The Grid: Is There Better Ways to Approach Police Interactions?

The Grid

A police officers mission is to keep communities safe, if necessary at risk to themselves. To protect and serve, that mission requires that their interactions with almost all citizens be nonthreatening. Unless of course, that citizen is a threat, then reasonable force may be used. When police use force, it’s shocking to most citizens. Hell the police themselves only use physical force in approximately 1.4% of all their encounters so it’s often shocking to them as well. What I would like this post to focus on “is there better ways to approach police interactions, so we the police can be more effective and safe as we do our work, while at the same time winning the peoples trust? In other words how do we approach and win our interactions both non-violent and violent at low cost? Ironically I found some answers in The Maneuver Warfare Handbook and I think we in policing could use maneuver principles in our efforts to become more effective and safe.

“Maneuver warfare is not new. It probably dates from the first time a caveman surprised and enemy from behind instead of meeting him Club-to-Club.” ~William Lind

The strategy, operations and tactics police use to solve problems must rely more on police officers senses, discretion and wisdom, instead of, checklists, policies and procedures so that whatever course of action an officer(s) takes they understand how it affects citizens morally, mentally and physically.  This type of thinking brings up some lasting police cultural issues that have evolved over the last 40 years or so with police tactics being attrition based  (force and control) verses maneuver based (sense-making and wisdom).  When asked about the need for attrition, the answer is always the same: It protects police officers. Who’s going to be against that? Are you against the police coming home safe at night?

This argument has two answers. The first is that cops cannot keep themselves safe at the cost of not being able to perform the mission, because it often degrades policing’s effectiveness, especially when policing a free society. A police officers mission is to keep citizens safe, if necessary at risk to themselves. That mission requires that their interactions with almost all citizens be unthreatening because otherwise their information dries up, and they cannot prevent crime or when we do take action it’s criticized.

The second answer is to point to maneuver tactics and the strategic game of interaction. Maneuver is organized movement of resources, for the purpose of taking and advantageous position. It’s about using common sense tactics.  This does not remove the possibility of having to use force and control (attrition) but it does help mitigate the need for attrition and instead opens up opportunities to win by other means and hence influence conflict, crisis, crime and violence in the moral, mental and physical levels. All three levels not just the physical which is all too often what we police focus on. How can that be?  Just as a police protects his neighborhoods, so they protect him, because he has shown them how police work can be done fairly and impartially. This effort to maneuver shows the public we are concerned with policing effectively, legally and constitutionally. They understand force (attrition) is only used as a last resort.  This unthreatening presence makes the police part of the community, and as a valued member the community does not want to see officers harmed.

How can police departments evaluate whether an action or development will serve their mission or work against it? One answer is “the grid.”

William Lind the father of Maneuver Warfare and author of the “Maneuver Warfare Handbook” and its more recent sister book “The 4th Generation Warfare Handbook” came up with the grid while working with the Royal Marines in Plymouth, England, helping them get ready for Helmand. It combines the traditional three levels of conflict and crisis, visualized as rows designated “tactical,” “operational, and “strategic,” with military strategist Col. John Boyd’s three levels, depicted as columns assigned to the “physical,” “mental,” and “moral” levels.

Each of the grid’s nine boxes represents a question: how will what we are considering work—for us or against us?—with respect to these levels. A higher level trumps a lower. That means the box in the lower right corner, strategic/moral, is the most powerful, and the upper left box, tactical/physical, and is the weakest.

While the grid was developed for military use, we can use the grid for almost all our operations.

This is not to say attrition or what I call high diddle, diddle straight up the middle responses are not ever necessary, they have their place. These types of emotional, false sense of urgency responses are very rarely needed however.

Maneuver can be thought of as policing judo. It is a way of fighting smart, out of thinking an opponent you may not be able to overpower with brute strength. As such it offers police officers the best hope of winning at low-cost. ~William Lind

Maneuver has its roots in ancient strategy which go back over 2500 years and the works of Sun Tzu and his treatise The Art of War.   Maneuver differs from attrition in many ways. Maneuvers central precepts are largely opposite to those of attrition. Maneuver is almost entirely based on surprise.  Surprise is achieved by encountering or engaging at an unanticipated time or place, or in an unexpected manner. Surprise can attain results beyond all proportion of the efforts to attain it. Surprise can be a key element in conflict because it catches an adversary off guard which slows down their OODA Loop. What Col. John Boyd termed getting inside the mind of your adversary and folding them back inside themselves so they cannot keep up with the changing conditions.

Officers who are proficient at both maneuver and attrition tactics will use the style that best suits the situation. The will use deception and surprise to set the adversary up and shape and reshape the situation as they learn and operate from the bottom up, under decentralized control.

It’s crucial to understand both styles are viable options and are dictated by the situation. Another benefit to maneuver is that it may spare lives of all involved, bystanders, innocents, police and adversaries alike.


Maneuver Attrition
Tries to bypass or influence people Attempts to use force on opponent
Depends on maneuver,  surprise and reshaping situations Relies on force and control
Focuses outward on the problem Focuses on self
Harnesses street cops wisdom based on situation Relies on being pushed via command and control procedures
Moves through or around gaps Hits adversary strengths
Exploits breakthroughs and opportunities Stays online with school solution
Exploits moral, mental and physical levels Seizes locations and people with force
Relies on officers senses and wisdom Uses check lists or cookbook, policy and procedures


The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the police officers mind is to get and old one out. Here I hope I offered something for your consideration. Thoughts, questions, debates and ideas are all welcome here.


Stay Oriented!