12 tips to help you see 'everything'

Suspects will exhibit the same nervous mannerisms with a stolen safe in the trunk as they would with a spare tire filled with cocaine

“On patrol, you are not looking for something, you are looking for everything.”

A veteran field training officer told this to every recruit he ever trained.

He hoped to encourage them to be proactive and maintain a wide-open mind during every contact. He did this because experience had taught him that one good cop can make a difference.

Proactive officers are always on the hunt.
Proactive officers are always on the hunt. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Looking for Something

Proactive officers are always on the hunt. These officers often develop an expertise. They are the ones who regularly take down the big drug busts or arrest 100-plus DUIs a year.

Officers with an expertise are often looking for “something.” They will get very good at finding the “something” they are looking for, whether it be drugs, alcohol violations or “something” else.

Looking For Everything

The act of looking for “something” can be limiting in that you will tend to readily see evidence of your preference-crime but may drive on by without noticing indicators that might take you in another direction.

The act of looking for “everything” allows for limitless enforcement opportunities. Looking for “everything” will often carry you far beyond your preference bust while expanding your expertise.

Looking for Nothing

It must be recognized also that some officers are not proactive, but reactive. They do not look for self-initiated trouble. The suggestion of looking for more trouble might lead to this officer saying, “The dispatcher sends me to enough trouble. I do not need to go out looking for more, thank you.”

This can happen, because they have become under-whelmed by their career, or just overwhelmed by their call volume. The act of looking for nothing can create a survival issue, because of the tendency to develop a sort of psychological tunnel vision where you believe, “It is whatever the dispatcher says it is; nothing else and certainly nothing more.”

This attitude can be dangerous because even the innocuous barking dog complaint can actually be a dog barking at a killer. Remember O. J. Simpson?

Look for Cues

The skills an officer has developed in the search for “something” will serve them well in the pursuit of “everything.”

Suspects will exhibit the same nervous mannerisms with a stolen safe in the trunk as they would with a spare tire filled with cocaine.

Here are 12 cues to look for:

  1. The “no-look look”
  2. A leaky neck
  3. Hesitant answers (“My name is ah... um”)
  4. Conflicting answers (“I was born in June, no July...”)
  5. Give up signal (hands on or over head, crossed in front or behind back subconsciously anticipating the handcuffs)
  6. Dry mouth
  7. Immediate exit
  8. Lying eyes (a science in itself)
  9. Bargaining (“How about I park the car and I walk?”)
  10. False smiles and fake friendly
  11. Looking about for an avenue of escape or witnesses
  12. Hands disappearing from view (Don’t let this happen!)

These are but a few. Please feel free to share your personal favorites in the comments below. 

Some signs will be visible, whether the suspect is a drug mule on his/her way to a delivery or a terrorist on his/her way to a target.

The intoxicated driver will possess the same signs of impairment leaving a favorite watering hole as they will driving away from a homicide scene. Remember, a drunk is not always just a drunk.

Searching, Searching, Searching

You will need the will to be successful in criminal interdiction. You will also need the skill to observe, interview, and apply search and seizure laws on the street, while the clock is ticking to legally answer the question, “What is really happening here?”

Never forget (not even for one moment) that policing is a dangerous business. While making contacts, account for the hands, count the hands and control the hands as you watch the hands.

Do not be shy about asking for backup. Do not be hesitant in giving backup. Be prepared beforehand physically and tactically to win every confrontation your type of policing draws you inevitably toward. Whether you are looking for nothing, something, or everything, confrontations come to all. In looking for everything, however, you will rarely be surprised, when they happen.

Keep a mind open for “everything” while staying alert throughout every contact, whether you patrol a small town or big city.

Remember “everything” happens everywhere, just in varying degrees.

Parting Words of the FTO

The old FTO would always end his advice with this personal observation. “On a shift where you are looking for nothing, you will probably find nothing. If you are looking for something, you will often find nothing. When you are looking for everything, you will almost always find something.”

That FTO would also challenge officers he released from field training in this way.

“Police work is fun. I challenge you to aggressively remember that every day of your career. I dare you to love this career half as much as I do. Now be careful out there and always, always, always, stay safe, stay strong and stay positive!”

This article, originally published 02/25/2013, has been updated.

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