there is that three-named person (assassins always have three names) in your crowd, your time to spot them is during the speech, for they will be the other person in the crowd not listening to the speech.

9. Keep an eye on hands, heads, outlines and movements.

When you are working an event, scan and process hands, heads, outlines and movements. Watch where the hands are and what is in them. Check body outlines for the indication of a weapon, or the unnatural clothing bulk of a person carrying an explosive device, especially at the point of entry. 

Watch for heads disappearing (ducking to prepare a weapon) or suddenly appearing where there should be no head (like a cleared balcony, window, sewer grate, or under risers.)

During speeches, most people will be stationery, so watch any sudden movements within or through the crowd as it will often signal trouble. By watching the faces around the movement, you will sometimes see alarm indicating the movement represents a problem.

10. Identify gunfire.

Anytime you hear what sounds like gunfire, think gunfire until you find out it is firecrackers. Don’t think fire crackers only to discover to your surprise it is gunfire.

11. Preventing a thing starts with believing that thing is possible.

The night Lincoln was assassinated, Officer John Parker, who was assigned to protect him, abandoned his post. He later explained his absence to Mrs. Lincoln in this way,   “…I did not believe anyone would try to kill so good a man in such a public place, and the belief made me careless.”

Believe it might happen and you will be more prepared to ensure that it doesn’t.

12. “Heads up until wheels up!”

“Wheels up!” is a term used often during these visits, meaning Air Force One is off the ground and the President is on his way to another location.  One veteran agent shared his philosophy with his local police partners that during every presidential visit, it was, “Heads up until wheels up!”

One closing thought to add is this, God Bless the President, but when he’s in my bailiwick I’ll keep him safe.

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