By Jean Reynolds

Time is an important component in many of the topics covered in police training programs. Often the emphasis is on speed and efficiency. In a dangerous situation, you’ll need to make a fast assessment of what’s going on and how you will respond. Even routine tasks—like writing your reports—require you to work quickly.

But in some situations it’s better to move slowly. Here are three types of situations in which taking your time might be beneficial.

Dealing with a recalcitrant subject:

Law enforcement situations often seem like win-or-lose propositions, and officers naturally want to be on the winning side—especially when bystanders are watching. When a subject refuses to obey an officer’s orders, it’s tempting to use force to compel the person to comply.

But sometimes it’s safer to simply wait for the subject to decide to leave because of thirst, hunger, or the need for medical attention or simply to use the bathroom.

A case in point is a recent confrontation between an unruly high school student and a school resource officer. When the girl refused to comply with his orders, the officer forcibly pulled her out of her seat and took her into the hallway. A video of the incident soon went viral. Some criminal justice experts commented that although his actions were justified, the officer could have caused injuries to himself, the girl, or both of them. Waiting patiently for her to get up and go into the hall for water or a bathroom break might have been the safer course.

Dealing with a concealed subject:

Waiting can also be the wiser course when you’re dealing with a suspect who’s hiding in a closet, attic, or basement. It’s important to remember that the person who’s hiding always has a tactical advantage, and the risk for the officer is high. Instead of storming into the area, take time to consider alternatives—calling for a tactical team, for example, or simply waiting for nature to take its course.

Some years ago several inmates escaped from a correctional institution and hid in a large swamp nearby. Novice officers declared that it would be impossible to conduct an effective search in that unnavigable area. But veteran officers simply settled in and waited for hunger, thirst, and the mosquitoes to do the job for them—and soon the inmates surrendered.

Chasing a subject:

High-speed chases are so thrilling that action movies always feature several of them. But chases pose dangers for suspects, officers, and bystanders. Always consider your agency’s policies before embarking on a chase (some organizations prohibit them). And while you’re weighing your options, remind yourself that time may be on your side. Sometimes a fleeing subject poses no immediate danger to the public. Consider whether it would be safer to simply let the subject go for the time being—and apprehend him or her at home later on.

Because time isn’t a tangible thing, we’re apt to forget that it’s a versatile and useful law enforcement tool. Always factor in time when you’re considering a potentially risky course of action. Sometimes waiting is the safest course—and the one most likely to get the results you want.