Building Cohesive Law Enforcement Agencies That Can Decide In Crisis Situations

Through the Boyd Cycle is how we gather and process information and make decisions in our day to day law enforcement duties. We utilize this process of observation-orientation-decision and action to see the world around us, orient to what we perceive is going on and then based on this observation and orientation we make decisions and take actions to accomplish certain objectives based on what our goals or intent is. As law enforcement professionals we need to not only understand the Boyd cycle but we need to condition it through training so that we become more effective at applying it on the street. How are our efforts at becoming efficient law enforcement agencies affecting our ability to effectively execute timely observation, orientation, and decision and action cycles on the street? Is there a balance to be sought that has room for across the board adjustments to efficient processes, policies and procedures and effective real time decision making utilizing experienced people and ideas?

One of Col. John Boyd’s most important insights we need to make a greater effort to understand is, “Machines don’t fight wars, people do and they use their minds.” How this applies to law enforcement is to understand what technologies, processes, policies and procedures work on the street, one must first understand how people think and act in the uncertainty, fear and chaos of dynamic encounters and what creates friction in decision making as a cop interacts with a suspect bent on getting his way or in a crisis situation such as a multiple car accident with mass casualties, a blizzard, hurricane, tornado, or fire etc. Only with this understanding is it possible to develop technologies, processes, policies and procedures, to serve the street cops needs. By understanding the needs and dynamics of people (cops) who work the streets, it is possible to design a system from the streets to the courts that advances police departments, efficiency and effectiveness.

Is It Not Time We Robustly Embrace The Philosophy of Decentralized Control?

Considering the types of environments, crises and adversaries the law enforcement officer will probably face on the streets of the future is it not time for a change in the bureaucratic processes to a system that affects individual and organizational decision making and sustaining cohesive departments? A law enforcement cultural change that embraces fully a philosophy of a decentralized bias for action based upon a high degree of professional trust and confidence between leaders of law enforcement and the led. This philosophy will provide principles for exercising good judgment in unique situations, not formulas and checklists. Although specific tools i.e. weapons etc. and basic procedures are ingrained through training and repetition, this philosophy advocates adaptability in the application of the techniques on the street. Policies and procedures must be written in such a way that specifics are left to the cops on the street facing the problem, a bottoms up approach whose vast experience and education will allow him to pick the right solution for the right situation (mutual trust is crucial here). At the tactical level, an officer will make decisions according to the particular conditions of environment, the adversary or crisis his own resources and the overall mission and intent set by the leaders of the department using his best judgment. Currently, police training centers on teaching specific techniques or habits so they can be repeated in a consistent manner regardless of conditions.

The difference between how we currently train and prepare versus the philosophy I am advocating is similar to the difference between techniques and tactics. Techniques require inflexibility and repetition, while tactics require flexibility, good judgment and creativity. Officers can only gain the ability to execute this new philosophy with experience and education, stressing free play force on force training brought to a conclusion with clear winners and losers. Keep in mind no tactical concept is an end in itself and that there is more than one solution to a tactical dilemma.

Tell Them What To Think and Do… or Teach Them How To Think and Do?

My belief about leadership and developing an organizational environment that is supportive and understanding which helps greatly in developing cohesion based on mutual trust, empathy and common experiences as well as self-sacrifice. These attributes greatly enhance both efficiency and effectiveness. To ensure these attributes are more than mere words it is import for leaders to lead daily and not only when a crisis is upon us. Leadership is a daily thing not an event driven thing. Meaning good leaders develop their officers on a daily basis so they are ready and prepared when crisis hits, compared to leaders who prepare and educate themselves and then try to puppet master through micro-management their officers dealing with a crisis, creating more uncertainty and chaos. It is important when setting organizational goals that we focus on identifying outcomes. What is it we expect and officer to do and how do we expect an officer to behave and perform as he/she carries out their daily duties? Once those outcomes are identified develop policy and procedures, rules and regulations, checklists, training programs that focus on balancing efficiency and effectiveness.

Let talk about balancing efficiency and effectiveness and how it relates to what we do. Efficiency, is commonly described as; achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. Effectiveness, on the other hand is described as; being successful in producing a desired or intended result (outcome). Efficiency denotes we look at and measure results based on inputs or an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, or conduct such as; policy and procedure or rules and regulations or a checklist to follow. Efficiency is an important aspect to policing. We must ensure things that need to be done such as; information and evidence gathering, dissemination and documentation in reports, etc., is indeed getting done. However it is important for leaders not to get lost in the efficiency of processes as it breeds a zero defects environment that creates a frontline that waits to be told what to think and do slowing down considerably the effectiveness of timely decision making and tactical problem solving.

To be Effective in human interaction, we need feedback on the policy, procedures, rules and regulations or checklist we are using. Are they working or not? Feedback or output as it is sometimes called is information gathered and perceived by the user, the cop on the street. The kinds of feedback the officer makes, and the kinds of input the officer on the street accepts, as he interacts with his environment and the people in it, defines the street cops orientation of the situation and effects the decisions and actions he takes. In this context, it is clear we need to understand the differences between being efficient and effective and balance them accordingly based on the unfolding situation. Efficient policy and procedures must be thought of as a framework based on foundational principles and include room for adaptation, people and Ideas, if they are to be fully effective.

A Simple Example: Balancing Our Efficiency and Effectiveness

Let’s use something common to every law enforcement agency, marksmanship training to explore this a bit deeper. Police marksmanship training we focus on task, conditions and standards. The task is to be able to develop individual officers who can safely and efficiently shoot and hit a target from various distances. We do this by teaching stance, draw, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze and follow-through. The condition this is taught in at most law enforcement locations is still a static range environment, using silhouette targets… The standard in most locations is to shoot so many rounds in an allotted amount of time, and includes magazine changes, malfunction drills, different shooting positions, firearms safety rules and to qualify with an 80% score. All our marksmanship training and this includes recruit and in-service training for veteran officers our focus is to qualify an officer in the safe and efficient use of a firearm. But is efficiency enough? Is it enough at preparing young and veteran officers for the threats and problems they may face on the streets? So what is the outcome of the current way we train? We have pushed folks through training with a qualifying score in an efficient way hundreds of guys a year in Massachusetts alone and thousands across the country. On paper we have efficiently meant the standard of qualification. The question then comes to mind does meeting this standard, make them effective on the street? Can they maneuver and communicate with back-up officers, innocent bystanders, victims, and an adversary, assess threats and set up tactically appropriately? Can they if need be shoot accurately when being shot at themselves? Statistics prove otherwise and that 14-20% hit rates are common according to FBI statistics and research of real life gun fights.

What does effective marksmanship training look like? There have been some fine trainers in our profession who have realized efficiency is not good enough and have changed the training methodology to incorporate not only safety and fundamentals of marksmanship but as well, the attributes of self-awareness, problem solving and threat assessment, adaptability, critical and creative thinking, decision making, tactical skills, social skills, fitness, etc. that have resulted in more effective outcomes on the street in tactical responses and approaches, assessing threats, tactical decision making and more accurate hit rates when deadly force was utilized.

This type of training is known as free play force on force training which involves utilizing all the tools (mental and physical tools) those tangible and intangible skills as they will be used on the street to solve tactical dilemmas. There is nothing new here, when it comes to talking about this type of training hell we have talked about it for more than 20 years however most agencies across this country getting this type of training on a consistent basis are few and far between. WHY? Because we are focused on, to heavily on efficiently, meeting standards, versus effectively developing officers capable of reaching outcomes we seek. This problem is not based on dishonesty, lack of integrity, or lack of intelligence by us law enforcement senior leaders. The problems are systemic in nature, a complex mix of law enforcement tradition, conditioned responses and institutional responses to the world we live and work in. If we want to continually improve our effectiveness and safety on the street, we must evolve through continued learning. We can start by removing some of the rules, procedures and processes that stifle initiative and work together to develop cohesive top down/bottom up organizations that trust one another to execute in all aspects the job of policing requires. While at the same time develop rules, policies, procedures and processes in an effort to be efficient, achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense that focus as well on effectiveness, so the street cop is successful in producing a desired or intended result. This will leave maneuver room for experienced people to use their tactical ideas resulting in cops who become tactical problem solvers making them both more efficient and effective in all aspects of policing.

The outcomes we are looking for in our professions are centered on solving complex and continually evolving problems in our efforts to protect and solve problems in the communities we serve. Now in our strategy to protect and serve we must keep in mind all aspects of the conflicts and problems we face, in their many forms and how cops perform when dealing with these problems. For a law enforcement officer dealing with these problems, this takes an ability of applying numerous critical tasks working in synergistic way in constantly changing conditions.

The leadership climate and training provided to officers must not only focus on efficiently meeting tasks, conditions and standards, it must also include developing the attributes, required for individuals, teams, and organizations to carry out the mission effectively. I would be willing to bet these attributes and values are in most agencies mission statements and policies and procedure manuals as BOLD typed words! Is it not time we put those words into BOLD action?

The Path To Vicory by Don Vandergriff is a great resourse on this topic.

Stay Oriented!

Fred