Cop Habits Die Hard

BRIAN THIEM: After an hour of mingling with the 50 or so people at a neighborhood party on New Year’s Day, I made my way through the buffet table and located a place to sit with my overflowing plate of goodies. It was a comfy chair in a corner of the living room with my back to not only one wall but two. My friends joked that they were saving this seat especially for me so no one could sneak up behind me, and should a member of ISIS appear among the partygoers, I’d spot him. Old habits die hard.

Its’ been 13 years since I’ve carried a badge and gun for a living, but when I go out to dinner with friends, I still quickly grab the seat where I can best view the crowd and, if possible, the doors. When I enter a convenience store, I still pause at the doorway andBrian OPD 1980 scan the shoppers. I check the faces and demeanor of the clerks behind the cash registers for signs of distress. I know the chances of a take-over robbery occurring at the restaurant where I’m eating or a stick-up going down at the store I’m entering are slight, but old habit die hard.

When my wife and I first started dating 18 years ago, she was perplexed (to say the least) when I continually guided her to my left side as we walked down a street and offered up my left arm or hand for her to hold. As a young soldier in the Army, I learned to carry things in my left hand to keep my right hand free for saluting. That habit was reinforced when I joined the police department—always keep your gun hand free. Today, I still do the same because old habits die hard.

I still stand to the side of doors when knocking or ringing a doorbell. I doubt the person I’m visiting will empty an assault rifle’s magazine through the door if I’m standing in front of it, but old habits die hard.

When I pull up to a traffic light, I still stop a car length behind the car in front of me. Cops are trained not to let themselves get boxed in. If an emergency call comes over the radio or we spot a felony-want vehicle driving toward us, we want an escape route. And we certainly don’t want to be bumper-to-bumper with the car in front of us if we suddenly realize it matches the description of one used in a string of armed robberies. Old habits die hard.

When I started in police work, very few of us wore seatbelts when on patrol. The fear of being trapped in our cars if a bad guy suddenly appeared and started shooting at us was greater than dying in a crash. Halfway through my career, our department mandated the use of seatbelts during normal operations (a good decision), even though the lawOakland police car provided a law enforcement exception to the seatbelt laws. But we began unbuckling our seatbelts as we approached a scene, so that upon arrival, it was one less thing to do if we needed to hastily exit our cars. That habit continued well into retirement, whether I was pulling into the grocery store or my driveway. But thanks to my new car’s nagging admonishment when my seatbelt is undone, I no longer release it a block before my destination.

Today, my retired brothers and sisters in blue and I can laugh at some of our old cop habits, but we know that these habits may have allowed us to survive the streets and make it to retirement, so many will remain with us forever.

I’d love to hear from others out there—either former cops or friends of cops—about other cop habits they notice in people who had once carried a badge and gun for a living.

3 thoughts on “Cop Habits Die Hard

  1. I drive my kids crazy when they try and talk to me because I am rarely look them in the eye, I am too busy looking around, making sure no one is coming upon us, checking peoples hands and waist bands as they saunter by us. They think I am ignoring them or not interested in them but in reality, I am listening and trying to keep them safe all at the same time.


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