Hone One Of Your Most Important Skills: Observation

January 19, 2018

Hone One Of Your Most Important Skills: Observation

by Ian D Scofield

Anyone who works in a career where they might be exposed to dangers or violence will benefit from highly honed observational skills.  Today we are going to take a look at some of the ways that you can work to improve your skills of observation.  The more that we increase our ability to know our surroundings and what is happening around us, the better we will be able to avoid potential ambushes and allow us to get the upper hand in an incident.

Don’t Get Tunnel Vision

We have mentioned tunnel vision on here before, it is when you get so focused on one thing that you lose track of everything else that is going on around you.  In the world of law enforcement, getting tunnel vision can be deadly.  Suspects could have partners, or a victim could become an aggressor (especially in DV cases).  

The most common time for an LEO to get tunnel vision is when they are talking to someone or when they are holding someone at gunpoint.  It is hard to replicate the exact feeling of being in either situation during training, but you should try to do your best.  Mentally rehearsing all possible scenarios can also help you to be prepared to stay out of tunnel vision.

Put Everything Away

When you are in the field avoid using technology like your cellphone.  This will help you to be able to pay attention to more.  No matter how good you are at multitasking, a portion of your attention is always taken away when you have technology out.  Limit phone usage to in the station and in the safest possible locations while in your patrol car.

If you have to use your department issued phone, check your surroundings first.  Also make sure to check your surroundings regularly.  Fully lookup and do a 360 degree inspection of what is around you.  Try to mentally catalog everything so that you actually take in what is there.

Drill Yourself

Take time out of your day to stare at one location for several minutes.  Then close your eye and ask yourself questions about the view you have.  Here are some sample questions:

  • How many buildings can you see?
  • How many windows are there?
  • Where are cars parked?
  • What is missing?
  • What is new?

These are just some of the questions you can ask yourself.  Think of questions that you would ask your witnesses.  

Before you look away make sure that you take a picture so that you can see what answers you get right and which ones you get wrong.  Otherwise you don’t know for sure whether you are right or wrong.

Know Your Beat Even Better

Most officers walk or drive a beat regularly.  Get to know that area and the people that live and work there.  You don’t have to become friends, and you don’t have to even be buddy buddy, but you learn what to expect and what not to expect.  Use the information you learn to be the best officer on the beat.

If you work multiple beats, do your best to keep track of what happens in every beat.  Take notes in a notebook if you have to.  Try to keep the most important facts about each beat in your mind.  You can also talk to other officers who have worked the beat longer to learn more about the area.  Most officers should be willing to help.

Listen To Those Small Voices

Everyone has had one of those moments where something has told them “look behind you” or “duck”.  This is often how the brain translates quick deciphering of your senses.  When your brain thinks that it doesn’t have time to fully process something it will send you a quick signal that you can interpret.  It also happens when your brain knows that there is something off but it does not have all of the information to tell you exactly what is wrong.

Part of being observant is not just of the outside but of ourselves.  Those who have never been put in a position where one of these feelings has saved their lives might find it odd that it is a key part of being observant.  Most LEOs know elsewise.

Remind Yourself To Be Observant

It is easy to chalk being observant up to something that you should do without thinking, but that isn’t completely true.  Observance needs to be built up.  And it can’t be allowed to slip.  That means that you should remind yourself every so often, “hey look around you, what is near you.”  Small reminders will help to keep you focused.



About The Author:


Ian is a staff writer at APTI and hospital security officer at a major medical center who has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice. He has held multiple positions in the security industry from patrol supervisor to auxiliary public safety officer. At APTI he brings his writing skills to help further the careers of others and provide quality content. Feel free to visit his freelancing site or his creative writing site.

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