The Importance of Pre-Contact Threat Assessment

National Police Training
December 17, 2012 — 1,486 views  
Become a Bronze Member for monthly eNewsletter, articles, and white papers.

In the world we live in, use-of-force is a fragile subject. When force is used disproportionately or with undue haste, people can be hurt, department reputation suffers, and the officer can be severely punished. In addition, judicial standing in the case of incident and future cases can be greatly jeopardized.

However, law enforcement has a remedy: pre-contact threat assessment. This type of assessment involves an awareness of threat-creating factors and subsequent proper action. When the five rules of pre-contact threat assessment are followed, the chances of negative outcomes in use-of-force incidents are vastly reduced.

Rule 1 – Be in Mental and Emotional Control

There is no greater cause for a bad outcome than being an emotionally troubled officer. Despite all stress-inducing symptoms that a subject can emit, the officer must be unaffected and concentrate on protocol and safety. Officers are recommended to focus on their own "center of balance" throughout duty.

Rule 2 – Manipulate the Environment, Not the Other Way Around

Police work can involve a lot of quickly changing circumstances. Being able to adapt to, be aware of, and use the environment to an advantage is a priceless skill. Do not let environmental features be an obstacle, but rather potential aids and accessories in the immediate goal.

Rule 3 – Can the Five Components of Arrest Be Accomplished?

If the officer is not confident that the five components of arrest cannot be satisfied solely or with backup on-hand, contact should not be made. These components are:


Approaching subject

Being "hands-on" with subject

Perform arrest and control tactics

Handcuff, search, detain, and transport

Rule 4 – Avoid Time Compression

A mistake that can lead many officers to use-of-force gone wrong is improper rushing of action. There is a difference between imminent and potential danger. This all goes back to rule number one. By not becoming emotionally captured by the moment, officers can proceed at proper speed, as the situation truly dictates.

Rule 5 – Remember Distance and Cover

Part of maintaining personal balance and proper approach involves keeping the right distance. Distance helps in safe assessment as well as keeping agitated and psychotic subjects more calm. Also remember cover when it is the safest option. This can mean the difference between life and death.

Pre-contact threat assessment is a critical part of the job of any law enforcement officer. Proper assessment not only ensures the officer's safety, but also ensures that if use-of-force is necessary, it is appropriate. Follows these five rules and reap the daily benefits. Good luck and safety first out there.


National Police Training