Harnessing The Street Cops Wisdom: Taking Whole of Conflict...And Effective Full Spectrum Responses

By Fred Leland

“Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that you may be wise in the days to come.” ~Proverbs 19:20

Over the past two weeks there was a great discussion by experienced law enforcement professionals taking place on active shootings. The discussion hit a vast array of factors surrounding active shooting situations such as does the title we give the topic “ACTIVE SHOOTER” cause confusion in the ranks of responders and how we respond? What tactics should we be using 4 man, 3 man, 2 man and even 1 man entry techniques? What if we have multiple subjects or multiple targets, then what? Do we respond differently based on our adversaries ability and if so how? Does the size of your department matter, if your from a small town or a large metropolitan area, do tactics change? All great questions and responses in a back and forth dialog to help reshape our thinking in an age where threats are evolving at a faster rate than in the past.

In the discussion I noted a healthy sense of searching for the right answer as to how to handle, but at the same time I sensed an unhealthy search for one way of doing it. This search for a tactical procedure that fits every type of possible scenario surrounding ongoing deadly action is a obstacle to effective responses to dynamic encounters. This all got me to thinking about the policy and procedure, checklist driven world of law enforcement and how this linear, canned response approach is part of the problem in delivering an effective full spectrum response to the vast array of problems and adversaries we face today.  

The Ever-changing Pace of Conflict

To meet the ever changing pace of conflict we must change our attitudes and training methods to that where we focus on teaching street cops how to think instead of, what to think. Cops must be able to arrive on scene, gather information as it’s unfolding through all their senses and come to some judgment or orientation as to what is going on. Cops must be trained to a superior level so they can do adapt on the fly under the stress of unfolding circumstances and then make decisions and take actions to resolve the situation with the least amount of risk to all involved. Action taken based on the circumstances could require a vast array of methods depending on the judgment made while reading the scene. In reading the scene he must consider all factors including the perspectives of others (innocents, adversary(s) and friendly). The street cop must make a judgment and adapt a response by taking whole, not by checklists. Taking whole as described by the ancient strategist Sun Tzu is;

Know yourself and know your enemy. You will be safe in every battle. You may know yourself but not know the enemy. You will then lose one battle for every one you win. You may not know yourself or the enemy. You will then lose every battle.” .

Taking whole is about knowledge but not just information we have stored in our brains no, no, no! Not good enough. Instead we must be able to apply individual and collective knowledge in a tactical way on the street. This ability comes from hard work individually and organizationally and learning from both direct and indirect experience and using both rational and intuitive abilities in making decisions. Obviously considering time and risk factors!

Harnessing The Street Cops Wisdom

Street cops handle by far the vast majority of dangerous situations on the street, yet they receive the least amount of training. This must change in our profession if we truly wish to deal with the serious problems we face more effectively and win on the moral, mental and physical realms of conflict.  To harness the wisdom the street cop has we must learn from their experiences in circumstances where they win and lose on the street. There are numerous lessons to be learned with either outcome and we must take it upon ourselves to leverage these lessons if we are to become effective full spectrum cops delivering full spectrum responses. 

This ability to learn, unlearn and relearn is crucial combined with the adaptive leaders who understand their role in creating (consistent training) and nurturing (inspiring, influencing) decision making from the bottom up. Correct decision making on the frontline…on the street where the circumstances unfold in real time. Adaptive leaders continually develop their cops. They know leadership is a day to day thing not an event driven thing and they take the time to develop those they serve with. They take advantage of down time, roll call, on the street to critique lessons learned. They listen to the experience of others including subordinates in this effort to learn themselves. This all creates the cohesion necessary to adapt on the fly to any situation.   

This approach is applicable in any type of operating environment but especially so when facing the complex problems of policing, car stop, domestic disturbance, robbery, neighborhood problem or dealing with today’s transnational crime or terrorist action or any ongoing deadly action. It is often more difficult to identify the weaknesses of today’s emotionally disturbed or high stressed person, criminals, criminal gangs and terrorists, and a greater challenge to find ways to exploit them. However, the reality of our current conflicts shows that finding creative ways to defeat an asymmetrical threat is essential for our street cops.

it is vital that street cops understand the long term consequences of their immediate actions. This requires the ability to operate within the framework of their higher command or what's known as “Commander’s Intent.” This intent constitutes the long term contract between senior and subordinate. Ethical conduct and adherence to the Rules of Engagement (ROE), Use of Force  are always part of the Commander’s Intent, and this serves to emphasize the often strategic-level consequences of actions at the lowest levels. In other words we must walk the talk of decentralized control if we are to truly raise the bar and develop full spectrum cops who are more than capable if we free them up to adapt to unfolding conditions and make necessary decisions.

Harnessing the street cops wisdom takes both training and building upon every experience building commitment and self-confidence, strength of character in street cops making them effective full spectrum responders with the ability to take whole the factors of conflict and violence enhancing our abilities to decide, detect, deter, disrupt, disengage, prevent and resolve any situation with interaction, insight, innovation and initiative. We have many street cops in our ranks more than capable so let’s harness and use their abilities, their wisdom, to get the job done!

“Adapt strategically to diminished circumstances by devising new ways of coping with old and new enemies.” ~ Edward N. Luttwak

Stay Oriented!