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How to get the most value out of roll call during National Police Week

Get your cops to talk about tactics to keep names off the Memorial wall

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UMB Police

When National Police Week rolls around, much of the focus is on honoring and remembering the fallen. May can also be a month for making a special effort to minimize the number of names added to those memorial walls.

Officer survival training is clearly an important part of the prevention effort. Physical sessions can include practice on high-risk traffic stops, building searches, deployment on active shooter scenarios, and other activities. Those are all useful, but they are also time- and resource-consuming and may demand more personnel time than you have available.

One resource you might not be using as much as you can is something you likely do every workday: roll call.

Roll call or briefing is the pre-shift meeting where officers and supervisors meet to get the latest crime information, “be on the lookout” (BOLO) bulletins from local or nearby agencies, updates on internal policies and activities, and usually some good-natured razzing about recent incidents that didn’t go exactly as planned. Many supervisors find that content more than sufficient to fill the time and requirements of the meeting but ignore the opportunity for small doses of training and leadership development.

The value of short training segments

In-service training doesn’t have to be packaged in blocks requiring hours or days to present. Short training segments of five minutes or less may be just as effective and invite greater retention because the content is not mixed in with a hundred other items. It also doesn’t require a lot of equipment or deployment to a site outside your briefing room.

One resource that comes ready-made is Gordon Graham’s “Today’s Tip from Lexipol” videos. Running around two minutes each, Graham, who is one of the founders of Lexipol, discusses a law enforcement topic that might range from how to properly check out a patrol car to when officers should be wearing sunglasses. The briefing supervisor can call up one of these clips, play it for the group, then briefly discuss how that advice fits into your agency’s practices.

Here’s an example of a “Today’s Tip” video from Gordon Graham. In this short video, Graham revisits one of the most crucial safety tactics taught in the police academy: making right-side approaches during traffic stops. This video is the perfect training example to strike up a conversation between your officers during roll call.

Roll call can also be an opportunity to debrief incidents from the last patrol shift. The incidents don’t have to be high-profile or fraught with risk. A traffic stop that resulted in one of the vehicle occupants being arrested likely involved more than one officer. Talk about that, what the backup officer(s) knew or thought they knew while responding, and how smoothly or haphazardly everyone worked together. Make this a “no-fault” debrief. The idea isn’t to castigate someone for doing something unexpected, but to improve everyone’s performance for the next time.

The value of near misses

The “law enforcement officer killed” summaries from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports group that come over NLETS are painful reminders of the fragility and uncertainty of police life, and if these can be incorporated into roll call training in a positive way, they can be valuable. An alternative resource that doesn’t have such a mournful tone are the experiences summarized on the website LEO Near Misses.

LEO Near Misses are first-hand accounts from cops who came close to adding their names onto the memorial wall but survived to tell the tale. The stories are anonymized but include demographic data such as the experience or tenure of the officer telling the story, the size of the agency they work for, the region of the country where the incident took place, when it happened and other relevant details. The stories are categorized by type of incident or topic, e.g., in-custody events, property crimes, traffic stops, warrant service and others.

LEO Near Miss is maintained by the National Policing Institute (formerly the National Police Foundation) and is free for users, but registration is required for full access. They generally give full access to active law enforcement only, but when I pled my case as a retired police officer, they granted me an account within a couple of hours. They invite agencies to be official participants for purposes of training. Agency registration is done here.

The value of professional development opportunities

Roll call training is also an opportunity for professional and leadership development. In most cases, agencies look to their supervisors and certain subject matter experts they have designated for training and advice on specific topics, like drug influence recognition, accident investigation, crime scene processing and other technical topics. It’s great to have one or more officers who can speak intelligently and broadly on these subjects, but one doesn’t have to eat the whole elephant to be an SME on a narrow topic. They might be able to bite off a small piece and become conversant.

This is an opportunity to encourage leadership and confidence in relatively low-tenure officers. An officer only a year or two out of the academy might not have the experience to qualify as an SME right away, but he or she could study a narrower topic enough to produce a five-minute training block for roll call.

For example, some states are updating their driver’s licenses and ID cards to come into compliance with the Real ID standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Most cops don’t know what those standards are, or whether their own state’s driver’s licenses support the new standards. This is a narrow-enough topic that an officer could come up to speed with a few hours of study. By assigning an officer the task to produce five minutes of Real ID training for, say, two weeks from today, you give the officer the opportunity to shine among their peers. Some of these training capsules won’t be gold, but your first domestic violence arrest or high-risk car stop probably didn’t go perfectly, either.

If you choose a topic the presenter finds interesting, you’re well on the way to creating an SME on that topic who will keep current and be a resource for you and other officers at your agency. In any event, that officer will be a tiny bit more integrated into your agency’s culture and organization than he was before by virtue of that experience.

The value of talking tactics

Many years ago, I heard a police trainer say the most common topics cops discussed while on patrol were food and their agencies. I don’t know whether that was the product of actual research or just conjecture, but it sounded right. Sadly, absent from that shortlist was tactics. Cops who might depend on one another acting correctly to save the other’s life in the absence of all the relevant information didn’t make use of the time to talk about the most critical topic – tactics – when they had the opportunity to do so.

When I was a field training officer, I had a trainee who didn’t have a lot of experience but was very quick to learn and integrate what she had learned into her performance. The time I would spend with other trainees, bringing them up to speed on policies and procedures, could be used for other purposes. One night over coffee, I made a point to discuss tactics for a field interview or one-person-stop situation. As she would normally be the officer doing the interview and standing closest to the subject (this pre-dated the contact and cover doctrine), I suggested that, if a weapon was introduced into the situation, she would get control of the weapon, and I would drop back and cover the subject with my sidearm. She was agreeable to this. With only a week or so before she moved to a different FTO, I thought it was unlikely we would put this plan into practice.

Early the next morning, toward the end of a graveyard shift, we were called to an apartment building on a domestic violence incident. The female in the situation had fled to the apartment of an otherwise uninvolved male and was waiting for us there. The apartment was at the top of an exterior stairway. As we walked up, the male occupant of the apartment exited onto the stairway landing, wearing only a bathrobe. Without speaking a word, he reached into the pocket of the bathrobe and extracted a two-inch revolver. Without prompting, my partner grabbed the cylinder of the revolver, immobilizing it, and stepped away to give me a clearer field of fire. I drew my sidearm, and the man let go of the revolver. He was drunk and told us he wanted us to know he had a gun. As the situation was now pacified, we were able to complete the rest of the call for service without much ado, and best of all, without shooting anyone or getting shot ourselves.

You want to get your cops talking about tactics. Include the seeds for these discussions in roll call and encourage them to continue the conversation as they patrol or when they meet in the field. Help them keep their names off that memorial wall.

NLEOMF’s Troy Anderson on how the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund works to improve officer safety in the field

This article, originally published on May 4, 2022, has been updated.

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia and Oregon. He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.