Tactical IQ: Character and Tactical Decision Making

“If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.” ~General George Washington

Character denotes honesty and integrity. Character means doing what’s right based on our beliefs and a belief system set forth by society. There are certain things we do and don’t do based on this system of beliefs. What’s wrong or right in our belief system is where the question often lies, and the answer, too, can at times be clouded by the system of beliefs we value. If we do not possess strength of character and follow our beliefs while carrying out our duties, how can we defend our decisions and actions?

This article is not to judge others in the moral sense; however it is important to think about character and explain how it applies to tactical decision making in the context of law enforcement, security officer and military personnel working the frontlines or the street.

Strength of character or courage helps us gain control over ourselves and to influence others in a positive way. Character is part of leading and leadership within a community, organization or unit. Without character you cannot function accordingly in the field dealing with the complexity of conflict and violence. Character is an attribute that’s critical in implementing strategy and tactics, it’s necessary to connect the ends with the means and the moral, mental and physical aspects of conflict and violence. Without it we falter and are perceived by those we serve as just another bully pushing folks around, just another Goliath picking on and bullying David, and we all know how that ended.

Character influences our decision making because it’s the crux of our ability to make decisions fluidly. Character affects the physiological and psychological responses to conflict, as well. Without character, we struggle even harder to make a decision in conflict, heightening the survival stress response which can spiral out of control, slowing or freezing decision making or life saving action from taking place. Character, or lack thereof, has a profound effect on what goes through our minds and how those thoughts play out in our actions.

Let’s take the simple example of a basic tactical concept of “contact and cover.” You are investigating a suspicious person’s call and come upon two people fitting the description. They turn and walk away, you and your partner encounter them, and they hesitantly go along with your requests.

This type of situation requires use of the principal of contact and cover. One man’s job is to make all contact with a subject, ask the questions, gather all the information and take down notes for a report or to further an investigation. The contact officer also makes all searches and seizures when warranted. The basic premise of the contact officer is to make contact. The cover man is your back up, your safety officer. His job is to monitor the environment and climate of the situation. He looks for other people, weapons or circumstances that may lead to danger. He is constantly monitoring all that’s going on around you and him. His job is to refrain from talking, or interfering with the contact man unless he sees something threatening; then and only then does he take action or makes contact in an attempt to stop the threat.

Let’s say while investigating this scenario, another officer arrives to assist. The officer is standing there arms folded looking the suspicious persons over, laughs at them and makes the statement “what do we have here a couple of **sholes?” One subject says, “I’ll show you an **shole!” The officer responds, “come over here and show me.” The subject walks over, as the officer walks toward him they’re calling one another names, which turns into a pushing and shoving match that then turns into an all out physical altercation. The second subject, feeling his friend is being harassed by the officer who arrived “to ASSIST” gets angry. As he makes an effort to help his friend, your partner attempts to stop him and a second violent encounter unfolds: your partner is knocked to the ground and an unsuccessful attempt made on his gun. In the end, the officers prevail, winning the physical altercation and leading to the arrest of both subjects.

Where is the character in this scenario? Who possessed it? Who did not? And now that an internal investigation into the alleged excessive force case has begun, who will possess the strength of character to tell the truth about what happened? Would that truth, be the same if the attempt on the officer’s gun was successful and ended up in the death of a law enforcement officer? Would the officers who witnessed an officer get out of hand and unprofessional possess the strength of character to tell that officer he was an unprofessional officer, a pretender who should not wear a badge?

This type of behavior or lack of character has a direct effect on officer safety, the lack of character on the part of the cop who arrived on the scene led to the escalation of this situation.

Character is knowing yourself and doing what’s right, no matter how uncomfortable and conflicting it may be. Character is the bedrock of what we do and don’t do on the street. Without character, we fail to make appropriate decisions, and bad outcomes can occur. When we act with character, those we protect and serve will believe in us, they’ll trust us and what we stand for, and have confidence in our decision making.

Stay Oriented!