Report Writing and the Boyd Cycle Researched and authored by Kevin Maloney | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

“By a man’s fingernails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the calluses of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-cuffs, by his movements, by each of these things a man’s calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent enquirer in any case is almost inconceivable.” ~Sherlock Holmes, 1892, from the Definitive Book of Body Language

This article will discuss report writing and how utilizing the Boyd[3][4] Cycle of Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) will assist in writing a clear and concise report. The OODA loop was developed by Col. John Boyd U.S.A.F. The OODA Loop divides cognition into four processes; perception (called Observation), unconscious or implicit thought (called Orientation), conscious of explicit thought (called Decision), and behavior (called Action). Any given day security officers (S/O) are asked to play an active role in homeland defense. On average, security officers receive at best 1/10th of the training (if any at all) that our law enforcement colleagues have received in standard trainings at many United States federal and state (including county and municipal) police academies. Security officers may receive articles or watch video based instruction(s) discussing basic report writing prior to their site specific field training. Often times security officers are left in the proverbial “learn as you go” or copy what other security officers have written in similar situations. Regarding report writing, such training methodology may be found as quite negative as S/Os may copy methodologies from other S/Os that perpetuate poor performance. As S/Os go about their duties there will be an incident whereby a more detailed report will be required, such as, but not limited to, an after force report (or use of force report) or possibly a medical emergency where an officer rendered assistance.

In most of these situations S/Os revert back to basic education and related English writing lessons to cover the “who, what, when, where, why and how” (W5H) of the respective situation. Although the WWWWH is a good foundation, incorporating this articles intention to add the OODA loop will ensure a comprehensive documentation of what was seen, felt and one’s own interpretations of dangerous body language or “cues.” The author will discuss a use of force or after force incident report to illustrate the process in the following scenario:

Scenario: An S/O is working alone during a scheduled 1600 – 2400 Hr shift, on 20 December 2008, and there is one hour prior to the shift completion. The S/O is conducting a tour of the 6th floor hallway (60 Feet long with doors on either side of the hall) of the ACME apartment building in Any Town, MA.

As the S/O walks around a corner to observe, approximately 10 feet down the corridor, a 6’-3” heavy set (300+ pounds) male holding a 5’-5” female (110 pounds). The male is holding the female by her hair pulling her head backwards. As the S/O comes to a complete stop the S/O observes the male subject slap (with an open hand) the female once as he shouts, “if I can’t have you no one will!” The male subject then reaches into his right back pocket and pulls out a 3-4 inch black folding pocket knife. As the S/O observes the overall situation the S/O observes the male subject to have tattoos of a bayonet on both forearms and a USMC eagle, globe and anchor tattoo, is wearing a white tee-shirt, blue denim jeans and construction style boots covered with dried mud. The subject has a construction hammer holster on his right hip along with what appears to be a cell phone holder.

The S/O quickly realizes (orientation) that a physical confrontation with this male subject would be dangerous. The S/O quickly evaluates the S/Os own physical make-up, training and equipment. The S/O is, wearing a uniform with official insignia, Height of 5’-10”, weighing a lean 168 pounds, and carrying a cell phone / two way radio with communications to a dispatcher at the company office several cities away, a utility belt containing a holstered six-shot .38 cal revolver, and a container holding two six-round revolver speed loaders, cased handcuffs, baton, pepper spray, latex gloves, small tactical flashlight and having minimal cover available.

Recently, and prior to the confrontation, the S/O completed a class on dangerous body language and cues. The S/O observes the male subject open the folding pocket knife with the snap of his wrist and begin to raise the knife while pulling the terrified woman’s head back further to expose her neck. This observation leads the S/O to believe the subject will use deadly force to harm the female subject, and possibly the S/O too. The S/O decides to draw the S/O’s service revolver to the low ready[5], step back behind cover (using the corner of the wall) and issue a verbal command, “Stop, security officer, don’t move!”

The male subject looks over his right shoulder and mumbles an incoherent obscenity. The male subject releases his grasp of the female and turns to square off in the S/O’s direction, the male subject’s new threat. The subject states, “I will kill you then the whore!” The male subject then begins to point at the S/O with his left index finger while holding the knife in his right hand down by his side. Again, the S/O issues the verbal command to drop the knife, which the S/O receives the response, “Not before you both are dead rent a cop”!

As the S/O begins assessing the S/O’s options the S/O observes the subject’s “1000 yard stare” with widened eyes, his nose is flared and his mouth is open. The subject is taking rapid deep breaths, his neck muscles are taught and his jaw is set and lowered. The subject takes a bladed stance and suddenly becomes silent. The S/O assesses, based on the statements and clusters of dangerous body language shown thus far, the female subject and possibly the S/O may be in severe physical danger.

The S/O indexes a finger near the trigger area when the subject suddenly lunges toward the S/O; the S/O fires one round striking the male subject in his chest. The male subject falls to the floor dropping the knife in the process. The male subject immediately begins shouting words to the affect of he is “…going to own you [S/O] and your security company for shooting me…” The subject’s knife is removed from the subject’s reach by the S/O. The subject is handcuffed and the appropriate medical aid is rendered based on the S/O’s first-aid training. The local police and emergency medical services are summoned and the subject is taken to a hospital for treatment.

This scenario was developed merely as an example on how to document what the S/O professional observes, hears and feels utilizing the OODA loop. In this scenario any security professional using deadly force will need to document why they chose that option as related to the force continuum. Using the W5H and OODA to describe what happened will assist the security professional in documenting all that happened during any incident.

Using a report example, from the incident scenario stated above, and incorporating the OODA method may be written as follows:

In summary: On or about 20 December 2008, approximately 23:00 Hours (commonly abbreviated as Hrs.), S/O (John Snuffy), while patrolling the 6th floor of the ACME apartment building in Anytown, MA. observed a male subject (Caucasian), approximately 6’-3” heavy set (approximately 300+ pounds) (later identified as Mr. Joe Queue) dressed in a white tee-shirt, blue denim jeans with a hammer holster and cell phone on his right hip and construction boots covered in dried mud. The male subject was observed holding a female (Caucasian) by her hair (later identified as Ms. Bo Peep), approximately 5’-5” slim (approximately 110 pounds). The male subject was pulling the female’s head backwards and slapped her (with his open hand) once about her face. The male subject, while pulling what appeared to be a 3-4” black folding pocket knife from his right rear pocket, screamed, “If I can’t have you no one will”. The subject then began to pull the female’s head further back as he opened and raised the black folding knife. S/O felt the subject was going to use deadly force to toward the Bo Peep. S/O decided to seek cover and issue the verbal command “Stop, security officer, don’t move!” S/O un-holstered S/O’s service revolver holding same in the low ready position.

The subject looked over his right shoulder and mumbled an unintelligible obscenity. The male subject then released his grasp of the female and turned and squared off toward S/O. The subject then stated,” I will kill you then the whore”. The male subject began pointing his left index finger at S/O while holding the opened knife in his right hand by his side. S/O issued the verbal command to “drop the knife” and received the response from the male subject, “Not before you both are dead rent a cop.”

The aforesaid observations demonstrated to the S/O the subject was extremely antagonistic, his eyes were wide (fully open almost in an exaggerated appearance) and he had a fixed stare. His nose was flared and he was breathing through an open mouth rapidly. The subject’s jaw was set and lowered with taught neck muscles. The subject took a bladed fighting stance and became silent. S/O understood (orientation) the subject’s actions and non-actions could reasonable escalate regarding a deadly encounter toward the female subject and / or the S/O. Such action and non-actions of the subject included taking an offensive posture, preparing for an attack based on the aforestated clusters of dangerous body language (S/O was fearful that the male subject’s posture), verbalization, lack of verbalization in response S/O’s commands, proximity to the female subject and S/O, and lack of response to deescalate and remaining with a deadly weapon. S/O decided to point S/O’s firearm toward the subject in readying myself should the male subject attack using deadly force. The subject lunged towards S/O raising the knife the subject had been carrying. S/O, fearing for S/O’s life, and concerned for the victims well-being took action and fired one round. The round fired appeared to strike the subject in his chest, which appeared to cause the subject to fall to the floor. Additionally, after being struck the subject dropped the knife and began shouting, “[he is]…going to own you [S/O] and your [S/O] company for shooting me…” S/O removed the subject’s knife from the subject’s reach, S/O handcuffed the subject and rendered appropriate medical aid, based on S/O’s first aid training. The Any Town police and EMS had been summoned, arrived on scene, and the subject was taken to the Any Town hospital for treatment.

Now that the situation has become stable the security professional will need to compose an incident report of what has taken place. The report may be requested or obligatory for law enforcement, the S/O’s company, possibly the security company’s legal department, and possibly other entities. A well written incident report will explain what the professional observed, heard, felt as well as explain the reason why the security professional came to the decision in question. Additionally, a well written report will be the saved data for the S/O to recall when criminal and / or civil litigation is called into the myriad of matters related to deadly force issues.

In this report the who (S/O, Ms. Peep and Mr. Queue), what (some type of quickly escalating deadly force possibly domestic related physical confrontation), when (20 December 2008, 2300), where (6th floor residential hallway of the ACME apartment building), why (the reason why is an implicit judgment of a subject’s decisions and situation escalating to the use deadly force), how (assault with a dangerous weapon [knife]). How can we make this a much more detailed report utilizing the Boyd Cycle (OODA loop)?

Observation, which is not just what you see, is utilizing all of your senses to include intuition to maintain constant situational awareness[6]. The scenario was drafted to construct a spontaneous incident which began with some undetermined incident between Ms. Peep and Mr. Queue. Followed by dangerous body language directed at the S/O, the intervener. The subject displayed various non-verbal cues that the subject may escalate the force he may use, such as the “1000 yard stare”[7] with exaggerated widened eyes, which may indicate intense focus as well as consideration of his available options ( subjects own OODA Loop). The indication of flared nostrils and deep rapid breathing is an attempt to supply the large muscles of the body with plenty of oxygen prior to the aggressor’s decision regarding “fight or flight[8].” Also, this is an indicator of high anxiety over the decision to remain in an offensive posture or deescalate and retreat from the perceived threat as mentioned above. The lowered jaw is usually a signal that the subject intends to fight while a raised chin indicates the subject may flee the situation. The subject also used an index finger to point at you while threatening you. This signal is referred to the “killing gesture” and is a clear sign that danger is coming (Maybe mom was right about not pointing at people).

The subject’s appearance also lends some valuable clues as well. His dress is indicative of someone involved in physical labor, which may indicate his strength based on the physically demanding work. His tattoo may indicate he was or is involved and affiliated with the US Marines, and may have been trained in hand-to-hand combat techniques[9]. The outward signs of the bladed stance, striking of the victim, opening of the knife and its position in the hand along with the verbal threats to kill must all be documented to clearly demonstrate the escalation and willingness of the male subject to use deadly force.

What all of these signs, signals and verbal action demonstrated to the S/O, and lead to orientation? The S/O orientation to this scenario is based on what the S/O’s observations are telling him or her. The scenario explained a potentially bad set of circumstances, escalating quickly. The professional S/O’s thoughts should be that this subject intends on killing the victim, then possibly harming the S/O (or vice versa). These thoughts should lead the S/O to the next step of this cycle.


The S/O makes trained and rational decisions in a continuing cycle that repeats constantly. In the scenario his or her first decision is to move to cover and draw the issued service revolver to the low ready position. Then, in split seconds of the thought process, the S/O’s decides to conduct the aforestated movements. Next, the S/O begins reassessing the situation and the subject responses to the S/O’s actions. The S/O verbalizing identification and commands, “Stop, security officer, don’t move!” The cycle begins anew to distinguish if the subject will comply or resist. The subject displays “offensive” body language, the S/O’s response is to raise his or her weapon and index a finger near the trigger area in preparation for a response if the subject attacks the female subject or the S/O.

The cycle begins again, the subject lunges toward the S/O and in split seconds the decision is made to employ deadly force…

The aforementioned cycles keep renewing and taking place in milliseconds throughout an event. The act of firing the S/O’s revolver was based on the previous scenario stages of observation, orientation, and decision, which resulted in the S/O use of deadly force based on professional training, personal evaluations and defense of the endangered subject from possible injury or death. The cycle will begin again when the S/O assess if the shot fired stopped the threat, then removal of the subject’s knife, then handcuff the subject, then to providing medical aid ,on and on until the incident is completed. Using the Boyd cycle explains the details of who, what, when, where, why, how as well as your professional thoughts, decisions, and actions taken.

All of these steps will hopefully paint a picture of a scenario that took mere seconds for an S/O to process to someone who has hours to reach the same conclusion you made based on your well documented report. You must make decisions in split seconds and a jury of your peers may have days to evaluate those split second decisions. The use of the W5H and OODA will increase the delivery of an effective report for immediate and long term protection of the trained and S/O’s actions.

For an outstanding article on dangerous body language please visit the web link Specifically, read the Recognizing the Signs and Signals of Danger Part 1 & 2, as well as any other informative article found in this website.

[1] The author’s appreciation and continued professional respect goes to Fred Leland of Law Enforcement and Security Consulting (LESC) for technical review, permission to use the OODA article mentioned in the creation of this article.

[2] Kevin Maloney has worked as a patrolman and shift lieutenant at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station for the past four years. He previously managed a 200+ officer private security company specializing in residential, industrial and corporate sites for ten years. He also is a sergeant in a cavalry unit of the Massachusetts Army National Guard serving three overseas tours, two of which were in combat zones. Prior to returning to security professions, Kevin also has been employed as a 911 operator / dispatcher for a combined police, fire and emergency medical service agency. He is a certified trainer in first aid and CPR. Additionally, Kevin is an instructor and / or certified in multiple weapons systems and platforms. Kevin has worked with international special operations and specialized units advancing his units weapons proficiency and related training certifications. Kevin has been recognized for his professionalism in the field of security from the Director – Special Operations / Specialized Units during Kevin’s NATO / United Nations training

[3] The John Boyd Roundtable, Debating Science, Strategy and War, John Boyd, Page 1.

[4] The author does no purport in any manner the article to be a lesson regarding use of force, but merely a discussion on how to document your chosen level of force and why.

[5] Low Ready: “…This position has the weapon extended towards your target, but lowered about 45 degrees below your line of sight.  This puts the weapon in line with, but not pointing at your target. The benefit to this position is you have a good firing grip on your gun and can raise it quickly to target.  Additionally your muzzle is depressed and you are not covering your target with a loaded gun.”

[6] Situation awareness (SA) involves being aware of what is happening around you to understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact your goals and objectives, both now and in the near future. Lacking SA or having inadequate SA has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error (e.g., Hartel, Smith, & Prince, 1991; Merket, Bergondy, & Cuevas-Mesa, 1997; Nullmeyer, Stella, Montijo, & Harden, 2005). Thus, SA is especially important in work domains where the information flow can be quite high and poor decisions may lead to serious consequences (e.g., piloting an airplane, functioning as a soldier, or treating critically ill or injured patients).

[7] “1000 yard stare”: It is a term from the Vietnam war that was originally used to describe the look in the eyes of front line soldiers that gave one the impression that they were ever watchful out to the 1,000 yard line (where possible) as that was considered to be the extent of the danger zone. Later for American troops it was sometimes used, with a different intonation, to describe the vacant expression on the face of dope-heads just serving out their time.

[8] “Fight-Or-Flight Response: This is the body’s response to perceived threat or danger. During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength. Originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger, it’s now activated in situations where neither response is appropriate, like in traffic or during a stressful day at work. When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal function via the relaxation response, but in our times of chronic stress, this often doesn’t happen enough, causing damage to the body.”

[9] The indication of the US Marine Eagle Globe and Anchor tattoo along with the bayonet tattoos provide visual clues of possible military service and or training. This reference could have easily been any member of the military, however the U.S.M.C. was chosen for their renowned hand-to-hand combat training program. The author has nothing but the utmost and total respect for any U.S. Marines and their courageous legacy. My intent is to use a visual clue for a training purpose and in no way meant to offend any person, entity, or member of our military services.

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