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Momma says: 8 police lessons for Mother’s Day

A lot of what “momma says” can make you a better police officer


Cops have to do a fair amount of business on the streets and highways; staying safe is a priority.


Say the phrase, “Momma says...” and most people will respond with “Life is like a box of chocolates,” or “Stupid is as stupid does” from either Forrest Gump or Bobby Bouche from The Waterboy, quoting his mother’s theory on aggression among large swamp-dwelling amphibians being caused by poor dental hygiene.

Mother’s Day has been set aside to honor those special females in our lives who literally helped make us cops. Throughout my life, my mother – as all mothers do – tried to keep me on the right path through a mixture of love and discipline.

I did not always appreciate the lessons at the time. On more than one occasion, I did the exact opposite. But as the years have passed, I have come to see the wisdom of her words.

What took even longer to understand is that a lot of what she said would make me a better police officer.

1. “Don’t play in the street.”

As early as I can remember, I heard this one. Mom was trying to teach me that there were a lot safer places to play than the roadway. As a cop, I know that I have to do a fair amount of my business on the streets and highways.

I’ve lost track of the number of videos I have seen of officers talking with suspects or doing field sobriety tests in the street. It’s safer on the shoulder, sidewalk, or ditch.

When you talk with suspects, where do you position yourself in relation to them? Do you have your back away from the street, so if the suspect attacks you have a safe escape route (with no semi-trucks headed your way)?

If you get shoved or tackled, will you end up in the highway or in the ditch?

A passenger-side approach is safer than a driver-side approach, especially in heavy traffic. Watch the videos of squad cam-recorded crashes and you see that illustrated. Why? Because that’s where people drive!

If you do a driver’s side approach, turn your squad wheels to the right so if your squad gets hit it goes away from you and not toward you. If you do a passenger-side approach, turn the front wheels to the left. Don’t add insult to injury or death by getting run over by your own squad!

2. “Keep your hands clean.”

Recently a friend of mine was involved with an arrest where he punched the suspect in the mouth. He cut his hand on the suspect’s teeth and split the guy’s lip.

To make it worse, the suspect was positive for Hepatitis. That meant regular blood tests, worries of infection, and no unprotected sex for six months.

The quickest way to cause an injury to your dominant hand is to punch a suspect in the head. Several large police departments have significantly reduced the number of officer injuries by training their officers to use open-hand palm strikes.

Wear your gloves. Keep the hand sanitizer close and used often.

3. “You is who you is, and you ain’t who you ain’t.”

This was mom’s way of saying that life isn’t always going to go your way. We each come into this world equipped with what genetics provided. Along the way, we have added experience and training.

Try to work to your strengths, work on your weaknesses and know the difference between the two.

4. “If everyone else ran off a cliff, would you, too?”

Be your own person. Have your own values. Stand your ground. Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t popular or convenient.

5. “You can drown in a teaspoon of water.”

It’s not usually the big things that get you but a series of little things that add up. Get your rest, wear your vest. When you’re working, stay focused on the job at hand (condition yellow) and leave your personal communications (text, Twitter, blog, calls) for your personal time.

When you are on your way to a hot call, focus on the call and the road. Wait until afterward to let all your friends know how fast you’re driving, what the call was, or to update your Facebook status.

6. “Look both ways.”

At intersections, crosswalks, when you exit your squad car, and when you enter through a door on a call, look both ways. Check your corners. If you have a partner, you check one and they should get the other.

Slow down and actually look at each and every call. That quick head snap left and right as you slow down to clear an intersection on your way Code 3 to a hot call will guarantee you won’t see that car coming your way carrying some else’s mother.

When you whip your head back and forth quickly, the brain automatically stops receiving the visual information.

7. “Just because the speedometer goes that fast doesn’t mean you should.”

The leading cause of police officer-duty deaths is car accidents (see #5). A lot of those are intersection-related (see #6).

We have a culture that seems to glamorize fast driving. This isn’t NASCAR, the street is not a race track.

The faster you drive, the more likely you are to get in a crash and the more likely you are to be seriously injured or killed.

Look at it this way. Lt. Brian Murphy, who was shot 17 times outside the Sikh Temple last summer, said to the driver of his ambulance on their way to the hospital, “Let’s calm down. Let’s get there in one piece!”

Even in his condition, he could see the value of driving at a reasonable speed.

8. “I love you. Be safe.”

Enough said. Give your mom a hug, a call, or say a prayer to her this Mother’s Day.

Say thank you.

This article, originally published May 10, 2013, has been updated.

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.

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