The Anatomy of Victory: What Does It Take For Policing To “Win”at Low Cost? | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.” ~W. Edwards Deming

Winning on the street comes in many forms and means different things to different people. Winning in law enforcement encounters can be gaining voluntary compliance through communication and negotiation or it can ebb and flow back and forth through a vast array of outcomes up to and including deadly force. Winning to the cop means one thing while to an adversary winning on his terms is quite another. What about winning in the eyes of the public? How important is public support or decent when we cops use force? What outcomes can we expect during a dynamic encounter, what about in the aftermath, with public support, without it? Does winning at low cost effect our safety and effectiveness in a positive or negative way? Is winning at any cost verses winning at low cost something we should consider more frequently?

We cops know that the use of force is always an option taken as a last resort when we have exhausted all other means and our decision is forced by the actions of the person we are dealing with. Reasonable and necessary force is not something we cops take lightly. Winning in the arena, the places where interaction and efforts are made to resolve dangerous and dynamic encounters, in real time requires a certain breed of person, a person capable of remaining mentally calm. A person who can think both critically and creatively, by critically thinking I mean, the ability to focus and to achieve understanding (real-time situation awareness), evaluates viewpoints, and solves problems; creative thinking is equally important, called fingerspitzenfuhl or the feeling in the tip of one’s fingers or feel for the situation (Napoleon called it a “gut” feeling), we cops call this ability our sixth sense. A person who deals with conflict and violence must also be Intuitive; this enables rapid decision-making without conscious awareness or effort, which is basked in training and experience, a lot of it. Self-awareness, an understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses and social skills-the ability, to assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, the use of communication skills, and the art of listening are also part of the strategic game of interaction and weigh heavily in their effects to isolate an adversary and help us to shape and reshape the events in favorable terms.

All these are key attributes to winning at low cost when balanced by efforts to persuade and when necessary efforts to use force. Winning requires knowing and applying many other things, including an understanding of strategy, tactics, human nature, culture, the environment, the climate of the situation, psychological, and physiological effects, nonverbal communication skills, implicit and explicit decision making, friction in decision making, tactical skills, combative skills, firearms skills, focus of effort, uncertainty, adaptability, deception, surprise, time and space, and leadership and the overall mission or intent, etc. When we encounter and interact with people on the street, all these factors combine in novel and synergistic ways. When considered in the context of conflict, crisis and violence from our perspective and the adversaries they help us shape or influence events and enhance our spirit and strength making us safer and more effective as we handle dynamic encounters.

To maneuver and position yourself to win requires the strategic game of interaction and isolation as you accord with an adversary’s, fellow officers and the community you work in, if victory is to be completed in the moral, mental and physical dimensions. COL John Boyd described the outcome of winning in the moral, mental and physical dimensions; “unless one can penetrate adversaries moral, mental and physical being and sever those interacting bonds that permit him to exist as an organic whole, by being able to subvert, shatter, seize, or otherwise subdue those moral, mental and physical bastions, connections, or activities that he depends upon, one will find it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to collapse adversaries will to resist.”

To get a better understanding of the moral, mental and physical dimensions of conflict let’s look at how Boyd describes the three dimensions and how we play the strategic game of interaction and isolation.

Moral represents the cultural codes of conduct or standards of behavior that constrain, as well as sustain and focus, our emotional/intellectual responses. Morally we interact with others by avoiding mismatches between what we say we are what we are and the world we have to deal with, as well as by abiding by those other cultural codes or standards we are expected to uphold. Morally our adversaries isolate themselves when they visibly improve their wellbeing to the detriment of others (allies, the uncommitted), by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold.

Mental represents the emotional/intellectual activity we generate to adjust to cope with, that physical world. Mentally we interact by selecting information from a variety of sources or channels in order to generate mental images or impressions that match up with the world of events or happenings that we are trying to understand and cope with. Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out, nor keep up with. Operating inside their OODA loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on.

Physical represents the world of matter-energy-information all of us are a part of, live in, and feed upon. Physically we interact by opening up and maintaining many channels of communication with the outside world, hence with others out there, that we depend upon for sustenance, nourishment or support. Physically we isolate our adversaries by severing their communications with the outside world as well as by severing their internal communications to one another. We can accomplish this by cutting them off from their allies and the uncommitted via diplomatic, psychological and other efforts. To cut them off from one another we should penetrate their system by being unpredictable, otherwise they can counter our efforts.

It is important that you study these dimensions and attempt to translate them to how they apply to the law enforcement world. The idea here is to destroy adversary’s moral, mental physical harmony, produce paralysis and collapse his will to resist, while at the same time amplifying our own spirit and strength. This effort is not all about physical force it’s about maneuver, interaction and the balance of persuasion and force in an all out effort to morally, mentally and physically isolate adversary from his allies or any outside support as well as isolate elements of adversary or adversaries from one another and overwhelm them by being able to penetrate their moral, mental and physical being at any and all levels. All this, while at the same time enhancing our spirit and strength and winning over the uncommitted (public support).

Cops protect society and we must win the conflicts we face that are difficult, rapidly changing situations that require strength of character, courage and resolve. These traits are inherent in cops and the types of traits the public cheers for and supports in athletes as they attempt to win a game, yet in law enforcement , the gate keepers are often stoned, criticized by the public for action taken where the stakes are so much higher and often paid with life and death. Cops use force (this includes all levels) in about one percent of all our contacts…1%! Why, the lack of support? What are we in law enforcement missing that could enhance support? Could winning at low cost be the key to winning the trust we seek and need from our communities?

This brings to mind a question I adapted with law enforcement in mind, from one that Boyd asked considering connecting strategy and tactics with our national goals. How do we connect the tactical and strategic ideas or the theme for disintegration and collapse of an adversary, with our community and law enforcement goals? Boyd had some answers I have adapted, we in law enforcement should consider.

  • Gain support of our goals and the methods we use.
  • Pumped-up resolve, drain away adversaries resolve, and attract the uncommitted.
  • End conflict on favorable terms.
  • Ensure that conflict and terms of justice do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict.

In Boyd’s view our strategy must first and foremost be an appealing idea or set of objectives and interests, which inspires and unites the populace as well as allies and the uncommitted. My thinking on this is that, we need public support in all we do! I understand gaining community trust and support has been talked about much, over the last few decades, however it’s been implemented robustly in law enforcement circles only sparingly. To WIN at low cost we need to be implement these ideas more vigorously in all we do. We must be more transparent with the public in all we do; it is the only way we get a completed victory on the street and in the aftermath.

Over 2,500 hundred years ago Sun Tzu said; “you must win your battles without effort. Avoid difficult struggles. Fight when your position must win. You always win by preventing your defeat.” This short ancient stanza has much meaning as we in law enforcement attempt to root out serious crime and crime problems and stop those who would do harm to those we serve and to protect ourselves as we put into operation those methods we utilize. To enhance our spirit and strength while gaining public support we must learn to win considering the moral, mental and physical dimensions of conflict if we are to have a complete and full victory.

Do we in law enforcement really need to apply these ideas and principles in our efforts to win on the street? If so, WHY are we not?

To win a completely, law enforcement must understand our overall philosophy, mission and intent. We must know the objective to be obtained. We must understand the climate of the situation, and the environment or ground we are working on and in. We have to know what’s going on or what our perception is of what’s going on, before we can make sound tactical decisions and take action.

Good leadership is another key factor. The importance of a proper command system, leading to a correct distribution of authority and responsibility among the various echelons are critical to success. Without striking the correct balance between centralization and decentralization, discipline and initiative, authority and individual responsibility, it is impossible for any organization, let alone a law enforcement one, operating as it does in an environment where disorder, uncertainty and confusion are prevalent to function effectively. Finally do we understand strategy and tactics and how to position ourselves advantageously based on the current situation?

Strategy is about first avoiding failure and then positioning ourselves so we can exploit opportunities as they appear. To do this we must have a sound tactical repertoire that we can apply effectively on the street, adapting as the situation requires. By tactics I am not just focusing on the physical skills such as; firearms and defensive techniques, room entries or the tactical formations we use, although they are very important. Tactics has as much to do about thinking, as it does about applying the physical!

Questions to consider enhancing your tactical skill set

Have you developed your observation skills to the point you are exploring the situation and have true awareness? Do we possess social skills and the ability to negotiate in an effort gain voluntary compliance? Do we possess critical and creative thinking and decision making abilities? Do we understand the complexity of deciding under pressure and how the Boyd Cycle (OODA LOOP) when understood and considered from all sides is critical to success? Do we know how to apply the methods we know so we compress our own time and stretch out adversary time, diminishing our own friction and magnify adversary’s friction in decision making? Do we possess the strength of character to implement the decisions we make or do our decisions get put into action based on emotion, peer pressure and what others think? Do we understand the tactical principles of speed, fast and slow transients maneuvers and understanding that balancing slow and fast transients based on the conditions is critical to tactical positioning, exploiting opportunities and winning at low cost? Do we understand that the adversary you face has his own objectives and plans and will be working against you? Do we know our people well and understand our strengths and weaknesses? Do we know how to exploit our adversary’s weaknesses while avoiding his strengths? Do we understand there is no one scientific solution to a tactical problem and that variety of methods and adaptation are keys to winning? Do our policies and procedures take this into consideration?

Victory at minimal cost: What does it take to win?

In chapter one of H. John Poole’s outstanding book “The Last Hundred Yards: The NCO”S Contribution To Warfare” he discusses the anatomy of small unit victory and asks some key questions of individual soldiers and marines; To Americans, what constitutes a military victory? What does it take to defeat an enemy at any cost? What else does it take to defeat an enemy at minimal cost?

I feel these questions rephrased just a bit, to meet the law enforcement mission and intent of protect and serve, are relevant to law enforcement and how we police. It is important to keep in mind that law enforcement officers are not soldiers or marines and although our mission and intent are similar in that we both protect and serve and use similar tactics, obviously adapted to meet our law enforcement role as protectors of those we serve here at home, the American citizen. Here at home we are a free society that for the most part works day to day in a peaceful and collaborative way abiding by the rules society as deemed necessary so the tactics and strategies we utilize must be in accord with the standards set by society. Our law enforcement role is to ensure those standards are meant and adhered to on all sides. However there are those folks who do not like to play by the rules and become a menace to society and their actions require law enforcement responses. We must strike a delicate balance of persuasion to gain the compliance we seek and the utility of force when an adversary decides to live on his own terms that may jeopardize lives.

The questions above rephrased to meet the law enforcement role may look like this; To Americans, what constitutes a law enforcement victory? What does it take to defeat an adversary in crisis at any cost? What else does it take to defeat an adversary in crisis at minimal cost? The term crisis I use here to represent any and all encounters law enforcement respond to that either are known high risk encounters or those we go into where the circumstances and risks are unknown or have the potential for turning into a high risk situation. My perspective on known high risk verses the unknown is that any circumstances we handle as law enforcement have the potential for escalating as an individual’s motive and intent are in the vast majority of cases unknown to law enforcement as they arrive and attempt to gain voluntary compliance and regain control.

What every cop would like to learn before according with and adversary

Poole discusses the annals of warfare are filled with exploits of armies, divisions, and regiments, not the separate actions of squads, fire teams, and rifleman. For the small unit leader to learn more about his wartime role from the literature, he must examine a concept universal to units of every size…what it takes to win. Of course winning means different things to different people. To Sun Tzu in 350 B.C., it meant more than just defeating and enemy:

“Only when the enemy could not be overcome by these political means was there recourse to armed force, which was applied so the victory was gained, in the shortest possible time, at the least possible cost in lives and effort and with infliction on the enemy of the fewest possible casualties. “

In any civilization, defeating an enemy at too great a cost no longer constitutes winning. A victory won with too many lives was not victory at all.

Street encounters are won through battles of wits and battles of wits are won through interaction and engagements with an adversary. Officers of every rank must strive to determine what it takes to win at low cost. Handling dynamic encounters and winning on the street as mentioned above, requires knowing many things and then being able to apply what we know to the given situation in an innovative way considering of course the give and take of conflict and emotionally charged individuals.

H. John Poole offers some great information on winning minimally verses winning at low cost

Just defeating and enemy minimally takes the following


  • Some tactical knowledge
  • Accurate assessment of the initial situation
  • Logical decision making
  • Decisiveness
  • A localized combat power advantage
  • Some semblance of control

Logistical assets

Personnel assets

  • The will to fight
  • Some training
  • Teamwork
  • Some leadership

For winning at low cost, there are additional requirements


  • State of the art tactical knowledge (considering the moral, mental and physical dimensions)
  • Authority to make common-sense decisions at every echelon within a unit
  • Minimizing the number of actions taken without thinking
  • Allowing subordinates to obey human survival instincts
  • Flexibility to an ever changing situation
  • Making as small a target as possible
  • Consistently surprising the enemy
  • Exploiting success to keep the foe off balance (momentum)

Personnel assets

  • Well-focus personnel
  • Troops with the movement skills to utilize existing cover
  • Troops with the shooting skills to cover the movement of others by fire when necessary
  • Specialized training for those who need it to survive
  • Enough trained personnel to rotate dangerous billets
  • Appropriate assignment of personnel
  • Pairing up personnel
  • A leadership style that permits subordinates to react quickly to unforeseen dangers

As you can see from this list being good, is not good enough. To win at low cost in the moral, mental and physical dimensions conflict, it takes cops who are fuller spectrum. It takes street cops who understand and take whole of conflict. We must look deeper at how we respond and leverage every lesson if we are to enhance our safety and effectiveness and win at low cost.

The solutions to all tactical situations necessarily depend on the training status of the individuals and units involved. Often the optimal tactical solution is not viable simply because of the training deficiencies of individual officers and their department. With unity and focus of effort on creating and nurturing these skills, we can do better! We can get results that keep us safe on the street and then in the aftermath get the support we need and deserve.

I challenge you to think about these questions, inspired by John Poole and his work in The Last hundred Yards; and how they may apply to you as law enforcement officers who just might have to handle one of those low frequency, high risk encounters; To Americans, what constitutes a law enforcement victory? What does it take to defeat an adversary in crisis at any cost? What else does it take to defeat an adversary in crisis at minimal cost? Americans, those we protect and serve will not tolerate careless police tactics from officers or leaders. Neither should professional cops tolerate, sloppy un-thought out methods and tactics. Just read or watch the news and all the talk and debate of police tactics. Not everyone discussing the issue is anti-cop! If this debate and discussion is not enough for you to rethink your strategy and tactics, just look at the numbers of cops being killed in the line of duty. Look at the ever increasing ambush rate of cops. Look at the lessons learned from our law enforcement history and ask, yourself are we applying the lessons learned? Talk to a cop who has been there and done that and ask him about surviving the fight and then ask him about the aftermath and the stress involved in dealing with that. Going home at the end of your shift is paramount but we also want to survive the aftermath. I would rather be tried by twelve than carried by six is a great mantra, until you’re the guy sitting in front of the twelve. Winning at low cost means we survive both the fight and the aftermath.

I know…I know… there will always be controversy involving how we handle situations, people will still take things to the ultimate level and attempt to use deadly force, so why change anything, why worry about winning at low cost when we have enough to worry about already? I happen to believe and I do not think I am alone in my thinking, that by making the effort to understand strategy and get better tactically we will be more able to respond in a way that keeps us safe in all types of situations we respond to. We will actually slow things down enough to position ourselves gaining the advantage that comes from positioning and win without fighting in many more situations, which is the acme of skill. When we do have to fight we will be better at it using strategy and tactics verses emotion and luck. Skill will win the day verses reactions often leveraged by emotion. It will be well known we did everything in our power to resolve it peacefully and that the balance of persuasion and force was used in accord with our overall mission and intent to protect and serve. Support will come from the uncommitted because we will have gained their trust.

Our whole public safety effort is based on what cops can collectively accomplish on their beats during their patrols. Community trust is, key to us accomplishing anything from minor problems, to serious crime problems and any evolving threat we may have to face in the future. How we respond and handle situations is, whether we like it or not, judged by those we serve. It’s time we work harder getting them on board with what it is we do and how we do it. Yes…we have to be safe and my belief is that understanding and applying these principles will make us safe because we are thinking things through and considering options. COL John Boyd said; “The essence of winning and losing is in learning how to shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic towards our success.” A powerful sentence, every cop should study and ponder, as its implications are centered on winning and losing in the moral, mental and physical dimensions always prevalent in conflict and resolving conflict, is what we in law enforcement do.

Let’s make the well known and talked about 5% mindset more prevalent in law enforcement. Let’s not be satisfied with our efforts until the 5% mindset is more like 95% and then those who pin a badge on and holster a gun are out there working with a strategic and tactical mindset that gets them results we can all be proud of. Results based on continued learning, will and skill basked in those who walk the talk to victory in all its dimensions.

Stay Oriented!


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