Being COVID-careful embraces timeless police tactics

Social distancing not only prevents transmission of disease, but it also maintains a recommended reactionary gap for officers

Policing through the current pandemic has afforded an opportunity for officers to apply perspectives and skillsets that could be termed COVID-careful. It would be wise to maintain some of these enhanced officer safety perspectives and skillsets long after the gloves come off.

Here are a few.

Every contact has the potential to be life-threatening

Do you possess the skills to quickly and efficiently physically control people, when even well-crafted words fail?
Do you possess the skills to quickly and efficiently physically control people, when even well-crafted words fail? (Photo.Dan Marcou)

During this pandemic, every police officer has had an individual moment when they have realized, “This situation is serious.” From that point forward they shed the blinders of complacency and faced every contact as if there was a very real threat.

This has not made officers rude, paranoid, or overbearing. It just has made them more aware of their environment and conditions of every moment of their shift.

Shedding complacency and cloaking yourself with awareness are habits you can live with.

Watch the hands

Doctors on the television every day are preaching, “Wash the hands,” reminiscent of academy instructors who, since day one, have been preaching, “Watch the hands!”

There is now a heightened alertness to the location and positioning of hands brought on by this deadly virus that should not be abandoned when this pandemic is history. The hands were, are and always will be a potentially deadly threat to police officers. The renewed alertness to hands developed during this crisis should be cherished, preserved and maintained during all future contacts.

Controlling with good communication

Officers working through this pandemic are aware that resorting to physical contact to control other people’s movements has been made even more dangerous. Therefore, officers are resorting to their communication skills to control movements of suspects, complainants and witnesses, thereby enhancing these skills. Bravo!

Physical control

Officers are still experiencing situations where they must resort to physical control when their words fail. However, it is done only with great consideration and, when attempted, achieved as quickly and efficiently as possible.  

Realizing the ability to achieve compliance through communication when possible while possessing effective physical alternatives that can be used to control suspects quickly and efficiently are timeless tactical goals. Training officers to effectively blend these skills should be given a high priority post-pandemic.

Let’s add that cleaning up yourself and your equipment after a physical contact has always been and will always be a good idea.

Social distance equals a reactionary gap

Another important tactic to carry on after the coronavirus pandemic is social distancing, which not only prevents transmission of disease, but it also maintains a recommended reactionary gap for officers.

During these days of COVID-anxiety, officers are vigilantly maintaining a gap between themselves and their contacts. This “social distancing” can serve as a “reactionary gap” both now and beyond this crisis. This will allow for:

  • The assessment of pre-attack postures, such as muscular tension, glancing toward exits/witnesses, the scanning of your weapon, the pre-attack stretch, physical blading, excessive emotional expression, the thousand-yard stare or the disappearance of hands, to name a few.
  • Doing a “visual pat-down” of the suspect to determine any indication of the presence of weapons, evidence of a crime, or contraband.
  • Time to identify a developing threat and react to that threat. That is why it is called the “reactionary gap.”


So, when the “all clear” message goes out, it is important to carry on these universally applicable perspectives and skills:

  • Avoid complacency, maintain situational awareness and remember every contact is potentially dangerous to a police officer. Don’t be paranoid, but be prepared.
  • Maintain a social distance/reactionary gap during all contacts.
  • Watch the hands. 
  • Control movements with practiced communication skills. 
  • Realize that the act of physically controlling is a dangerous endeavor and therefore strive to acquire the skills to do it efficiently when words have failed, and when you assess that the failure to physically control will pose a threat.
  • Clean up your equipment, your squad and yourself after a physical contact.


In these trying times, I would like to say thank you for possessing the courage that allows you, when everyone else is sheltering in place, to be a part of their shelter. And don’t forget, as Sgt. Esterhaus would say if he were still with us, “Be COVID-careful out there.”

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