Situational Awareness is Critical in Law Enforcement


Well it happened to me again. I was starting my shift on the road with a stop for the bathroom and I made an embarrassing discovery. I put my long johns on backwards.

Oh… stop laughing as I am sure many of you as LEOs have encountered situations such as mine. It is these situations which reminds us of our vulnerability to distractions on and off duty.

Now I am not going make excuses or place the blame on my age or memory. I can admit in my rush to get dressed and inattention to details which placed me into this dilemma.
I’d like to take a moment to bring up the topic of SITUATIONAL AWARENESS especially in law enforcement.

Situational awareness is critical to officer survival in law enforcement.

One of the ways I can describe Situational Awareness is this: You need to be emotionally, cognitively and physically present when you are working. Aware of what is happening around you at this moment. Preparing to meet the challenges presented to us… at any moment and responding appropriately.

Do a mental checklist and ask yourself these questions every day:
• When you are dealing with people whether our suspects or the public we serve, are you focused and present?
Are you ready for the unexpected as we all know, crap happens quickly:
• Are you dressed properly?
• Are you carrying your authorized equipment?
• Are you scanning, looking over the area considering options for the unexpected action?
• Do you have a plan ready to counter an attack, a subject running off or think of something unusual that could happen as it usually does.

Are you familiar with your patrol area, your community or like many LEOs who have to cover several communities? (Streets, land marks, businesses, government buildings)
Do you depend on GPS? I am amazed at the number of public safety personnel who are depending on GPS for everyday regular (NO… Such thing as routine) service calls. When I came on the job, I was taught to learn my main streets first, then my secondary roads. I discovered many individual streets when I answered calls. I have a laminated map in my duty bag and if it is a hot call when I have that brain cramp, I’ll ask for a location on the radio.

My concern about the electronic technology is we become dependent on this equipment. We lose our awareness of our surroundings and our sense of direction.

This is important safety issue to consider especially if you are involved in a foot or vehicle chase.
• Would you know where you are?
• Can you tell the Calvary (your back up) where you are?

This is vital for LEOs, don’t rely on the technology. Please practice and memorize where you are at all times. Be aware of your surroundings.

It’s still winter and this is the time of the year when it gets darker early. This along with the poor weather conditions that we work in can create some real hazards which greatly reduce our visibility.
• Please stay alert and wear your ANSI approved reflective vests, jackets and gear when working near the roadway both day and night.
• Make sure your flashlight(s) are charged and use the attachments for traffic control and visibility.
This is the time of year that we need to be alert for criminal activities around our shopping districts, residential areas and impaired operators on our roadways.
As one of the 5 tenets of the BELOW 100 Campaign asks:
• W.I.N.-What’s Important Now?
By staying focused and present, we avoid the distractions which can get us into trouble.
While we are at it, here are the other 4 tenets of BELOW 100 Campaign:
• Wear your seatbelt
• Wear your ballistic vest
• Watch your speed
• Remember: Complacency kills

Finally, remember that situational awareness is also like the concept of mindfulness which is being in tune with your mind and body and knowing when you need to take care of yourself. This could mean noticing the symptoms of fatigue and getting more sleep or noticing you are not drinking enough water and starting to carry a water bottle with you to prevent dehydration. It’s also knowing when you can’t handle the stresses of the job like you usually do and knowing when you need to ask for help.

The backwards underwear dilemma was my great reminder that I need to pay attention to detail which includes Situational Awareness on and off duty. I am grateful that it was a silly discovery and not a dangerous situation.


Stay safe and be well!

Sgt. Mark St.Hilaire is a 27 year veteran police officer serving in a suburb of Metro-west Boston, Mass. He is a volunteer police peer assistant to a regional C.I.S.M. team. You can contact him by confidential email by CLICKING HERE. Follow Mark on Linked In or Twitter: @NPD3306.

CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues of law enforcement career survival. We invite you to share your opinions, ask questions and suggest topics for us in the Comment Box that is at the bottom of this article.

At The Law Enforcement Survival Institute (LESI) we train law enforcement officers to cope with stress and manage all the toxic effects and hidden dangers of a career in law enforcement.

Our “Armor Your Self™: How to Survive a Career in Law Enforcement” on-site training program is an eight hour, hands-on, “How to” seminar that helps police officers and other law enforcement professionals armor themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to survive their careers in police work. To learn more CLICK HERE

The concept of “True Blue Valor™” is where one law enforcement officer has to muster the courage to confront a peer who is slipping both professionally and personally and endangering themselves, their peers and the public. It takes a system of organizational support and professional leadership to support and foster the concept of courage and intervention. We will train your trainers to deliver this program to your agency.
To learn more CLICK HERE

Our “Armor Your Agency™: How to Create a Healthy and Supportive Law Enforcement Agency” Program includes critical strategies that you will need to build a system of support and encouragement for a healthy and productive agency. To learn more CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to read more about The Law Enforcement Survival Institute.

CLICK HERE if you would like to contact us to learn more about training for your organization.

I’m John Marx, Founder of The Law Enforcement Survival Institute and the Editor of Connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. was founded to provide information and strategies to help police officers successfully survive their careers. We help law enforcement officers and their agencies prepare for the risks that threaten their existence. Thank you for reading!

About Mark St. Hilaire

Sergeant Mark St.Hilaire has 25+ years as a police officer and is currently serving as a Patrol Sergeant in a suburb of Metrowest Boston, Massachusetts. Mark is continually training as a police peer assistant, and serves as a volunteer member of a regional C.I.S.M. team. He is committed to educating public safety professionals about the benefits of good health,developing our relationships and emotional wellness to improve our quality of life on and off duty.
Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Hi Rich,
    Thanks for your comment and the great resource!
    Stay Safe!

  2. Thank you for the humorous and serious reminder that situational awareness matters!
    For more, visit:

  3. Howard "Jake" Jaquay

    The backwards long-johns reminds me of having set my briefcase on top of my patrol unit during my first six months on the job, forgotten all about it, and was driving around my district when the dispatcher called my unit number with the direction to “10-37 the top of your unit for an item”. Slightly embarrassing, but much better to have that happen as a result of inattention than the other possibilities. Good article. Thanks.

  4. Great post Mark, and yes we have all done things to laugh about, but being aware of your situation is no laughing matter.
    Perfect reminders for rookies and the “seen it & done it” crowd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.