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P1 Exclusive: Cover officer: Person or position?

Lessons Learned: The Power of History
with Andy Casavant

Not long ago in Florida, a Sergeant stopped a vehicle for a minor traffic infraction. He met the driver outside of the pickup truck and had a conversation with the driver. After a short time he obtained the drivers license and went back to his squad to run the subject on his computer. He told the driver to wait at the rear of the pickup while he ran his license.
As the Sergeant entered in the data, he was by the very nature of the task unable to keep his eyes on the driver for short periods of time. As he looked up during one of these periods, he noticed that the driver was no longer at the rear of his pickup. It took a few seconds for him to realize that the driver had gotten back inside his pickup truck and had grabbed a shotgun and was now kneeling backwards on the front seat pointing the shotgun at the squad outside of the driver's window.
It all hit home as the first blast of buckshot impacted into the squad window and as he bent over to call in the attack, a second blast hit the already shattered window driving several pellets into his head. The pickup truck then drove off with the squad in pursuit. After a short chase in which the suspect eluded the officers, the Sergeant drove himself to get medical attention.
The suspect was later apprehended - without further incident - by other deputies. During the initial interview with the suspect, it was interesting to note that he described the Sergeant as very polite and in fact was so disarming that he readily gave up his license. It was only after he had time to think about it that he decided he should not have given up his license and needed to get it back that he decided to kill the Sergeant and take back his license.
While there are many issues to look at here, such as the use of computers when you're by yourself and taking your eyes off of a suspect, I want to address the use of - or in most cases the misuse of - the so-called "cover officer." The officer in the above scenario chose to not call for backup as we do in most cases. However, had he chosen to call and wait for backup there might have been a different outcome.
This scenario is not all that uncommon even in the presence of cover officers. I've been on calls when something goes down and I was expecting to have the other officer react only to find out that they did not see or hear anything or were out of position to handle it. Let's explore some of the functions of cover officers to try and determine why these types of break downs occur.
There is so much more research now (by organizations such as the Force Science Research Center and others) than there was just few years ago. While a lot of this research has helped to explain a number of behavioral issues related to use of force, I want to take a look at the tactics and attitude many times employed by the cover officer in these situations.

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