Do you now use a threat assessment matrix of some sort to determine search and/or arrest warrant service?

If you say yes, good for you. If you do not or have no idea what a threat assessment matrix is, please continue. Even if you use one, please read on. I want to talk about the benefits and importance of using a formal process to determine threat levels for securing locations for searching and for apprehending wanted suspects. It will save officer lives.

Today in policing there is no need to “cowboy cop” our way through critical events. Especially if we have the time to preplan them. There are still too many real events that go bad because officers have not thought through potential problems and solutions to those problems. We must get past the thought that “we are all cops and all the same, so let’s just go get the bad guy.”

Threat assessments are not meant to shoe anyone to be inferior. They are not meant to keep anyone from “having fun”. They are meant to keep people safe, while performing a dangerous task. They are just safety guidelines and procedures.

TAMs have been around for a long time. They are important tools for law enforcement. They work based on foundational principles of the Safety Priorities, suspect advantage, space and time, and others. They also force police officers to use critical thinking and decision-making skills to perform dangerous tasks.

Use of a matrix prevents officers from utilizing the outdated and dangerous false theory of speed, surprise, and violence of action. Critical actions become planned events, utilizing the sufficient and relevant resources and tools law enforcement has developed of the past several decades to insure safe critical incident resolution. In short, we no longer leave the success up to a roll of the dice. How does a matrix do this?

The TAM takes into consideration all aspects of the warrant service. It takes into account the suspect history, suspect’s current mindset (at best as possible), location obstacles, and associates, among other items. These considerations help prevent problems like officers burning infants with distraction devices, the negligent shooting of unarmed uninvolved people in the residence, the shooting of officers at they attempt contact on a known murder suspect, or worse, entering the wrong residence and forcing an armed confrontation with a homeowner, resulting in the homeowner’s death, officer death, or both. All of these listed events have happened in real life; some many times over.

The TAM then applies points or some other rating scale, to determine the potential threat to officers posed by the suspect and/or environment. The rating scale is then tallied and if the total score reaches certain levels, service options must be considered. For instance, if a suspect is wanted for violent crimes and has a history of violence against police, the warrant will be required to be served with a greater show of force than if the warrant covers property crimes. If the location requires specialty breaching equipment to enter, the service should fall to the tactical team, since they have expertise and experience in using such equipment.

For police agencies, TAMs take the guess work out of doing a dangerous job. They also provide a professional documentation of consideration of potential problems should someone still go wrong. Civil liability is a huge factor in policing. It is the reason policy and procedure manuals are several inches thick. Since the most impactful place officers may have to tell their story is in court, having written documentation of your problem-solving efforts before the problem occurred show the level to which you attempted to create the safest environment possible to achieve the most effective resolution.

By reasoning through the problem beforehand you will have the resources in place or on standby “just in case…”. Why do you carry pepper spray, taser, ASP, and gun on your belt? Why do you carry 3 knives and a back up gun? Because if you need any of those items, you can’t call “time out” and go to your car and get them. You need them when you need them, so you have preplanned how to have them available.

Tactical teams should have a threat assessment matrix for their use in preplanned warrant services. They should also implement the use of the matrix agency wide. It should be used by every officer, detective, and special unit. It should be applied to every search and arrest warrant. TAMs are not to belittle officers and make them feel like they “can’t play with the big kids”. That is ego and ego has no place in police tactics and decision making. Ego is what gets police officers and citizens injured and killed for no good reason. The use of written Threat Assessment Matrices has helped and will help police officers do a better job, be more accountable, and thus increase public trust and confidence.

Train smart, Stay Safe, Be Better