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Are you a great backup?

Nothing will bleed to death on a desk at the station if you abandon it temporarily to pull an officer’s bacon out of the fire


Consider arriving in advance of the request for assistance when you recognize a chronic problem location or chronic problem person.


“10-78! Officer needs assistance. Now!”

Just reading those words probably kicks your heart rate up a notch or two. Every street cop has breathlessly shouted – and/or heard those words shouted – into the mic when backup was needed “Now!”

The indisputable fact is the job of law enforcement requires good backup. Here are five key elements of being a good backup officer.

1. Arrive Alive

When another officer calls for help there is a natural tendency to overdrive your capabilities and the conditions. A good time to do autogenic breathing is when en route to a call like this. Don’t crash. Arrive alive!

To arrive also requires that you decide to go. If you are tied up with a minor traffic violation or a minor call, mentally triage the importance of what it is that you are doing balanced against the safety of another officer. An officer in need of assistance is a request of the highest priority.

This triage should not only be done by street officers, but also by commanders and administrators. Nothing will bleed to death on a desk at the station if you abandon it temporarily to pull an officer’s bacon out of the fire.

All officers will notice a commander who does this and they will respect that commander immensely for it.

2. Arrive Early

Nothing precludes officers from arriving at the scene proactively rather than reactively. If you pay attention you can often tell when a contact has potential for problems because of the “who, what, when and where” of the call.

Consider arriving in advance of the request for assistance when you recognize a chronic problem location or chronic problem person.

Sometimes the arrival of a second officer will diffuse a potential problem before it becomes a real problem.

Nearly every officer will appreciate another officer covering their six without being asked.

3. Do No Harm

Have you ever worked with someone whose mouth was a problem-multiplier? Verbalization should be a tool used to de-escalate problems, not exacerbate them.

Even more unwanted than indefensible verbalization is unjustified force by an amped-up officer arriving on the scene with good intentions and bad decision-making skills.

Be certain you do not punch, TASER, pepper spray, or shoot suspects without justification.

This is a perfect opportunity to use John Boyd’s OODA loop to ensure your assistance will be properly focused:

  • Observe and identify the problem;
  • Orient yourself tactically to best address the problem;
  • Decide what needs to be done the most, first;
  • Act!

3. Bring Skills and Tools

If you have physical skills and apply them legally and effectively on behalf of other officers, you will see officers will breathe a sigh of relief as you arrive on the scene. Training to maintain – and expand upon – your skill set will not only help you survive on the street, but those skills will help other officers survive also.

These skills include verbalization, empty hand control, firearms, TASER, pepper spray and baton, as well as knowing how to legally apply these skills and tools. Try to achieve a black belt-level of expertise at all of your survival skills. Lives depend on your skills, including your own.

4. Get Your Arm!

Many situations that officers are called to assist on involve suspects who simply do not wish to be arrested. Their resistance mainly consists of withholding their arms. The backup officer will discover the arresting officer in a struggle over one arm and to be a good backup, you must be able to “get your arm.”

“Getting your arm” takes the right combination of strength, leverage, technique, and at times, endurance. You can enhance your success rate in this area by training in the weight room to increase your upper body strength and endurance regardless of your gender.

Both women and men can choose to be strong and act on this decision by putting in the time in the weight room to make it so. It does not matter if you are male or female; if you wear the badge, you are expected to be able to “get your arm.”

There are also numerous equalizing techniques for “getting the arm” of a stronger individual such as pressure points, compliance techniques, joint manipulations and leverage techniques.

Seek them out, learn to use them and you shall find success at “getting your arm.”

5. A Present of Presence

Being a good backup is the present you give to other officers that will be returned to you tenfold when you most need it.

Remember that to be a good backup requires much more than being present. You must be a presence!

This article, originally published 02/10/2014, has been updated.

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. 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.

Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. He is the co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters.” 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 two non-fiction books, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History” and “If I Knew Then: Life Lessons From Cops on the Street.” All of Lt. Marcou’s books are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.