Tactics Are They More High Diddle, Diddle Straight Up the Middle the Devil Be Damned or Maneuver and Boyd Cycling an Adversary?

Police training, too often has focused its tactical training on developing the physical skills of police. This has them learning tactics as a series of formulas, starting in recruit training. Tactics are defined as the how to of things for example; response to domestic violence calls, car stop tactics (unknown and high risk), robberies, school shooting response, gang violence, etc. Ability is measured in checklist type tests like applied patrol procedure where tactics are practiced as a “skill set” rather than an intuitive application of “tried and true” principles.

All too often final exams in tactics are fill in the blank, true and false or multiple-choice questions such as “When approaching a subject on the street reading non-verbal signs and signals and observing ____ ____ is crucial to officer survival” or “When responding to the location of a school shooting responding officers must first set up a perimeter and then call for SWAT, true or false? When conducting a motor vehicle stop which is the best method to approach a vehicle, operators side approach; passengers side approach, walk up or walk back approach, or all the above? There are many more questions like these, that test knowledge of officers. The problem is that knowledge must relate to the how to, and why we are using a technique.

This type of training although well intended, all too often leads to emotional high diddle, diddle straight up the middle, the devil be damned responses that has police responding to driveways, front doors and other hostile situations with little consideration for tactical principles such as space and time and how to maneuver in these dimensions. Charles “Sid” Heal describes these dimensions in his book Field Command:

“Tactical operations always unfold in at least four dimensions. The first three length, width and height, make up the realm of space. In fact, the older term “battlefield” has been replaced in modern military discourse by the more accurate “battlespace.” The maneuver elements in space are physical. They can be seen and felt. Examples include personnel, vehicles, supplies, and so forth.

The fourth dimension is time. Time is a “nonspace continuum” where events occur in an irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. While the maneuver elements involving time are just as intrinsic, they are intangible. They exist only as a mental image. Examples include actions, events, circumstances and opportunities. Nevertheless, they are just as real as those in the physical realm and just as critical in achieving a satisfactory resolution.

While nearly everyone recognizes how maneuver applies in space, the more astute will also recognize the critical aspect of time. Every tactical operation is the result of a unique and temporary set of circumstances. Unique, because each circumstance is dependent only upon those factors that are present at a particular time and place. Temporary, because an outcome, of any kind, affects the next set of circumstances in an irreversible succession.

Because tactical operations unfold in time as well as space, it becomes clear that they are in a constant and never-ending state of change. This dynamic nature makes them inherently time sensitive because they are easily altered by actions.”

The lack of understanding of these dimensions creates another problem in that we are often times successful. This has us confusing good luck with good tactics and failing to adapt. This piece will attempt to connect the tactical skills sets currently being taught with the importance of being able to size up situations in real time, utilizing a conditioned Boyd Cycle and maneuver tactics. My focus is to reduce the emotionally charged reactions to crisis and replace it with sound decision making and tactics necessary to effectively respond to threats.

Bill Lind the father of maneuver warfare states; Tactics is a process of combining two elements, techniques and education, through three mental filters or reference points i.e. mission type orders (decentralized control), the focus of effort and the search for adversarial strengths and weaknesses, with the object of producing a unique approach for a specific enemy, time and place.

What does a careful look at this definition show? First, it says tactics is not a thing, but a process. Especially a mental process. It is a way of doing something. It is not just a certain course of action or defensive position, it is why you chose that particular course of action or defense. Tactics is not just your decision as a responder, it is how you come to your decision, your method. Second, the definition says the goal of the process is a unique approach. You always want to do something different, something the adversary does not expect. Third, you must consider the specific adversary, time and place. Everything must be according to the situation. Each situation is different. One adversary behaves differently from another. One school shooter, operator of car, individual in a domestic disturbance, etc. responds and fights differently than another. And the same adversary with respond or fight differently on Wednesday than it did on Monday. What you do as a officer responding must take all these changes into account. What works one day will not work the next.

Fourth, tactics combines two basic elements, techniques and education. Techniques are things you can do by formula. They include how to aim and shoot, set up a perimeter, enter building, room entries, how to maneuver down a hallway, give an order, conduct a felony car stop and so on. Excellence in technique is very important in maneuver while responding to crises! Some people have suggested decentralized control and maneuver advocates do not care about techniques. This is wrong! A major difference between police agencies that can respond and maneuver in crises and one that can only talk about it is excellence in techniques. Sloppy techniques slow down your Boyd Cycle and make your actions ineffective. But good techniques are not enough. The process that is tactics includes the art of selecting from among your techniques those which create that unique approach for the adversary, time and place. Education is the basis for doing that, education not in what do, but in how to think. Police history, tactical decision games (to include force on force free play exercises), case studies, site walks, and after-action reviews and other educational tools must be used by every officer and leader to build his own police education. It is the only way the combination of techniques and education that enables those responding to crisis to do maneuver tactics. Education without excellence in techniques means action will not be timely or effective. But techniques without education means tactics will be formulistic, rigid and predictable to an adversary. This why the Boyd Cycle (Observation, Orientation, Decision and Action Cycle) is so important and the essence of winning or losing.

Boyd’s ideas define what is meant by the word maneuver as it applies to a police force responding to crisis. Maneuver means Boyd Cycling and adversary, being consistently faster through however many OODA Loops it takes until the adversary loses his cohesion, until he can no longer fight as an effective force. Sometimes a Boyd Cycled adversary panics or becomes passive. This is an ideal outcome for those responding, because a panicked or passive adversary can be stopped or captured at the lowest cost to friendly casualties. At other times an outmaneuvered adversary may continue to fight as an individual or small team. But because he can no longer act effectively as a force, he is comparatively easy to stop.

It is not the object of maneuver to move through OODA Loops faster than the adversary, what do you need to do? How can you be consistently faster? First, you must educate and develop your people. Then you must TRUST THEM and allow them to do their jobs based on the mission and intent. Only a decentralized police force can have a fluid and fast OODA Loop. If the observations must be passed up a chain of command, the orientation made, and the decision taken at high level, and the command for action then transmitted back down the chain, the OODA Loop is going to be slow and untimely. We saw this in the recent school shooting in Parkland Florida. As the Military Historian Martin Van Creveld has stated about our quest for certainty:

“…Historically commanders have always faced the choice between two basic was of coping with uncertainty. One was to construct an army of automatons following the orders of a single man, allowed only to do only that which could be controlled; the other, to design organizations and operations in such a way as to enable the former to carry out the latter without the need for continuous control. …the second of these methods has, by and large, proved more successful than the first; and…the ongoing revolution in the technology of command notwithstanding, this is likely to remain so in the future and indeed so long as war itself exists. "

Second, Maneuver mean you will not only accept confusion and disorder and operate successfully in it, through decentralization, you will also generate confusion and disorder. What’s known as “reconnaissance pull” or allowing officers to respond into a scene, probe and size up a situation and think of what course of action to take are inherently disorderly. Leaders cannot direct nor predict the exact path an adversary will take. Although uncertainty will prevail on those friendly, it also generates confusion on behalf of an adversary, creating lose of cohesion so he cannot understand or cope with the changing conditions.

Third, all patterns, recipes, formulas and school solutions are to be avoided. The adversary must not be able to predict your actions. If your tactics follow predictable patterns, the adversary can easily cut inside your OODA Loop. If he predict what you will do, he will be waiting for you. This is why it is so hard to tell someone how to do maneuver. There is no formula you can learn, When someone tells you “cut the bull and all the talk about theory; just tell me what to do,” you cant. You can talk about how to think, and about some useful techniques. But you can’t give new formulas to replace the ones currently taught throughout policing.

Instead of a checklist, cookbook, policy and procedure or school solution leaders and responders who can sense more than they can see, who understand an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and their own, and who can find the adversaries critical weakness in a specific situation (not easy). They must be able to create multiple threats and keep an adversary uncertain as to which is real. They must be able to see their options in the situation before them, constantly creating new options, and adapt rapidly among options as the situation develops.

For police to become more effective in responding to crisis situations we must dig deeper and move beyond teaching tactics as skill sets. We must also develop a police officer’s understanding of tactics to include the how to and why. I am against the school approach that says do this or that. Instead we must proceed as dictated by the personalities involved and the particulars of, the situation.

The resources I used for this piece every cop should read. The Maneuver Warfare Handbook by William S, Lind and Field Command by Charles “Sid Heal. Both are outstanding books that will help wrap your mind around how to effectively respond to crises.

Stay Oriented!
Fred