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Street survival: Develop your stealth approach

The stealth approach can turn you into one who surprises rather than one who is surprised


Gather intelligence on the approach and make that knock on the door the first moment anyone is aware of your presence. Also never stand in front of a that door.”

Courtesy of Calibre Press, Street Survival II

This article is part of a series by Lt. Dan Marcou. Click here to access all of Dan’s street survival lessons.

In recognition of the release of “Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” I am writing a series of articles on street survival designed to turn the tables on the current generation of cop-killing criminals. In this series I will share the tactics I acquired during a career dedicated not only to ensuring my own personal survival, but assisting other officers in their quest to survive as well.

It is a powerful tactical advantage to be skilled at the art of approaching scenes unnoticed. It behooves you to develop your stealth approach capability. After all, as Sun Tzu says, “Those who are skilled in producing surprises will win.”

If you follow the notifications of officers killed and wounded in the line of duty you can’t help but notice many are killed and wounded while walking or driving right into the kill zone.

You see too many officers who have cloaked themselves in complacency “routinely” park directly in front of call locations because it is the shortest walk and it works, until it doesn’t. The anticipated short walk to the front door can turn into an unexpected long walk into eternity.

Develop the Unexpected Approach

There are career criminals, emotionally disturbed persons, as well as “normal” people having a bad night, who if given the opportunity to kill a cop, will do so. The tactics you use regularly should be designed to rob them of a tempting free shot at a tempting target that is you!

Simply put, what you want to strive for is an unexpected or stealth approach that will delay a suspect’s awareness of your presence until you have a chance to clearly assess the situation you are confronted with. To accomplish this you should:

  • Know your beat so well you can mentally plan your approach.
  • Park your patrol car around the corner from the call, or at least three or four doors away on the same side of the street (even on a barking dog complaint).
  • Know what the “killing zone” is on every call and not drive into it.
  • Make as little disturbance as possible on the approach.
  • Realize at night that light and sounds are amplified so cut your lights and siren in advance of arrival; take corners without squealing tires; avoid gravel driveways; arrive like a whisper not like a brass band; exit your vehicle quietly and ease your door shut with the slightest of clicks; and turn down your radio.
  • Survey all vehicles on your approach.
  • Check pedestrians in the area. (Often suspects leave on foot when their victim calls 911. Additionally, during crimes in progress there often is an accomplice in the area to drive, or to be available for back-up if needed.)

The Approach on Foot

As you approach the scene on foot know where your cover is and keep cover between you and the scene. Attempt to get as close to the location as possible before you are either spotted, or announce your arrival. You can often blend into shadows and backgrounds to avoid being detected. Be aware of the “ostrich effect,” which is a tendency to believe if you can’t see them, they can’t see you.

On the approach visually locate and scan possible hides on all calls. This will develop a second nature skill that will pay off when it counts. Identify all doors, windows, fence lines, berms and parked cars and visually clear them. Pay particular notice to the peep holes cut into many of the blinds, curtains and shades and watch for their movement on your approach.

After successfully arriving undetected and, if it does not endanger someone, take some time to look the scene over and listen to what is transpiring. When appropriate utilize the quick peek before taking corners.

Use all your senses to gather information on the approach, including your sense of smell. There are times that in a few moments you will have gathered enough intelligence to establish not only the who, what, when, where, how and why of the event you have been called to, but you may also discover you need additional assistance before making contact.

Example Where This Approach Paid Off

One officer, who had practiced stealth approach even in the twentieth year of his career when complacency usually settles in, had parked in the alley on the windowless side of a low rent hotel where he hoped to locate a suspect. He deliberately avoided the convenient parking lot of the hotel, which was clearly visible to residents.

Because of his stealth approach he was able to reach the suspect’s door on the second floor of the hotel unnoticed and he paused to listen. Through the door he could hear the suspect talking on the phone, declaring, “I will kill the first cop, who tries to f---- with me.” The officer also identified a familiar sound of the suspect loading rounds into a magazine.

The officer immediately called for back-up and a contingent of SWAT officers, who were strategically placed. When first contact was made it was done by phone call rather than a knock on the door. This call was placed by a trained negotiator.

A six-hour stand-off followed, during which the suspect fired one shot. It hit no one, since the officers were behind cover and the hotel had been previously evacuated. Eventually the suspect was dynamically taken into custody after chemical munitions were introduced into the room.

He later praised officers for the way they handled him in his moment of crisis. The suspect said, “They saved my life.”

The tactics you choose can save lives.


There are times when you want to announce your approach. For example, your siren may give hope to the injured as you approach an accident with injuries. It may also serve to scatter participants of a large brawl in progress, leaving you with manageable numbers.

However, in a time when ambushes are a tactic employed with tragic frequency the stealth approach can turn you into one who surprises rather than one who is surprised. Lives can be saved and injuries prevented by routinely using the stealth approach on calls, because to do so is to recognize no call is routine.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.