Violent Encounters: When the Time for Talk is Over, Do What's Necessary and Reasonable | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

On this blog we talk all the time about detecting, avoiding and preventing conflict and violence through awareness, positioning, communication, interaction, recognizing the signs and signals of crime and danger, collaborative efforts and timely decision making under pressure. The main focus of our strategy and our methods being to win, and to settle conflict and violence without fighting.

But what happens when the time for talk is over and you have encountered that rare person who is intent on killing or seriously injuring you or someone else? The decision making cycle, observation, orientation, decision and action, is key in these type of circumstances and is the crux of survival and winning the rare deadly force encounter. Observation of dangerous and deadly circumstances means that risk is high and time is scarce. Decisions must be made intuitively based on the sum of our experiences. These experiences in law enforcement may or may not include past encounters of this dangerous dynamic. What’s imperative is to act based on what we decide is going on.

Real Life Scenario

For an example, let’s take a look at the news and talk about the recent Massachusetts General Hospital shooting. An off-duty security guard or special police officer is in the hospital for a checkup. He is in the elevator and as the door opens he hears screams and a verbal statement to the effect of “he is going to kill us” while observing people running towards the stairs and elevator. The off duty officer is a prepared individual who possesses a firearm he carries while off duty. He draws his weapon and goes towards the unknown. He observes a man standing over a person on the floor. He believes the man is punching the subject he is on top of and that it is a physical altercation between two people… until he observes the arm coming up is holding a knife. He identifies himself, and immediately orders the knife-wielding subject to “drop the knife!”. The subject looks through the officer, in what we describe in our business the “thousand yards stare” a sign that something bad is about to happen, and it does. The knife wielding subject gets up and attempts to attack the officer who fires and hits the subject. The subject drops to the ground, only to get back up holding the knife to try again. He is quickly stopped by the officer who fires until he believes the threat is over.

Decision Making Loop

This officer’s adrenalin is pumping through his body and his decision making is intuitive based on the deadly circumstances unfolding in front of him. His mind has experienced the horror of not only witnessing and attempted murder and aggravated assault, but an attack on himself as well. The circumstances of walking into a hospital for a check up to the shock of the unpredictable attack can task anyone’s skills, including those trained in the art and science of conflict and violence.

This type of decision making is known as rapid cognition, recognized primed decision making, or thin slicing, and is based on our experiences, pattern recognition and our ability to adapt to changing conditions so we can effectively deal with them. In this case effectiveness meant stopping the threat and saving lives.

Conflict is described as time competitive Observation, Orientation, and Decision and Action cycles. The time competitive OODA Cycle means, one must accelerate their orientation and decision making in order to be successful in the world of conflict and violence. “The OODA Loop divides cognition into four processes, Observation (perception), Orientation (unconscious or implicit thought), conscious of explicit thought (Decision) and Action (behavior).”

The decision making model focuses on how we process information through our 6 senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch and intuition). A “turned on and tuned in” OODA Loop running smoothly and fluidly allows us to recognize patterns of behavior in conflict, orient quickly and effectively to the situation we are in, allowing us the ability to make rapid decisions and take appropriate actions to exploit any advantage that presents itself. In the scenario above this all happened in seconds in the midst of chaos and complexity and life threatening danger. Proof in my view we must seek to develop this ability to observe, orient, decide and act in rapidly changing conditions.


Most of the time we can walk, talk and position ourselves until our adversary gives in and cooperates, this is the best outcome for those who protect and serve. But sometimes people, and the dangerous and deadly circumstances they create, produce a climate so dangerous that death or serious bodily injuries is perceived by the victim and action taken in an effort to de-escalate and defend himself or others has a deadly outcome.

All the facts are not in on this case yet, but at first glance it looks as though situational awareness, preparation and good sound decision making under pressure in a deadly and rapidly unfolding set of circumstances was handled in a reasonable manner. This off duty officer should be commended for the lives he saved.

Stay Oriented!


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