"Sharpening Our Orientation" and Reducing Officers Killed in the Line of Duty

A New Years Resolution we should all strive for “Sharpening our Orientation”

“To weaken the enemy, it is not necessary to attack him directly. Tire him by carrying out an active defense, and in doing so, his strength will be reduced, and your side will gain the upper hand.” ~36 Stratagems

For 24 years I have been reading and studying the circumstances and statistics on officers killed in the line of duty. There are numerous descriptors and attributes (friendly, well liked by the community, tends to use less force than other officers, hardworking, public relation and service oriented, uses force only as last resort, does not follow rules, feels he or she can read others, looks for the good in others and is laid back) that are common  to officer s getting killed or assaulted.

Of Course these factors and others must be considered in our efforts to reduce the numbers of officers killed. Its also important to remember its not one trait standing alone but a cluster of  traits that in my view create a false reading or orientation of the situation an officer happens to find himself in. A false understanding of human nature in conflict, the unfolding circumstances and remembering there are two sides clashing in encounters we engage in, with each side trying to impose its will on the other. These factors and the habits we form are what lead to a false orientation (reading) and  the assaults and deaths on officers.

The number one factor is in our ability to stay oriented to our surroundings and understand the climate of what’s going on around and within these surroundings. In other words, “we must possess true SUPERIOR SITUATIONALLY AWARENESS.”

Situational awareness is a tactical term we all have heard since day one of the academy and have continued to hear about throughout our careers. Situational awareness is harnessing all our senses including intuition that allows us to read and implicitly understand people and the situation, unfolding in front of us. Let us, start practicing and applying it at a superior level so we are never caught flatfooted and unprepared again. So we are never surprised by violent action!

We may not be able to predict with certainty exactly what will happen, but we can damn sure predict when something bad is about to happen. This is done by interacting with your environment and those in it and staying oriented to the actions and changes in action taking place and adapting to them! Staying oriented does not just magically happen, it takes hard work and focus of effort in our ability to read people and human nature.

Staying oriented is part of the “Boyd” or decision making cycle and we must learn to control this cycle so we are able to make accurate assessments of the situations taking place around us whether we are on duty or off duty.

To consistently win in our engagements (violent or non-violent) we must diligently work at creating and nurturing awareness which leads to individual insight and initiative in our efforts to detect, deter, disrupt or defend violent encounters. Winning largely depends on our ability to stay oriented and assess our adversary’s intentions and then focus our efforts based on the circumstances.

There are numerous tactical techniques that may help you stay oriented such as using cover and concealment or sitting with your back to a wall, so you can see entrance and exit points and those entering and exiting. Also the reactionary gap or relative positioning to keep people at safe distances is another example.

Technology is another area we focus on when it comes to offer safety we have state of the art firearms rifles, pistols and shotguns. Tasers are no very prevalent in law enforcement. Bullet proof vests, thermal imaging devices, K-9 are more prevalent as well. Computer systems that link dispatch centers to patrol cars and state and federal criminal information networks allowing for lose to real time information to be accessed and utilized.

We could go on here with the lists of both tactical methods and tools to utilize. These are all good examples of things we should be doing and utilizing to help us be aware, yet it still comes down to the human ability to observe, orient, decide and act, doing and utilizing what we know in our daily activities, all of them.

The lessons learned, from officers assaulted and killed in the line of duty have been stated over and over again by trainers throughout the country for as long as I have been around. Each year it’s the same scenarios and the same factors repeated. Studies have provided us all great information, and any law enforcement or security practitioner can recite the factors or behavioral descriptors of officers killed, without a second thought. If we know them and can recite them, why are we not improving significantly in these areas to reduce consistently the numbers of officers killed?

To improve success in our ability to stay safe and be effective while performing is in how we are able to orient to our surrounding. We must be able to do more than talk about it. We must be able to process information in a way we are able to detect danger, then decide and act accordingly.

We do not need an over abundance of policy and procedures that tell us what to do. We do need to be better at how to think and do” while in unexpected, uncertain and complex situations. This ability to possess superior situational awareness comes from disciplining ourselves to train and learn from each experience. We owe this to ourselves and to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice as true heroes in the service of their country, community and organization.

Do we let their valuable lessons be made in vain, in the sense of, how much have we learned and applied to being better at what we do? Do we wait to experience it firsthand when it’s possibly too late? Or do we adapt and make the necessary adjustments in mindset, combined with action to sharpen our orientation on a daily basis?

We know what to do! In 2010 let’s start doing it!

“…There are two forms of practical experience, direct and indirect-and that, of the two, indirect practical experience may be more valuable because it’s infinitely wider. Even in the most active career, especially a soldier’s career, the scope and possibilities of direct experience are extremely limited.” ~B.H. Liddell Hart

Stay Oriented!