Sun Tzu Series Part 3: Choosing the Battleground | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

“Next is the terrain. it can be distant or near. It can be difficult or easy. It can be open or narrow. It also determines your life or death. ~Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu definition of Ground means terrain or battleground. This is the third topic of discussion in our quest to understand Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and its application in the law enforcement and security professions. Ground (terrain) is the place, location we are at. it could be a roadside, single family dwelling house, wooded terrain, a school, church, back yard or playground etc. The ground is more than the physical place, it is also, the people there, their thoughts, actions and motives as well as other resources at your disposal. Also at the adversary disposal. All this must be considered to be successful.

To be successful at resolving conflict in the law enforcement, military and security realms it is imperative that we have solid mission (philosophy, win without fighting) and seek to understand our situation (climate, what’s going on?) It is also just as crucial we choose the correct ground (terrain, place), in which to position ourselves to be successful in a safe resolution to a particular set of circumstances.

Lets look back at our prior example I have made contact with a person who is emotionally unstable a possibly drug and alcohol induced state. I have put myself in a position of disadvantage due to complacency (administrative holster in the field) and the spontaneous nature of my lunch break being interrupted by this problem. My mission in this set of circumstances is to remain safe myself and keep those inside the Mall safe, as well as gain control of this person and seek medical assistance for him. Also make a determination as to any illegal activity and if so arrest. My philosophy is the same win without escalating the conflict.   The climate is bad due to the spontaneous nature of how this situation went done and my own unpreparedness. The ground I am on inside the mall complicates the problem even more.

Adapting to the Ground

In the law enforcement and security realms we are taught from day one distance is your friend. NOT ALWAYS TRUE! In this case a combination of distance and closing distance is true. Closing the distance and controlling the subject is key… Why, you might ask, you are dealing with an unstable person and have improper gear to keep your weapon secure, don’t you need to keep distance and a reactionary gap? The standard would be yes, you are correct but what makes this set of circumstances different in my view, is the ground we are on.

The MALL (ground) at lunchtime is very busy with crowds of people shuffling about.  This complicates the situation and causes concern about those in the Mall becoming the target of any potential violence on the part of this unpredictable subject.  The climate has changed due to the terrain (where we are), it is not just about me verses him, its about him, any person walking by and I. The ground I am on initially “inside the Mall” is a difficult place to be. I must be aware of the situation again considering strength and weaknesses of both him and I and consider options. If I get to far away (distance) he can take action unabated towards anyone he chooses. If I get in to close I jeopardize myself and take the chance he attempts a grab of my weapon which he has been  glancing at. I must get both of us to better ground .

In this case I chose to walk him outside using methods of positioning, deception and communication to move him to easier terrain, which helped in controlling the situation. Outside was better terrain to chose because there were less innocent people, more room to maneuver and less to consider, it was now back to him and I.  In doing this some extra risk was taken initially (that you must be aware of), that lessoned the overall risk to innocents inside the Mall. In the end understanding the ground, helped bring a safe resolution to this particular set of circumstances.

There are many types of terrain we respond to in our professions we must take this into consideration in formulating or plans for action in keeping with our philosophy  of winning without escalating conflict. 

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