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5 life hacks for patrol cops

While these police hacks may not have been addressed in the police academy, they are useful in everyday patrol life


When I first started in police work, a supervisor told me to keep a personal diary to keep track of some of the major events of the day.


There are countless examples in the civilian world of highly effective life hacks – simple little tricks such as placing a small flashlight behind a gallon of water to create a broad light to fill a room and using toothpaste to polish brass.

Similarly, there are a lot of very clever police officers who have come up with little “tricks” to make life out on patrol a little bit easier, none of which were covered in the academy.

Here are five of my favorites. Add your own ideas in the comments area below.

1. Put a mouthguard in your pocket

I once had a defensive tactics instructor who always carried a mouthpiece in his front pocket. He was worried about having a tooth knocked out in a fight and if it looks like there might be a problem brewing during a confrontation, he would pop in the plastic football mouthguard. That’s good, sound, practical advice.

Of course, you don’t always have a chance to put in the mouthguard, but it never hurt to have it in your pocket. The interesting side effect of that for the instructor, and as I found out, for me, was once you pop a football mouthguard into your mouth no one really wants to give you any trouble. It’s almost like racking a shotgun. You get their attention and give them a moment to consider their situation and all the fight could go out of a suspect.

2. Keep a personal daily diary

When I first started in police work, a supervisor told me to keep a personal diary and a day timer. It was a way for me to keep track of some of the major events of the day and also document how much exercise I was getting. I found that once I had to write down the details of my workout, I rarely skipped it.

A quarter century later, I still make a notation in my day timer of how far I ran or if I went to the gym. It also helps when I’m asked what day I completed a particular assignment and I have a notation in the day timer. If I buy it with my own money, my employing agency can’t demand that I turn it over to them under normal circumstances.

3. Keep some change handy

Back in the days before smartphones, one of my academy instructors suggested we keep a roll of quarters in the console of our car at all times so we could make a phone call. Now it’s a good idea to keep quarters handy for everything from parking a surveillance vehicle to having enough change available to buy a bottle of water.

A ten-dollar-roll of quarters may not go as far as it did 25 years ago, but it’s still enough to buy you a snack when you forget to bring any cash and you’re stuck on an extended surveillance.

4. Try flashing a tactical smile

This simple tactic doesn’t cost a thing. When in a confrontation that appears to be rolling toward a physical assault, sometimes it is unnerving to a suspect if you simply start to smile.

It might just be enough to give you a few seconds to step back and reach for a secondary weapon. A good smile could make the suspect think about things just long enough that he or she decides it’s not worth it. It may not be as effective as a mouthguard, but it’s not a bad backup.

5. Use the belt-and-suspenders method

Lower back pain is one of the most pervasive and serious problems career law enforcement officers must face. There are a few answers to this dilemma aside from eliminating what might be important tools from easy access on your belt.

One possible cheat, if it is acceptable to your agency, is to disperse the weight with suspenders. There are models that can be modified to be worn under a shirt but over a ballistic vest. Transferring some of the weight from your hips to your shoulders can have a tremendous effect on your long-term health. Aside from wearing proper footwear with good inserts, this the most important life hack a patrol officer could use to ease chronic back pain.

These are just a taste of the life hacks cops use every day. Knowing your surroundings, the potential for danger and the tools you have for dealing with that danger are still the most important safety devices a cop has at his or her disposal.

This article, originally published on 3/4/15, has been updated.

James O. Born started his career in police work as a US Drug Agent (DEA) and was part of the late 1990s Miami drug war. He then moved on to become a Special Agent with the elite Florida Department of Law Enforcement, working undercover and spending eleven years on the agency’s Special Operation’s Team. He’s also a nationally known author of nine novels. The — Border War — was co-authored with TV commentator Lou Dobbs. Born’s most recent novel, Scent of Murder, about a police K-9 unit, was released in April, 2015. Visit his website, his Amazon page, or his Facebook page.

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