What has 2011 Taught You About Officer Safety and Effectiveness?

“I learned that good judgment comes from experience and that experience grows out of mistakes.” ~General of the Army Omar N. Bradley

As this is the last week of the year, many of us are understandably looking back at the past 12 months and discussing what we consider to be the significant events of 2011. In most cases, such discussions tend to focus on the numerous challenges and upheavals we’ve either watched from afar or witnessed first-hand. From police response to crisis to police officers being ambushed and killed in the line of duty. There’s no question this year has brought about much adversity and numerous lessons we can learn from.

Adversity in and of itself is not necessarily a positive or negative thing. Rather, it’s what we do and whether we’re open to learning from it that should decide whether it’s been of benefit or harm to us. It’s time we start learning from experience and applying the lessons learned from the street and make a conscious effort to be both safe and effective.

Experience is a reliable guide when it is relevant to the contemporary and future operating environment and missions, and when its filtered, processed and stored in the brain using enduring principles and useful, reliable thought models. We are professionally obligated to do whatever we can to gain whatever experience we can without paying full price. That is precisely why we study past incidents and precisely why we should be applying lessons learned. To learn as quickly as possible, we must be more deliberate, more disciplined, and more thorough in our approach in order to squeeze as much as possible from each experience. As with everything else about mental conditioning and preparation there is no magic here. We can treat any experience as an opportunity to learn. It takes hard work and a willingness to continually learn!

Questions to ponder for safer and more effective policing in 2012:

  • How do we get better at doing what it is we do?
  • Most law enforcement agencies have settled for mere adequacy in individual and small-team skills—can we do better?
  • We often give ourselves feedback. Its natural for us to contemplate our decisions after the fact. We often beat ourselves up over bad decisions and congratulate ourselves for good ones. We “what if “ ourselves to death. Are we considering the circumstances and options and learning from the ‘what ifs’ or are we just talking the talk without walking the walk and becoming better at what we do?
  • Police officers often have little understanding of the reasons tasks were performed a particular way. Police officers are overly reliant on process, not focused enough on results (true in training, but also in planning and leading) so why do we continue to focus on policy and procedure development verse developing decision makers and problem solvers?
  • In law enforcement there is a pronounced tendency at all levels of law enforcement to control by rules—each problem seems to result in more rules (policies, regulations, directives, etc.) this tendency often created friction in decision making. I thought we in law enforcement were doing away with centralized control and wanted a decentralized structure so we could solve problems in an efficient and effective way. Why are still doing the same old things, the same old way?
  • Are you willing and able to go beyond mere regurgitation of information from higher command, policy and procedure by effectively analyzing the threat for an encounter, car stop, domestic violence call, robbery, suspicious person, warrant service, etc?
  • Are officers able to develop simple courses of actions that ensure unit of effort by their fellow officers and adheres to the commander’s intent and overall mission of policing?
  • Are you willing and able to become a flexible and adaptive tactical planner and avoid focusing on only one possible course of action?
  • Are you willing and able to develop courses of action that are able to deal with multiple threats while still remaining focused on accomplishment of the assigned mission?
  • Are you willing and able to become a more effective tactical communicator considering both the friendly and adversarial ramifications?
  • If you are a leader are you communicating effectively enough so that frontline personnel come away from briefings understanding what it is that they are expected to do and why they are supposed to do it?
  • Are leaders providing frontline personnel with guidance that is clear enough to ensure unity of effort and adherence to the commanders intent but also flexible enough to allow frontline the ability to exercise initiative as the situation on the ground changes providing clarity of guidance without micro-managing? Have you thought about WHY this matters to effectiveness and safety on the street?
  • Law enforcement leaders who are also trainers do you understand in your quest to teach others how to be effective and safe, It Is About  teaching the frontline “How To Think” Not “What To Think?”
  • Experience has taught us there Is No Single, Scientific Solution To A Tactical Problem with this in mind have you developed policies and procedures that blend with people and ideas allowing for adaptability and tactics that fit the circumstances?
  • Law enforcement training must shift from training law enforcement officers how to apply solutions and enforce standards to teaching officers how to frame problems and solve them. Wouldn’t this be a more effective way of leveraging every cops experience and insight? Would this not help cops as the interact with the public in their ability to take the initiative and apply innovative solutions to problems they encounter on the street?  Would this help reduce friction in decision making in dangerous situations and create and nurture the development of problem solvers and decision makers on the frontline where the life and death decisions are made?

The most valuable things we can do is to take this natural tendency to question and critique our decisions and refine it and discipline it. Instead of passing judgment about whether it was a good decision or a bad decision, we should focus on understanding the decision process, WHY we decided what we did and how we made the decision. Utilize the after action review or a decision making critique as tool to learn verses to blame or to punish. Remember critiques are valuable tools for learning and as Carl von Clausewitz stated; “criticism exists only to recognize the truth, not to act as judge.” We may legitimately criticize a decision without implying that we ourselves would have done better. To get better, to be safer, we must understand this.

This leads me to my final statement, on to getting better and to being safer. To be more effective in 2012 and beyond, we must be self-aware and open-minded to new ideas and new ways of thinking and doing. Open-minded to change not for the sake of change but instead change, for the sake of responding accordingly to the novel and changing conditions we find ourselves in as we respond to the unknown, the uncertain and unexpected.

There are numerous other questions I am sure you all could come up with to add to my list and I challenge each and every one of you to do so.

“We can’t just look at our present experiences or use the same mental recipes over and over again; we’ve got to look at other disciplines and activities and relate or connect them to what we know from our experience and the strategic world we live in.” ~COL john Boyd

Stay Oriented!


P.S. This post was inspired by Taneer Naseer a business coach doing some great work inspiring those willing to learn. What Has 2011 Taught You About Business and Leadership?