Cold Weather Cops

Cold Weather Cops

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

One of the great things about being a police officer is the opportunity to be outside in the air and elements. One of the bad things about being a police officer is being outside in the air and the elements.

Officers who work in areas that experience all four seasons learn to make adjustments for their seasonal work. It is easier for those who live in primarily cold climates to make allowances for the temperature, wind, ice, and snow. Then there are those who experience unseasonably cold weather from time to time and can be caught without proper gear or the proper mindset.

Of course, there are plenty of jobs that require outdoor work in harsh weather, but for first responders, there is no option to wait for better weather, and a wrong decision could be fatal. Although most crime statistics show an increase in crime during warmer months, exceptions may be domestic violence since people are more likely to be at home longer and car theft where “puffers” (cars left running to warm up while unlocked while running) are ripe for picking.

Heavy winter clothing is good for avoiding hypothermia, but not so good for subduing resisting arrestees. Clicking handcuffs over coats and sweaters is slower due to having to adjust sleeves and unsnag the ratchets. Pressure points and areas for striking can be inaccessible or well-padded. Taser probes may not reach their target through heavy winter clothing, and cops and bad guys both wearing coats can turn into a Sumo wrestling contest.

Footwear is a critical component for cops in any weather, but making the adjustment from normal boots or shoes to bulky winter boots affects the ability to drive and run. My experience in Midwest ice storms proves there is nothing short of spikes that create control on frictionless roads while working a crash scene where the ability to quickly jump over a guardrail to avoid out-of-control traffic is a consideration.

Balancing body temperature from chills to sweat is tricky. Keeping the patrol car too warm creates a shock when you finally have to get out on a call. Sweating in the car or from exertion can translate into chilly discomfort. Fogged-up glasses are a hazard when entering a warm house on a domestic or a bar for a fight call. Overall mobility is slowed with the layers required for outside work, and stationary positions like directing traffic or guarding a crime scene provide no external warming opportunities and little physical activity to keep the blood flowing.

Working a crash on a snowy or icy day is inevitable. Having a high-energy snack, a thermos with coffee, cocoa, or soup, and being sure to a wear high visibility coat or vest can save the day. One might have to violate the dress code to switch from the campaign hat to a fuzzy one with earflaps, but it would be worth the write-up. A wise strategy is to remember your mother’s advice use the bathroom before you go out. Toileting is arduous enough with bulky equipment in a nice warm place without going in nature.

I was once called out on a day off to respond to a hostage situation resulting from a botched bank robbery. I had enough experience with Colorado winters to don my insulated underwear, grab a sleeping bag, and stop to fill a thermos with hot coffee before taking up a position on a nearby roof for several hours in single-digit temps.

Gloves are another essential for cold weather patrol. Insulated gloves can keep the trigger finger warm and supple, but getting that gloved finger inside the trigger guard is another matter. During Army winter survival training I was issued big white mittens that could operate an M-16 because the trigger guard on the weapon had a hinge that opened up to accommodate a fat mitten. Not so with duty sidearms. Either the officer wears thinner gloves with less warmth, gloves with the trigger finger sleeve cut off, or practice whipping off the glove as part of drawing the gun.

Hats off (or flaps down) to the men and women working in the ice, snow, wind, and cold rain. Stay warm, and stay safe.