The Biggest Obstacle to Tactical Progress… and How to Beat It

Special Tactics has a great piece up on their site The Biggest Obstacle to Tactical Progress… and How to Beat It which gets into how a lot of wasted time on training days gets lost in the time spent arguing over tactics. Us police trainers have spent many a day doing the same thing as ego and hubris, as well as professional intended efforts to come up with the best tactical skill set we should apply to car stops, active shooters, robbery or domestic violence calls, etc. as we search for the best school solution. The problem is all too often ill-structured crisis situations require thinking police officers using their wisdom, training and experience that require tactical options.

When arguing about tactics, winning (in the traditional sense) is generally impossible. The reason for this is that there is often not a single clear answer to any tactical question. When comparing two techniques, it is difficult to prove that one technique is entirely right and another is entirely wrong. Instead, each technique usually has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. However, in many cases, people on each side of the argument focus only on the advantages of their own technique and the disadvantages of the opposing technique, remaining completely closed-minded to alternative viewpoints which makes learning impossible. In our opinion, the only way to “lose” a tactical argument is to walk away without learning anything.

One of the reasons why we spend so much time focused on good and best practices over tactical options is Hicks law. Hick's law, or the Hick–Hyman law, named after British and American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically. The Hick–Hyman law assesses cognitive information capacity in choice reaction experiments. The amount of time taken to process a certain amount of bits in the Hick–Hyman law is known as the rate of gain of information.

Hicks law in police training has been interpreted to mean "Teach you one option because we are not adaptable enough to pick from more." (my words) Hicks law is true when we spend to little time preparing cops and telling them what to think and do instead of teaching them how to think and do. Development of police officers that focuses on standardizing a technique(s) forgets one major factor and that is context! Situations Matter! When we trainers teach what to do and what to think we get arguments and wasted time debating ideas that may damn well work.  When we develop our police to high level of professionalism tactical options and analyzing strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages which helps us as professionals continue to grow, while becoming more effective and safe.

In contrast, we believe that the true tactical professional should strive to learn the advantages and disadvantages of every technique. You “win” a tactical argument by achieving an understanding of both sides of the argument. Even if you have a strong opinion about why one technique is better or safer than another, you will be able to argue your case more effectively if you know and understand the counterarguments to your own position and the weaknesses in your own argument. Ideally, you should be able to argue for the opposing viewpoint almost as well as you can argue for your own. This will ensure you know what to expect in the argument and how to respond. More importantly, attempting to understand the opposing viewpoint keeps your mind more open to new ideas, which is critical for ensuring the continued evolution and improvement of tactical thinking.

Whats fundamental to tactics is that which deals with winning at low cost in all forms of crisis situations. The answer to the question of what will work to undo and opposing force is what we must be searching for in tactics. Take a look at this whole piece by Special Tactics and lets stop placing one another as instructors and our police students in boxes and allow them to think critically, too innovate and do things to seek out weak spots and win.

  1. The goal should not be to “win” a tactical argument, but instead to understand both sides of the argument as well as possible.
  2. Open-mindedness is critical for adapting to evolving threats and environments
  3. Ego is the biggest obstacle to open-mindedness and there is never a good reason to bring ego into a tactical discussion.
  4. Instead of arguing, keep a running log recording each different technique along with its advantages and disadvantages.
  5. Use the log to guide the design of realistic, tactical experiments and use the results of these experiments to drive changes to unit tactics and SOPs.
  6. As much as possible, foster a command climate that encourages innovation and the discussion of different ideas and perspectives.

Stay Oriented!