Law Enforcement: My Most Dangerous On-The-Job Mistake, and What I Learned From It



This was one question in a larger survey on how being an LE Officer has changed people. Respondents answers are below…. – Rob Shaul


I drove way too fast on my way to home-invasion burglary. I did a full 900 degree rotation in my Crown Vic – but didn’t hit anything. Don’t drive faster than your patrol car can handle! I may be a NASCAR qualified driver… but if I’m driving a jalopy… that doesn’t mean anything. I drive much safer now – so I don’t crash – so I no one else crashes into me – and so I can handle business when I arrive on scene!

Initiating a pursuit early in my career on bad info at noon the Saturday before Christmas… luckily no accidents, but it was a dumbass decision

Getting a cuff key stolen and having a prisoner temporarily escape. I learned to slow down and double check my equipment before moving on.

Fitness related – wasn’t strong, but I could run forever. Started to loose a fight. Fitness went to strength/endurance balance.

Not carrying the proper gear undercover

My most dangerous mistake was driving Mach 2 everywhere. It takes only a few near misses to realize that you can’ t help anyone when you yourself now need the help.

Involved at a scene of a shooting. There was not a plan of approach to the suspect. Everyone moved in in different ways. The suspect produced a knife. Everyone drew their weapons and 2 decided to fire. The issue was that we were all in a cross fire situation. I came close to being hit with friendly fire. I now ensure there is a plan and everyone knows it.

Letting a suspected impaired driver go because they passed field sobriety tests – I really felt that he WAS intoxicated. He crashed less than 5 miles from where I let him go, and another officer worked the crash and arrested him for DWI. From then on, I went with my gut feeling.

I did not shoot and armed, fleeing & dangerous suspect quickly enough out of fear of getting into legal jeopardy. I learned that the law is solidly in my favor there and would pull the trigger faster than I did.

Leaving external vest carrier off, and responding to an active shooter. do not take vest off.

I had a backup firearm fall out of holster while fighting with suspect. Got a better holster.

I had a fight with an individual with a gun who voiced his intent to kill me and my partner. I successfully took him into custody but in doing so I employed a level of violent strikes I was uncomfortable with in terms of being able to control him on the ground. I learned I needed a better ground control technique. So I implemented Gracie Survival Tactics in my departments DT program.

As a new Border Patrol agent, in one six week rotation on Mids, I had two people try to stab me, one tried to bean me with a nine-ball in a sock, one guy in a fight tried to pull my pistol out of my snapped holster as we rolled around on the ground. I self-analyzed those situations, and realized that my “shit-magnet” mentality was the common denominator, and took steps to work smarter and safer while still producing the same results.

Trusting too early. Stay more alert and situationally oriented.

I responded solo to a verbal domestic. View through the open front door, observed male (known to me), female and child. Male was pointing them out of the residence in a loud, agitated voice. I left view to enter a deck, drawing my TASER, should he fail to comply with my orders. When I reached the front door, female and child ran past me screaming. I entered the threshold and immediately say the blade bearing down. Suspect had grabbed a 3 foot sword and attempted to behead me as I entered. I avoided being struck, fired my TASER with good placement and went custodial. The mistakes were several, but the height was approaching with TASER. Nearly cost me my life and certainly saved his…

Allowing a fellow officer to talk me out of a justified use of force that led to a foot pursuit and injured suspect and me almost being hit by a car. My coworker was concerned about the amount of paperwork associated with a taser deployment so he pleaded with me not to tase a combative subject armed with a “spear”. I listened to him because of his “experience” and wound up chasing the subject through a crowded city, putting myself and others at risk. The situation could have been avoided by doing what I know was right by policy and law.

Trying to get through an intersection going code 3 & getting into an accident. I am very careful when trying to clear intersections.

In my first few months of solo patrol I ended up searching a house for a wanted felon with a couple other new guys. We were proud of ourselves for getting consent to enter the house from the lying girlfriend, since we knew the suspect was inside. We hadn’t done our homework on the suspect and weren’t aware of his history of weapons offenses. As we approached the last few rooms upstairs, we all sort of hesitated and looked at each other – something felt off. We kept going and heard some movement behind a door. We backed off and made more announcements, then he suspect and another male surrendered. There was a loaded rifle in the room where they were. The second guy in the room said the suspect was planning to shoot us as we entered the room, but the second guy decided he didn’t want to be involved in that, so he wrestled the rifle away from the suspect and convinced the suspect to give up. I learned: slow down, do a good threat assessment on your targets, when in doubt call for more resources, and put “paws before boots” (especially now that I’m partnered with a malinois, he’s good at hide and seek). I’m more deliberate now, particularly on entries, and think more about everyone going home safe rather than booting doors and running around chasing excitement.

Due to certain policies (strict pursuit policy) I do some things off of the radio. They almost always turn into foot pursuits and not getting on the radio until that point means longer for backup units to arrive meaning more time of me fighting the suspect. They becomes risky when in an apartment complex such as where I found myself a couple of years ago. Luckily none of the 40-50 people watching as it took my backup nearly five minutes to get to me luckily no one did anything.

Let an older lady open up her door on a traffic stop. I got complacent because she’s older. Grandma can wield a knife or an AK as good as a 20 year old can. I kicked myself in the A** for letting my guard down, PT’d for a while for punishment, and watched myself on video. Rehearsed in my head over an over on the correct action.

I was at a domestic. This guy pulled a knife and came at me. It happened fast. I grabbed his head and took him to the ground. In the course of the fight I sprayed him with pepper spray, which in turn covered me in pepper spray. I couldn’t see a thing and was fighting this guy for a knife. I finally got him in handcuffs. I was lucky. I learned dont use pepper spray in CQB.

Letting adrenaline get the best of me and suffering from tunnel vision in high stress situations. I combat it everyday by making myself focus and be aware during my hard workouts.

The most dangerous mistake was assuming the competency of more senior officers early on. Since then I treat every situation as if it’s fresh (ie: every weapon is loaded until proven safe)

Never underestimate the little guy, and never think an arrest is going to be easy just because the dude seems like a pushover. The hardest fight if my life was with a tiny tweaker who was literally half my size. That guy fought like a UFC fighter and we were nearly ran over by a car. The fight began maybe thirty yards away from any road for reference. Now, I never underestimate anybody. I almost died because of that mistake.

There are to many to count. But my most dangerous on-the-job mistake was to not call out a traffic stop where a fight ensued between a parolee-at-large and myself over some meth and a gun. I have learned to better read my situations and use better tactics to prevent from placing myself in that situation.

I nearly pulled the trigger on a wanted criminal after he rushed me with a shiny key in his hand, holding it like it was a knife, after screaming at him multiple times to stop and drop it, luckily I was able to process what the item was before squeezing and making that horrible mistake which has helped me rethink and evaluate my uses of force before deploying weapons.

Complacency is our enemy, too easy to get into the rut of thinking “routine” or “I’ve done this a hundred times” or “It won’t happen to me”-Biggest mistake I made was complacency in wearing my body armor to off duty gigs for a bit, dumb move, didn’t last long, but just plain lazy. I make it an effort to push folks to wear their armor, doesn’t guarantee survival, but sure as hell increases the chances. Below 100 is one of best initiatives that has been undertaken for law enforcement.

Trusting a co worker with a task at an emotionally disturbed person call who was armed with a machete.

Driving way too fast in pursuit of a stolen vehicle and losing control (almost ate shit real hard). Pardon the French. Put things in perspective in determining factors for why when and why I push things. Taking a moment to pause and look at the scenario before acting.

Relaxing/trusting people too soon. There have not substantial consequence from it but plenty of close calls. We share those mistakes with other cops as a reminder to continually pay attention .

Clearing a house by myself that we have had many false alarms at then finding a person in a crawl space under the house. I have changed the complacency attitude.

Recently, I was serving a ticket to an extremely intoxicated person. While providing information, the subject began reaching for my gun and I immediately reacted and dealt with the issue. I feel that if the person had not been so intoxicated things could have changed dramatically. It’s a cold reminder complacency kills and it really woke me up to remember officer safety comes first.

Shitty tactics and Pistol marksmanship when I first started. Only way to improve was to make swat, so I did.

When I first stated I did not have the mindset to think that every person could be armed with a weapon. Even in the jails dropping my guard could have cost me my life or endangered a fellow officer.

My most dangerous mistake has been not searching a suspect thoroughly and finding a knife on a secondary search. Fortunately no one got hurt. It caused me to conduct better searches.

Getting out of my car to try and stop a fleeing offender in a car. I almost got ran over. I realized that the best weapon we have against a car is another car.

Dealing with aggressive females. Not using the correct level of force because of how I was brought up. They can be vicious. I adopted the mantra if you act like a man then you will get treated like a man.

People fail to realize we are humans to. I have no profound crazy “oops” moment thankfully although we can learn from everyone who puts on the uniform. I would say we have all changed our response to certain types of calls as well as established a “tactical pause” in tense situations to triple check to say our validity and need to respond in such a manner as we do.

My first DWI arrest while in processing the perp pulled his pipe out of his pocket. After that I searched prisoners thoroughly

When dressing and gearing up for a patrol shift one day I was almost ready to go and my daughter came in as I was retrieving my handgun. She distracted me for a moment and I holstered my weapon without charging the round into the chamber. I went to work and worked the entire shift, thankfully without having to draw my weapon. That night when I returned home and removed my weapon I went to clear it and only then learned that there had not been a round in the chamber all day. That was one of the most horrible feelings followed by gratitude for not been forced into a terrible/life changing situation that day. From that day on I always gear up and charge my weapon alone, free from distractions. And furthermore, anytime I know I am going into a house on a warrant I do a secondary press check. Yeah some of the guys laugh that I should already have one in the chamber, but I don’t ever want to hear the click of an empty weapon when my life or the life of someone else depends on it.

Assuming that people would respect the uniform and respect the authority it conveys. I learned that self reliance and preparedness are key.

Not being aggressive enough fast enough. I learned to pay attention to my internal sense of danger. I now pay more attention to body language and study psychology more.

Years ago during a hostage rescue call, I was point in making enrty into a master bedroom. Strange layout and no other means to make enrty other than shouldering or kicking the door. Of course my foot glanced off the door jamb and through the interior door. The suspect was shooting at us and other officers breaching a window. We knew this was not the best entry technique, but entry had to be made. We used the incident to push for our explosive breaching program.

My most dangerous on the job mistake was to trust another officer when they said they searched a suspect who had a knife. I learned that you can’t trust anyone, do the work yourself.

Making entries. I’ve learned over the years to slow down and not be as aggressive as I was when younger and dumber.

Neglecting to quickly conduct a pat down during a gun call. Will never do that again!

Not getting off the freeway fast enough on an accident call. I don’t hesitate to clear the freeway as fast as possible now.

Engaging in confrontations without backup. Several incidents in early years. More luck than skill got me out of trouble. Learned patience and preplanning for high risk events.

Driving too fast when I wasn’t sure where I was and driving off the end of a dead end street. With experience, I am more aware of my territory and now drive with better control.

Warrant service, had to muzzle punch suspect through window when he wouldn’t show hands. Inadvertently hit mag release and mag fell. Cleared house with one round in chamber. TL was holding mag when I left residence-fuck!. Always check and recheck condition of weapon and increase dry fire weapon manipulation

I once left one suspect to help my partner fight another suspect. After watching the video, suspect #1 continually reached towards his waistband, then looked around for places to run. Ultimately he decided to cooperate, but it could have been horrible. Now, no suspect goes unwatched, and people are searched first rather than last.

Letting guard down too soon led to handcuffed individual kicking family member in the mouth

Allowing myself to get out of shape. In the last two years I’ve been active in crossfit and can now outperform most of the younger officers.

I can’t pinpoint one specifically but “immediate physical response” to certain situations needs to be ingrained right out of the gate. Making the transition from split second decision making to physical action is not easy and sometimes that “failure to act” even with slight delay can have bad consequences. Being goverend by so many laws and constantly having your actions scrutinized is the antithesis of what I describe above.

Working with a rookie clearing a house for a suspect. And having that rookie turn the corner pointing her weapon 2ft from my head. I learned that trust only goes so far with new recruits and that if I can teach them a few things to provide safety to themselves and their co-workers everyone goes home.

There has been many times after a incident I looked back and thought I was lucky on that one. I think if you are out there getting into it you are going to make mistakes you just have to learn from them and try to never dot the same one twice.

Initiating a traffic stop before I called it out. Next thing I knew I was in a foot pursuit with an armed suspect and nobody knew where I was. I now call everything out before I do it, or I don’t do it.

I was holding a position that did not need to be held (only need one gun not two). I ended up getting shot at needlessly. Lesson: you may want to be in the fight but don’t be stupid about it

Not realizing a partner had become addicted to pain medication. He eventually started using heroin and was arrested and fired. I never saw it. I went through plenty of doors with that guy searching for armed criminals. He put all our lives at risk.

I have been shot at but I don’t think I made any mistakes. I learned to try to live my life as honestly and ethically as I can ’cause it can end in a second.

I went through a red light while running red and almost got t-boned by another police car.

Not waiting for backup to arrive prior to making a felony stop on a stolen vehicle. Fortunately for me, the suspects cooperated and backup arrived shortly thereafter. Since then I wait on my backup and I choose when to activate my emergency equipment so that I dictate where the violator pulls over or doesn’t.

Missing a gun on someone during a search early in career.

Rushing through a dwelling, where my feet out ran my eyes/brain, ran into an armed subject, who decided it wasn’t his day to shoot me. Unless someone is dying, slow it down a notch or two to open up your vision, and absorb your situation.

Tombstone courage. Thinking im bad enough to superman through anything. With age comes wisdom and I always have a backup and talk people into the cuffs.

As a rookie I missed a knife on a subject I thought I had searched after arresting. When I had him at the jail the jailer found it. I could have put other people’s life in danger.

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