Full Spectrum Policing Adaptation,Trust, and Building Resilient Cops and Communities

“Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a leader.” - General George S. Patton, Jr.

You are a police officer patrolling the streets when you observe a vehicle run a red light and pull into the parking lot of the hospital. You activate your emergency lights and pull the car over. You notify dispatch of the car stop and have dispatch run a check on the vehicle and its owner. As this is going on, you approach the car and begin to speak with the driver and its occupants. The driver in an excited voice tells you “my mother in-law is dying and we are on our way in to see her before she passes.” The other two occupants excitedly tell you the same thing. You observe the driver with his hands on the wheel, breathing rapid and deep and that from time to time he rubs his forehead and scalp as he exclaims; “we need to get inside the hospital my mother in-law is dying!” The two passengers in the car are fidgety looking back and forth at each other and at you. They both appear to be anxious and upset. How do you handle this situation?

Does a law enforcement officer follow his training which is based on policy and procedure and step by step guidelines? Does he go by the book and procedure and hold the subject there because of a minor traffic infraction? Or does his awareness, ability to absorb and orient to the incoming information allow him to adapt to the situation, make decisions and then take actions based on, the philosophy that law enforcement officers protect and serve the public? As the officer orient’s to the environment (hospital grounds) and climate of the situation (excited and anxious demeanor of driver and passengers) and their story, in combination with a law violation, warrant a prolonged inquiry or do the patterns of behavior depict something else, that may outweigh a motor vehicle citation?

Would a little less focus on numbers, rules and regulations, policy and procedures and processes with a little more focus on awareness, communication, interaction, innovation and discretion help an officer balance safety concerns and service in a way that helps the officer orient too the root of the problem? Could this ability to use insight, imagination and initiative assist an officer in adapting to either danger that may be present or, just maybe, this case requires use of intellect, intuition and compassion to see things as they are and adapt accordingly? Is the way in which a law enforcement officer handles this example above; related more towards the personality and background of an officer, or is it more directly related to how he/she is trained and the procedures he is to follow? Obviously it’s a combination of all these factors, yet educational research shows it has a lot more to do with learning and development than any other factor.

The Full-Spectrum Police Officer

Today’s climate is dangerous to those in law enforcement and to those within their communities, whether its conventional crimes and crime problems or new and emerging threats, such as, transnational crime and terrorism. All pose risks from unknown facts and circumstances and can unfold in any given number of circumstances, including minor traffic violations. This fact requires police officers who are both capable and disciplined; who possess situational awareness, mental calmness and a willingness to show compassion and communicate, and build communitywide relationships. Yet they must as well possess, the willingness to use force, including deadly force to protect both the public and themselves when it’s both reasonable and necessary. This is a balance that is difficult at best in the probabilistic, uncertain and often chaotic world we live in. The complexity of the world and its conflicts demands, a new type of policing—the full spectrum police officer. Full spectrum policing requires building specialized individual police officers and hybrid forces capable of operating in a range of environments and missions. They must be able to transition between community policing and investigations to public order and riot control missions to high-intensity operations ranging from gang control to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.[1]

Full-spectrum policing also demands training officers, using a better alternative to the traditional “input-based” or “competency theory” philosophy that currently governs police training programs as well as U.S. public education at all levels. It requires training based on the Adaptive Leadership Methodology. ALM is perhaps best described as “developmental training,” i.e. the development of the individual within the training of a law enforcement task. It emphasizes teaching the “why” behind actions through an emphasis on the fundamental principles that should guide future actions and decisions. ALM is best suited to nurture innovation and adaptability, the characteristics that are absolutely essential on today’s complex streets.[2]

To prepare and evolve into the future a cultural shift in law enforcement is needed to one more adaptable and agile, allowing decisions and initiative at the frontline supported by the community. This emboldens and empowers individual officers to be creative and allows them to take ownership of the situations they respond to based on the situation taking place verses what the book and procedures state. Canned procedures get you canned responses which can be very ineffective and at times dangerous in dynamic situations.

Development of full-spectrum police and adaptive methods will assist in making law enforcement more responsive to the problems themselves and their community face, as well as build more trust and resilience within the community. There has been a lot of talk about innovation and initiative when it comes to law enforcement and full-spectrum policing; it is time we in law enforcement start walking that talk if we are to be effective solving the problems and building and nurturing cohesive and resilient communities as they are meant to be.


[1] Postcard from Mumbai: Modern Urban Siege John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, Small Wars Journal article 2009

[2] Unpublished article; Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM), Something Different, but Better for Our Development, LT Fred T. Leland Jr and Major Don Vandergriff (US Army ret), 2009