I can’t think of any other profession that relies on situational awareness day in day out, every day to keep themselves safe than a police officer. From the moment they hit the streets until the moment they take of their uniform Law Enforcement professionals face untold dangers that could leave them injured or dead.
I recently asked a former member of the thin blue line what exactly he did to keep himself safe while on the job. What were the things that he looked for when he approached someone, or they approached him? Here is what I took away from the conversation.
Always watch the hands.
He made it very clear that whenever making contact with anyone the first thing to always look at is not the face, nor the eyes but their hands. See what they are holding, are they carrying a weapon like a gun or a knife or do they have something that could be used as a weapon.
Do they have their hands in their pocket? Or hidden in their clothing? Are they reaching for something?
It doesn’t stop once they have verified that the person doesn’t have anything in their hands. They will continue to glance at the hands every so often to make sure that the person isn’t trying to make an attempt at something.
Hands near the waist can be very dangerous depending on how they are being held. Are the hands relaxed or are they tensed? If you are looking at the back of the hands instead of the thumb, this can be a bad sign.
Hands that are clenched into fists A reasonably visible sign that a person is thinking of attacking you.
After ensuring that the person doesn’t have something that can potentially kill you, the next thing they look at is the eyes. Is the person looking to one side or the other? Is he/she not looking directly at the officer as the officer is asking questions but instead making subtle observations about what is around them?
This can tell the police officer that the person is looking for either a path of escape or potentially something to use as a weapon. More often a way to escape.
Is the person looking up and off to the side when the officer asks a question? This tells the officer that the person is thinking of how to respond to the problem. Sometimes it doesn’t mean anything, but at other times it says that the person is trying to figure out some kind of lie.
Ultimately, it is up to the officer to try to decipher whether they are trying to remember something or if they are trying to concoct some story.
Too much eye contact is a sign of aggression. If they are staring at you for too long without blinking or looking away, it is meant to intimidate.
Does the person look down at their shoes? Are they looking at some point on the ground? Are their eyes trying to look at someone else?
A quick glance at the feet tells the officer if the person is in a fight or if they are in flight mode. A person standing square to him means that he is either wholly comfortable or that he is thinking of running.
It depends on how the rest of the body language and conversation is going.
The feet have potentially told him that he will lean to the left or to the right and that the officer needs to stay focused on which direction the person is leaning.
Another give away that the person is about to attempt to flee, is if they tie their shoes. This almost definitely means that that person is about to attempt an escape.
If the person has their feet in a fighting stance, they know that they need to be wary of that impending attack. The way a person is standing will tell an officer all he needs to know to try to stay ahead of the curve.
The other part of body language is personal space. People that attempt to break the boundary of your own area can be a threat. Someone who you don’t know that comes in to close uninvited is a clear sign of danger.
Usually, this is done under false friendliness. A person who is smiling at you and approaches to quickly can be a sign of aggression.
Personally, I have learned never to trust someone who is smiling out on the street. In a workplace or perhaps a crowded event it may be different, but on the street, it can mean something more sinister than a little friendliness.
A person may be trying to avoid you as well. Does the person try to keep their distance from you beyond the range of a normal conversation? Then the person under questioning is trying to keep that distance in the event that they have to run. Are they facing away from you while talking or orient their bodies in a sideways stance? They may run from you.
"Why you searching me?"
Clothing can mean a lot of things. A person uses clothing to identify themselves. In most cases, it is an expression of who a person is and what they are about. Women seem to know this instinctively.
A person all black outfit with a hoodie is someone to watch, they don’t want to be seen. They don’t want someone observing what they are doing.
Someone with a Marijuana leaf displayed on their clothing obviously enjoys marijuana. They shouldn’t be surprised if they are stopped and searched.
Someone who is in the city with camouflage is a hunter or is at least from the countryside. You know that they are usually just visiting.
Paying attention to clothing will tell you a lot about a person as well although for the purpose of trying to decide if they are a danger you will have to use your own judgment.
Hopefully, this will aid you in at least being more aware of the people around you.
As you practice the technique, it will become more comfortable until it is second nature. As you practice looking first at a person’s hands and then making the visual movement around them, you will find that you indeed do watch people more. This is a good thing.