Holding the Line
Teamwork in critical calls of service
A routine call is rarely “routine.” Every call we attend as police officers has us fully engaged. When the call is intense, we can be so immersed at times our physiological responses could cause us to lose vital information that might help us successfully navigate the call.
By Michelle Vincent
We have all heard of auditory exclusion, tunnel vision and the other physiological reactions when engaged in fight-or-flight situations, such as a shooting. We all know of, or have even personally experienced, a challenging moment where one’s life was potentially put at risk as a result of another’s actions.
As police officers, we have it grilled into us that we must never be complacent in any incident. This is because the most simple of incidents can become that type of critical one we dread. For example: we receive the “routine” call whereby someone is reporting a stolen wallet and upon attending, we discover it is a suicide-by-cop moment — anything but routine. We are advised to play out such scenarios in our minds as we attend each call.
Have we thought of what we might do if we find our partner in a stressful situation? Have we thought about what happens if, while attending as their backup, we notice they are not managing the call as well as they might under normal circumstances? Perhaps they are yelling out commands repeatedly in agitation or have lost the professionalism you know they generally always maintain.
We complete our firearms qualification and learn new moves in defensive tactics — we even review Immediate Rapid Deployment and the diamond formation when dealing with active shooters. All of these are essential skillsets required as we return to our platoons and investigative units. However, as for looking out for one another, we talk about that after we have attended a critical incident, like the one illustrated above. Let’s try to notice if our partner is showing signs of withdrawing or any unusual behaviour during the event.
Typically, we don’t expect to come on the scene to find our partner in full active duty, executing a task that is fraught with intense emotional energy, such as holding a person at gunpoint. Attending a call such as this should inspire us to act as our partner’s keeper and to evaluate both the scene they are dealing with as well as the manner in which they are dealing with it. I am not suggesting we take over the call and do it our way. I am suggesting we let our partner know we are here and, if necessary, that we are available to take over in a non-intrusive manner should they need a break.
Let’s think about some historical incidents covered by media where we have seen an officer who may have been stuck in the moment, doing the best they can with what they have at the time. Now think about how having a partner reach out and say, “Hey man, let me take over from here,” may have changed the outcome of that scenario for everyone involved.
Again, the message in this article is not to second-guess what has already transpired with those officers in those situations, but to think of a different approach with a fresh set of eyes on-scene.
What resonated with me the most and the message I received during the discussion on this topic was the opportunity I have, as a partner, to work as an essential member of a team, changing up the positions to support as we see fit in order to have the ultimate outcome. I may have been the team lead in an incident, however if my partner notices I am wearing thin, I sure hope he or she offers to step in and help me out in this intense situation. Likewise, I hope I would notice and do the same for them. We are a team. Let’s remember that in every moment.
Michelle Vincent is a 15-year York Regional Police officer with a Masters Degree in Arts in Counselling Psychology and a background in equine assisted therapy, workplace reintegration and teaching. Her counselling practice is supervised by a psychologist with a specialty in addictions and trauma. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.