Sun Tzu Series Part 2: Climate…Understanding the Situation | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

Next you have the climate. It can be sunny or overcast. It can be hot or cold. It includes the timing of the seasons. ~Sun Tzu

Once you understand your philosophy as discussed in the last post to develop a strategy it is not necessary to orient to hundreds of issues taking place in a particular set of circumstances. Sun Tzu teaches all relative issues are related to 5 things philosophy, climate, ground, leadership and methods. This post will focus on climate, what it is, as applied to law enforcement and security. Keep in mind climate (situations) change; they are always dynamic in nature.

Gary Gagliardi in his translation of Sun Tzu: The Art of War Plus: The Warrior Class states; that climate is any condition that naturally changes over time but that we cannot control directly. Sound a lot like the calls we handle on the street or on a security post, doesn’t it? Things happen fast and change even faster with little warning. Human nature when in conflict is unpredictable and charged with emotion, which fuels, the dynamic nature of conflict and the uncertain responses to our efforts to maintain control.

Knowledge is paramount in our efforts to understand our “climate” when it comes to conflict, its causes, how it’s fueled by the feeling of loss of control and how it either unfolds progressively over time or, rapidly without notice. The extremes, ups and downs of emotions that spur loss of individual control and can lead to hot conflicts, dangerous encounters and unpredictable results. This is why, you must adapt to the situation.


You are working a day shift, as an administrative lieutenant, it’s around noon time and you decide to stop by the local Mall to do a little foot patrol and to grab a healthy protein bar for a light lunch. As you are walking out of the Mall finishing off the protein bar, you are interrupted by a voice from behind “Sir, I need your help over here.” You turn recognize the concerned citizen as a gentleman who works in the Mall. You begin to walk towards the concerned citizen, who you notice has a concerned look on his face, is walking backward away from you and away from the area he works at, as he motions his hands towards the location where he normally stands and you ask, what can I do for you today? As you turn the corner you notice a gentleman in his mid to upper 20s standing there, who appears to be incoherent. The concerned citizen tells you he has spoken and does not make sense and is very emotional.

You keep at a safe distance and ask are you ok sir? He makes eye contact with you and begins to smile and utters some incoherent words. He then instantly begins to cry as he mumbles something about his life being messed up and then launches instantly into an angry tirade about how he hates the police and that you had better be there to help because he is not going to jail. You begin a conversation assuring this person you are there to help and ask him to take a walk outside. As he responds with now a smile and walks towards the Mall exit, as you radio stealthily, for a back-up as you realize you have an individual severely affected by a combination of alcohol and narcotics. You make this intuitive judgment, because of the combination of his words and the up and down, hot and cold, behavior you observed, to include also; observations of the non-responsive pin pointed pupils, red glassy eyes and the smell of alcoholic beverage coming from him.

As you walk outside this person notices your marked patrol car and then begins another angry tirade and says you better not be here to take me in. You notice he repetitively looks at your holstered firearm. Which you remember is not your safety holster you’re wearing, but instead a paddle holster you use when conducting your administrative duties, adding more of a problem to this dynamic situation. You continue to distract him with conversation again reassuring him. And once again he calms down and begins to smile, then tells you he really does love the police and begins to cry, tears streaming down his face. You open your back patrol car door and tell him you will be giving him a ride to wherever he needs to go, but you would like him to go to the hospital for evaluation. At about this time you observe the back-up unit coming into the Mall parking lot and towards you. You move in to take control, all the while reassuring the subject everything will be fine and we will get him the help he needs. The back-up officer joins you and the subject now begins to get actively resistant, but you both are able to handcuff him for safety purposes and control him. He is searched as well for safety and then transported to the local hospital via ambulance.

This example is short and ends safely because the climate which suddenly changed from break time to go time. In 10-20 seconds your observations and listening skills told you, “We have a problem!” A potentially, serious problem due to the combined verbal and non-verbal signs and signals presenting themselves to you in that moment. You also took into consideration your own conditions that may affect the climate of the situation. The fact that you were a single officer and not wearing the appropriate gear, were crucial to your positioning, and had a direct affect on the outcome. Considering all these factors related to the climate of the situation, allowed you to make the proper decisions and take appropriate actions to seize the initiative and maintain control of the subject through positioning and tactical communications, until you had back-up arrive and were in the position to win without escalating the conflict any further. Sun Tzu says; “You have strengths and weaknesses. These come from your position.” Your position comes from your knowledge of, the situation (climate).

Situational Awareness (Adaptation to Climate)

The recognition of the signs and signals of danger, the body language that presents itself at a scene along with verbal queues can be critical to understanding the climate of the situation. Your observation and listening skills are critical to this understanding and positioning yourself to win.

Constant vigilance “situational awareness” is your asset in reading the climate of any given set of circumstances. It takes focus. Our biggest mistakes are getting “complacent” and assuming that things will not change on the calls we handle. Experience teaches us that things do change; our job is to adapt to these changes and exploit opportunities that present themselves to seize the advantage and control the situation. It’s a matter of Survival and Winning without escalating conflict!

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