Police Responses Demands Constant and Repeated Action...Throughout the Tactical Encounter

I listened to a great podcast this morning on John Boyd and Maneuver Warfare which lead me to a great article by the guest Major Ian Brown titled Opening the Loop in which he explains the importance of being able to open up the OODA Loop when according with an adversary. This is a very important concept to understand and be able to apply in policing as well.

Police all too often get stuck on go "high diddle, diddle straight up the middle" in their efforts responding to crisis. There are times quite often many times police must make transitions and adapt, to win on the street in crisis situations. These responses demands constant and repeated action. An action that supports the goal of winning must be influenced by a proper decision. Such decisions are formed by constructing “mental concepts of observed reality,” and changing these concepts when reality is perceived to change. Boyd argued that these mental concepts were derived in two ways: general-to-specific (deductive) and specific-to-general (inductive).

Underlying Boyd’s discussion in “Destruction and Creation” is the fundamental assumption that all human activity is shaped by the goal of ensuring survival on one’s own terms. Survival demands constant and repeated action. An action that supports the goal of survival must be influenced by a proper decision. Such decisions are formed by constructing “mental concepts of observed reality,” and changing these concepts when reality is perceived to change.

The essence of deduction is destructive, as it smashes one or more larger “domains” into smaller constituent elements. Induction is constructive: it finds the commonality among a multitude of free-floating elements and builds them into a new domain or concept. This is especially important in uncertain circumstances, where as a police officer looking at things based on a certain perspective. Lets use erratic operation of a motor vehicle as an example:

A police officer observes a motor vehicle being driven erratically in the town and attempted to pull the car over. Instead the operator, later fails to stop and drove off. and was pursued by the officer. At this moment the officer mindset instantly changes from routine, to unknow car stop. He thinks, But why is he not stopping? The officer does not know and now must use his experience (both direct and indirect experience), training, deductive and inductive reasoning to make some tactical judgments bases on uncertainties now unfolding. He knows most (high ninety percentile) motor vehicle stops go as planned. The actions of the drive of this vehicle has him breaking this fact down into WHY is he fleeing? Could it be he realizes he screwed up and just wants to get away with a minor violation? Could it be he has a bad or extensive driving record? Could it be he is operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Could it be he is a wanted criminal or someone who just committed a criminal act that the officer is unaware of?

As the officer asks these question he may get some of the answers but not all of them so based on what he knows and what he does not know, he must now through induction make some judgments. Its important to understand that these judgments entail risk, some known and some not unknown. What's known in this example is he attempted to stop a vehicle that is now fleeing. He does not know why. He knows speeds are increasing and depending on the time of day he knows what the traffic and pedestrian conditions are (heavy, medium, or low flow). He knows the direction of travel but does no know where the fleeing vehicle is trying to flee too. He knows the resources available to help him pursue the fleeing vehicle but he does not know immediately if they are available and if they are available how far away they are or how long till they are in the immediate area to assist. The officer also knows how he wants this pursuit to end but he does not if what he wants is actually how it will end.

In micro seconds this officer must now, in the context of this situation (not some other pursuit in the past) think about what course of action will he now take. He must adapt to the changing conditions. This could mean based on his perception of the patterns listed above (all going through his mind) using inductive and deductive reasoning in real time in rapidly changing and uncertain conditions that he; call off the pursuit because he believes based on what knows that the seriousness of the violation he attempted to stop the vehicle for does not outweigh the risk to other innocent people; he could decide continue the pursuit because his perception is that the reckless driving of the operator is indeed putting the public at serious risk; he could scale back the pursuit and monitor because he believes the vehicle must be stopped because either the driving behavior or something else he learns as the situation unfolds has him believing something more sinister is going on but traffic is heavy (for example) and their is a great risk to the public, but so to does the risk remain high if he allows the subject to continue.

Its very important to keep in mind that all these options and more may ebb and flow throughout an officers mind as he attempts to make the most effective decision. This is because the circumstances unfolding are not in a neat linear step by step technical structure. In the aftermath of the incident it might feel that way because now we know everything and can analyze much more effectively. But the officer does not have that luxury. Instead this type of incident is an ill structured, nonlinear and adaptive problem with no definitive way they form and no definitive solution. Both the officer and the fleeing subject are walking, talking, thinking, adapting and deciding, in real time with every move requiring a counter move. It takes highly trained and developed police officers willing to take calculated risks (which is much different than being rash) to solve them. Risk is always involved in stopping dangerous interactions. We must never lose sight of this fact.

This also why police training and education must require scenario based, experiential learning teaching police how to think and do versus telling them what to think and do. We are not going to have adaptable cops if all we do is teach them school solutions. They must know how to frame and solve problems in an adaptable way. Why sense-making, adaptability, problem solving, meta-cognition (emotional intelligence) and attention control should be the core-competencies we develop in our police. Adaptive challenges require much more than developing and falling back on policy and procedure, checklists, SOPs etc. They do require thinking leaders, leading thinking police officers.

Here, Col. John Boyd argued, was the potential for a dangerous divergence. This self-satisfaction tended to block out any “alternative ideas and interactions” that might “expand, complete, or modify the concept.” The mental block created by this inward refinement meant that a “mismatch” was created between “new observations and the anticipated concept description of these observations.”

Using these patterns in the example above, the officer could thereby change his perception of reality. The officer, would then verify the internal consistency of this new perception and the degree to which it matched reality. Satisfied that his new concept was internally consistent and matched what he was seeing, the observer would then focus inward to refine further the concept and match it with reality. This is where an officer must use his sense-making ability and adapt accordingly. Again its important to keep in mind this is based on his orientation (what he believes is going on), which may be accurate or perhaps not. Here, Col. John Boyd argued, was the potential for a dangerous divergence. This self-satisfaction tended to block out any “alternative ideas and interactions” that might “expand, complete, or modify the concept.” The mental block created by this inward refinement meant that a “mismatch” was created between “new observations and the anticipated concept description of these observations.” This again is happening in micro-seconds and is based on the officers intuitive ability to decide under pressure in real time, and not with the luxury of 20/20 hindsight and explicit decision making. Obviously a discrepancy between “actual” reality and “perceived” reality could be detrimental to making the decisions and taking the necessary actions to ensure effective and safe actions.

The other important note we should never forget is that while the officer is making his own observations, orientation decision and actions, in an effort to protect and serve his or her community, so too is the adversary, observing, orienting, deciding and acting in his efforts to escape. He could have just as easily stopped when he first observed the officer wanted him to pull over, or any time thereafter he began his quest to evade. Wouldn't be wonderful if life were just that simple?

Writing this in a way to make this understandable to people is not easy. Police officers will get it because they understand the unpredictability of adaptive challenges but I also want the people the police serve to understand how difficult the decision making process can be for cops dealing with an unpredictable and non-cooperative person, be it a vehicle pursuit or any other dangerous interaction they may have to deal with. The pen picture of a scenario written like this example always seems perfect. But I have been writing this for going on 4 hours. The officer is making these decisions in micro-seconds or minutes depending on the circumstances. Policing is a tough job when dealing with adaptive challenges and the police need the publics support even when they end tragically. The other important note we should never forget is that while the officer is making his own observations, orientation decision and actions, in an effort to protect and serve his or her community, so too is the adversary, observing, orienting, deciding and acting in his efforts to escape. He could have just as easily stopped when he first observed the officer wanted him to pull over. Wouldn't be wonderful if life were just that simple?

Stay Oriented!

Fred