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One of the most dangerous aspects of working as a law enforcement officer is not the suspect who’s standing ready to fight, the armed robber who’s decided to stop running and turns square-off with the cop who’s been in pursuit for several blocks, or even heading to a shots-fired call. Instead, the most perilous, threatening, hazardous (you pick the synonym) situation officers face is the unknown—what they can’t see. It’s the what or who is waiting for them behind a doorway, a dark alley, or somewhere within a stairwell that sends the scary-meter off the charts.

The Fatal Funnel

The entrance to these areas of “the unknown” is often called the “fatal funnel.” For example, a murder suspect was seen entering a backyard garage at the end of dead-end street. The garage is a large building and the owner tells officers that it’s packed full of antique furniture, lots of boxes of all sizes, four old cars, a tractor, lawn care equipment, and an assortment of cabinets, shelving, and other typical garage bits and bobs.

There’s only one way in and that’s a side door made of solid metal. There are a few windows, of course, but unfortunately they’re blocked by stacks of cardboard boxes.

The door, then, is the point that separates the officers from access to the concealed killer. It’s the sole point of access to the interior of the garage. It is where the wide expanse of the outdoors narrows to a single point. The doorway and immediate area leading to it is the fatal funnel.

Unfortunately, for the officers, that doorway must be breached, and they must go inside to bring out the criminal. It’s their job. It’s their duty.

The Two “Cs”

“Cover” and “Concealment” are terms drilled into the minds of rookie officers during their academy training. They’re also stressed during briefings and training sessions for SWAT and High-Risk entry teams. All officers should keep those words and their meanings at the top of the “things I must do” each and every day” list.

A cover is an object or barrier that has the capability of likely and hopefully stopping projectiles such as bullets, rocks, bottles, etc.

Concealment is something that prevents officers from being seen. It’s any place where an officer could hide to prevent a suspect from knowing their precise position, and what he/she may be doing (reloading, calling for backup, moving into a more tactically advantageous position, etc.).

Doorways are the danger end of the fatal funnel. It’s the point where an officer can be easily seen. It’s where they’re the most vulnerable to attack, and it’s the place where  it’s difficult to move out of the path of incoming projectiles. This is the place where an officer is most likely to die during a high-risk entry.

Author Lee Goldberg learns safe building entry procedures while at the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy

It’s why officers are taught to never stand in front of a doorway during a high-risk incident. After all, the advantage in these situations is definitely in the hands of the suspect. They know where the officers are positioned but it’s up to the officers to learn the bad guy’s location.

Prior to entering the home/room, the first officer to enter should take a quick peek inside using just a small portion of the head to penetrate the doorway. With firearm at ready, the shooting hand also penetrates the doorway simultaneously with the head. This action enables the officer to address an active and immediate threat. The officer should then have an idea of the layout of the room that’s immediately beyond the doorway. They may also learn the location of the suspect and other possible threats, such as animals, boobytraps, etc.

Two officers preparing to enter the fatal funnel – 2016 Writers’ Police Academy

After the quick peek it’s time to pass through the fatal funnel. It’s the decision of the first officer whether he/she goes right or left. The second officer entering must go in the opposite direction. If the first officer goes right, the second officer enters to the left. Each officer then clears the corner nearest to them.

Room clearing instruction at the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy

The eyes should be in the direction of the muzzle of the gun. Where it goes the eyes should follow. Peripheral vision is a MUST to detect movement and activity in all directions. Again, though, the immediate focus of the eyes is where the weapon is pointed.

Each area of each room must be searched in the same slow and methodical process, and each doorway within a house is its own fatal funnel.

Two techniques used to safely enter a building or room are “Criss-Crossing” and “Buttonhook.”


It is the goal of the officers to safely locate and apprehend the suspect. However, that’s not always the outcome, such as the recent shootout in Houston, where five narcotics officers serving a search warrant immediately came under fire the moment they entered the fatal funnel of the home to be searched. After the first officer entered and was shot, it was up to the remaining officers to first go in to bring out the injured officer, and then to apprehend the shooter(s). As a result, four of the officers were shot (two in the face) and a fifth suffered a knee injury.

When the first officer entered the house, he was attacked by a large pit bull. Then one of the suspects, 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle, opened fire, striking the officer in the shoulder. The officer fell and the second suspect, 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas, tried to grab the officer’s service weapon. She was shot and killed by the officers who were on the way in to rescue their fellow officer. Tuttle was also killed during the shootout.

The officers obtained the search warrant because they knew black tar heroin was being soldfrom the house.

I’ve been the first officer through the fatal funnel, many times, and I can assure you that the feeling associated with doing so is practically indescribable. The adrenaline released when the decision to “go in” cannot be compared to any other. It’s a combination of fear and courage that, when teamed together, instantly forces your feet to move forward without hesitation. Your heart pounds and your vision and hearing become razor sharp. Your muscles are hard but fluid, and your mind is focused on nothing but the task at hand.

Once, when entering a house, I was attacked from the rear by man holding a steak knife in his hand. He’d been concealed behind a large piece of furniture to my right (I’d chosen to left after a quick peek). The second officer entering the room quickly stopped the attack and the third officer took the second man’s place and continued going to the right  while the attacker was pulled from the room. We located the main suspect hiding in a room at the back of the house. After clearing all the rooms and cuffing everyone inside, we located a fairly substantial supply of crack cocaine.

Looking back, I think about all the times I could’ve been shot, like the officers in Houston. Would I do it again, if in that position? Absolutely.

It’s what cops do. It’s part of the job.

Fatal funnel and all.


Sadly, on the same day I posted this article about the extreme danger associated with the fatal funnel, the Virginia State Police announced this sad news. I trained at the same academy as did this brave young trooper:

Trooper Lucas B. Dowell was a member of the Virginia State Police Tactical Team that was assisting the Piedmont Regional Drug and Gang Task Force with executing a search warrant at a residence in the 1500 block of Cumberland Road/Route 45, just north of the town limits of Farmville. The Tactical Team had made entry into the residence shortly before 10 p.m. Monday when an adult male inside the residence began shooting at them. The Tactical Team members returned fire, fatally wounding the male suspect.

Trooper Dowell was transported to Southside Community Hospital in Farmville where he succumbed to his injuries.

It’s often the tiniest of details that’ll pique a reader’s interest in your work. Those elements, by design, just might make a lasting fan out of someone who recognizes that you’ve done your homework and that you know how to subtly weave fact into fiction.

Like a well-rehearsed performance of Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II by The Philadelphia Orchestra, where we as concert-goers don’t see all the behind the scenes practice time that goes into scores such as The Rabbit of Seville, and Rhapsody Rabbit, a seasoned cop’s daily motions come with ease, as should the scenes you create where officers make arrests and carry out other duties that come with the job..

Cops perform certain tactics and techniques on a regular basis—handcuffing, using the car radio, pat-down searches, etc. They do these things so often that they could almost perform them in their sleep.

They rehearse tactics and techniques at the academy through role-playing. They practice what they’re taught, in their minds. They run through scenarios, in their thoughts. All of this to prepare them for the big show … the encounter with that person or people who violently resist arrest, or those who simply want to hurt or kill a police officer.

That sense of “comes naturally” is the feel that fictional characters should exhibit on the page.

Detail, detail, detail

Living, breathing, pulse-pounding detail hooks the reader by thumping their hearts and increasing their respirations. Details that cause them to grip the book a bit tighter when the danger level is high and then reduces the tension when it’s done. It’s a rollercoaster ride that hinges on a writer’s ability to conduct a harmonious symphony of words, from the first moment through the last.

So, just as conductor George Daugherty and The Philadelphia Orchestra leads the audience on a speculator journey with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Pepe Le Pew, Tweety, Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, and Road Runner, the writer should compose their stories in a manner that leads the reader on an eye-popping emotional journey, a trip they want to take and won’t soon forget. Readers want the writer to stimulate their senses. They want and need to know your characters on a personal level. You want readers to step into the pages of your books. It’s an escape from reality that must begin with a passion to tell a tale.

 

Ask Yourself the Important Questions

So, in order to add those tiniest of important details needed to breathe true life into your cop characters, you should ask yourself a few basic questions, such as:

How should an officer position themselves when making an arrest?

Answer– Always, always, always stand with your gun side AWAY from the suspect. This is especially important when the subject is combative/resisting.

Which areas of an arrested subject should an officer search for weapons? Is there a standard procedure?

Answer – Start with the most obvious locations first—the waistband, of course, and this is especially so when dealing with male subjects. Each officer should establish a routine as to how they conduct searches of a person. By doing so the chance of missing an area is greatly decreased.

For example, after searching the waist and leg areas (boot knives and holsters are good hiding spots for weapons such as small guns and knives), I started at the top, beneath hats, and then worked my way down until I reached the ground, leaving no area untouched, and that includes a firm hand in the groin area. This, believe me, is not the time to be shy. I’ve found more than one handgun jammed inside pants and underwear.

Another point to note is that when officers hand over a suspect to another officer, the second/receiving officer should conduct another detailed search of the suspect. I know, it seems redundant, but it’s not worth risking your life by depending upon the potential sloppy search, or no search, by another human. Anyone, even the best of the best humans could make a mistake.

What are some of the danger signs do officers look for when dealing with unknown people?

Answer – There are many, so I’ll mention a few of the basics, such as:

A person wearing a coat during the summertime. This could indicate the subject is armed and is using the outer garnet to conceal the weapon. The same is true when a person touches an area on their waistband, or that a shirttail is untucked on one side. Or even when a person’s clothing “appears” a bit heavier on one side. Sometimes, the shape of a gun’s grips/an outline is noticeable  beneath the material. Pockets that appear heavier than normal, sagging due to a heavy object inside could indicate the presence of a weapon. Keep in mind that even heavy objects such as rocks and bottles can and are used as instruments of death. Yes, a rock can kill when used with enough force.

Many, if not most of the “killed in the line of duty” deaths occur during an officer’s initial approach to a subject. This is why it is imperative that the officer quickly, almost within the blink of an eye, size up the person and then formulate a plan. Remember, no two situations are perfectly identical nor are two people the same in every way. So quick thinking and a plan are necessary.

It’s a given that it’s rude to not look someone in the eye when speaking to them. But eyes cannot hurt us. So officers should always, always, always watch the hands of a suspect/subject. Next, watch the feet. They, too, can be used as powerful weapons.

Officers are forever scanning their surroundings, Ambush attacks are common, and deadly.

Have a backup plan in case Plan A fails. And never hesitate to retreat if a situation becomes unmanageable and/or unsafe.

Call for backup!

What do cops do wrong that could be a hazard to their safety?

Answer – Officers should maintain their weapons in excellent condition. They should make certain that firearm operates properly and they should practice their shooting skills on a regular basis. This practice should include scenario-based training, not simply going to the range and popping 60 holes in a stationary paper target. After all, how many times have you heard of an officer being killed by a non-moving sheet of paper?

The same is true of vehicles and other emergency tools and equipment. Maintenance and practice, practice, practice driving skills, as well as other tactics, such as building entries, etc. PRACTICE!!

What are some things that officers overlook?

Answer – Officers sometime become complacent. It’s easy to do when doing the same thing day after day after day. Unfortunately, when an officer is careless and, say, skips searching the crotch area of an arrested subject because he was too embarrassed to put a hand “there,” well, it could be the last mistake he’ll ever make when the guy reaches into his pants to retrieve a hidden .380.

This isn’t so much “overlooking something” as it is being careless, but officers often tend to work while excessively sleepy and/or tired. Their pay level is sometimes not so desirable so they work a lot of voluntary overtime, and even second or third jobs. And, obviously, a job where your life could be threatened at any time requires a person to be on top of his/her game.

Overlooking the obvious is something that happens a lot. Just as I suggest to you that writing important details are, well, important, officers must take that to another level. For them, everything and everyone should be considered a danger until it’s proven that it’s not.

Hiding behind things such drywall and plywood works as concealment, but not as true cover. Bullets slice through both items as if they weren’t there. So find the best possible cover to protect against gunfire.

I’ve seen officers run to a man down as if the danger ceased immediately once the suspect hit the dirt. This is an extremely perilous time. Always assume the suspect is still armed and capable of shooting and killing you. Approach with caution, still using cover and concealment, if possible, until you’re certain the threat has ceased to exist. Keep in mind that the downed person may still have a hidden weapon and is pretending to be incapacitated. Do not let down your guard. Never.

Finally, here’s Bugs to wrap up the day …

 


TODAY’S MYSTERY SHOPPER’S CORNER

Since the holiday season is nearly here, I’ve decided to feature a few fun items for your mystery shopping needs and wants. I’ll post these regularly throughout the remaining weeks of 2018.

So, for day four of MSC, especially for those of you who’re shopping for writer friends who enjoy a bit of research and/or relaxation, here are my picks. By the way, someone asked why I post all Amazon links for the books I recommend. The answer is that they work well for and with this site, but by all means feel free to purchase books anywhere you like. But why not here by simply clicking the links I provide?

First up, the Police Blue/Black folding knife. It’s also a firefighting rescue tool.


The Thin Blue Line flag.


LEGO’s City Police Mobile Command Center


Uniden Handheld Police/Fire/Rescue Scanner. I had one of these in my police car. In fact, I still have it.


The Book Corner

I’m on and off with Stephen King’s books, but I just completed this one and found it enjoyable.


Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors and I especially enjoy reading her books at night while snuggled beneath the covers. I read this one a couple of weeks ago.

I’m currently reading this one on my Kindle and it, like her others, is a wonderful read.


My friend Lisa Gardner has attended the Writers’ Police Academy both as Guest of Honor and as an attendee on a return visit. The second time she attended was a research trip for one of her bestselling books, Crash and Burn. The event provided her with the accident reconstruction material needed to write a believable make-believe story.

Fun fact – Lisa also wrote a hit short story that was set at the Writers’ Police Academy. In the tale, her protagonist, D.D. Warren, was an instructor at the WPA.