First Things on the Streets

Where are you? Do you even know your location? When I started in Law Enforcement in 1991, police officers did not have locators showing dispatch the officers location. It was a high priority for new recruits to study the city streets. It was critical to know the direction you were patrolling. If you conducted a traffic stop and that transitioned into a foot pursuit the initial direction of travel was very important. That was the basis for all future twists and turns.

Squared away Field Training Officers would do things like suddenly shout out “Stop, the car!” As a probationary recruit you would immediately stop the car. That got the blood in your heart pumping. The Field Training Officer FTO would say something like: “You’ve just been shot at.” Or, “I’ve just been shot!, You need help! Where are you? What is your current location? Advise! Where are you recruit?” Of course the FTO was paying attention. He noticed you were not paying attention. You had no idea where you were. That’s a problem. That sort of thing makes a lasting impression. Years later you still find yourself paying a lot of attention to street signs. Every now and then you get caught not paying attention, and somebody flags you down. You get that panic feeling – Oh no, what’s my location? Knowing where your location may be the difference between life and death.

As new officers we studied the maps (before smart phones), and memorized the major streets. In the city of Springfield, Illinois we knew odd addresses were on the north and west sides of the street. Even addresses were on the south and east sides of the street. What’s it like in your city? I don’t know, it’s up to you to figure it out. We knew the hundred blocks preceding and following the major streets. We new this in all directions. We paid attention to what directions we were travelling. If we had someone bail out on a traffic stop and run, we paid particular attention to their initial direction of travel. St. Thomas Aquinas said “an error in the beginning is an error indeed!” Why? Errors in the beginning especially at the level of fundamental principles tend to compound. Great care must be taken in the beginning to ensure we’re not compounding errors. Knowing that initial direction of travel we could make adjustments as they turned north, south, east, or west.

How is this relevant to civilians? Why should a civilian care about this?

Think about it for minute. We take the same roads to and from work everyday. Do you even know the name of the roadway your on? Does your wife know? Does your teenage son or daughter know? Do you know the names of the major cross roads? Do you know if you’re travelling north, south, east, or west? I live in Tazewell County, Illinois. I know the Illinois river runs north and south. That is just one reference point. Do you know if you’re a little south of the next major cross road and what the name of that crossroad is? An awareness of where you are, that’s what we’re talking about here. It might mean the difference between life and death, especially if your commute takes you through dangerous areas where there are a lot of crimes each year. A lot of firearm related crimes every year. There may be police officers just a couple blocks away, but if you can’t provide your location to the call taker those police officers may miss an opportunity to help you.

The 911 system is on the verge of getting much better. Currently it varies from place to place. It may vary widely from place to place. Next generation 911 may be out late 2021. Depending on where you are in the United States current technology may triangulate your cell phone within say 50 meters in any direction. May is a qualifying term. It may be far greater distance or less. Emergency communications are gaining ground, and sooner than later, they will have the capacity to locate your cell phone within a few feet in any direction. The next generation may also provide what floor of a building the caller is calling from. To my knowledge that is not currently the case. The more details you provide a 911 call taker, the better.

Does that mean there’s no reason to do the work of learning where you are? No. Technology can fail. Systems can experience glitches. Mr. Murphy (Murphy’s law) sometimes shows up and wreaks havoc. Learning the map, as it were, is still a worthy pursuit. Knowing what direction you’re moving in relation to your map, or landmark, is a good thing to know.

As I spoke about in an earlier post, going out into the most dangerous neighborhoods of any city USA is so much easier as part of a brotherhood. Trust in your brothers and sisters gives police officers a major boost in confidence. You have no doubt they will take great calculated risks to get to you, and help you in your time of need. That said, I always knew the radio (cell phone for a civilian), could be a liability rather than an asset. How could it be a liability? If someone was about the business of murdering another human being in front of me, or drawing a bead on me, I decided I would forget about my radio (or the phone), and solve the problem. I knew then, and now, time is a precious commodity. I knew I would either solve the problem, or I would be killed. Should I win that battle even if I were injured, that would be the time (timing matters much) to key up (or dial 911) and call in the cavalry. That is where the lines are. Never forget that. That phone is not any kind of guarantee for you and for yours. If you have time to use it, do so. If you don’t have time, solve the problem. It’s that simple.