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Don’t ignore an officer’s deadly hesitation to act

The patrol sergeant’s most honorable duty is to train and take care of all the officers in their command — even if that means taking actions which may ultimately end up in an officer’s dismissal

The saying goes, “He who hesitates is lost.” In law enforcement, we can substitute the word “hurt” or “killed” for lost and be completely accurate. The slightest hesitation in an officer’s response to a stressful situation can get that officer — or the officer’s partner — injured or worse.

If we see hesitation by an officer in conditions we can agree are no worse than “undesirable” or “unpleasant” we may be witnessing an important indicator that the same office may hesitate when conditions are far, far worse.

We must recognize and respond to an officer’s hesitancy when it first manifests itself — before it becomes a problem — and use that as a teaching moment. And if that teaching proves to be ineffective, further action may be necessary.

Failure to Render Aid
In a recent incident, an off-duty officer came across a major traffic accident. He stopped, ran to the wreckage, and administered CPR to one of the victims. A uniformed officer soon arrived. The off-duty officer gave instruction to start CPR on another victim, but the responding officer failed to render aid.

The off-duty officer continued to yell for the uniformed officer to start CPR on one of the victims, but those requests were ignored. It’s hard to believe that an officer could stand by without rendering aid — or at the very least doing an assessment — for any injured person, but that appears to be precisely what happened.

I commend the off-duty officer not only for trying to save somebody’s life, but also for alerting the responding officer’s supervisors to the potential problem in their command. He represents what we all stand for, and he gets my respect.

An incident like this might be ignored or overlooked. Such an infraction might get the officer a minor suspension. But there are real dangers in allowing this kind of behavior go unchecked, and it falls on the patrol sergeant to be vigilant against those dangers.

A Hypothetical Officer
Let’s consider a hypothetical — or possibly not-so-hypothetical — in which you work with an officer who once acted like the officer from the above incident. Let’s call your hypothetical colleague Officer Roadside.

You make a felony stop on a dangerous subject involved in a home invasion. Officer Roadside responds to your location as the backup unit — there is no other available unit. You proceed through the felony stop and eventually get the driver out of the car, proned out on the pavement, and ready to be cuffed. You advise Officer Roadside to cover you.

You holster your weapon and approach to cuff the subject and he pulls a knife from his shirt cuff and the fight is on. He breaks free from your grasp and flees.

You see Officer Roadside standing there, gun in hand, looking at you with the deer-in-the-headlights gaze.

Are you surprised that an officer who was once afraid to conduct CPR on an injured accident victim has failed to go hands-on or use deadly force?

Most of us have been in such a situation where a backup officer was reluctant to perform their duties. I have, and it surprised nobody when it happened. In my situation, there were fearless cops nearby who responded to my call for help.

A Sergeant’s Duty
Tragically, too many “minor incidents” are overlooked. Then, when something significant occurs, nobody is surprised.

An officer suffers and/or the department is opened up to liability.

This is why patrol supervisors — generally speaking, the sergeants — must address these “small incidents” with fair and swift correction. For you patrol officers, let the strong sergeants know when you suspect an officer may be reluctant to conduct their duties.

It is the sergeant’s responsibility to correct an officer whose hesitation jeopardizes their own safety and/or the safety of other officers.

Maybe this comes in an informal counseling session or maybe it involves some extra training. Continued monitoring of the officer may be required until the officer gains — or regains — your confidence. Unfortunately, that officer may ultimately fail to respond to training. This is when good sergeants take action that may determine the fate and future of the officer in question. Ultimately, the fate of the individual officer will fall on the chief, but your chief needs you to begin the process.

Starting the process of corrective discipline is not easy — you may run into problems with the union, and some officers may not support your action either — but you’re paid to make tough decisions. If you as a patrol sergeant ignore even the most minor incidents, your officers will lose confidence in your ability to command.

As a sergeant, it’s your responsibility to identify the weak (and afraid) in your command and it’s the administration’s job to weed out those who don’t perform.

Sergeants, you wouldn’t be able to live with yourselves if you were aware of an officer who needed training (or dismissal) and you failed to do your job — and someone, somewhere down the road got hurt or worse.

Glenn French, a retired Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 24 years police experience and served as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and supervisor of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 16 years SWAT experience and also served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

Contact Glenn French.

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