Think 'FAST': A mnemonic to help keep you safe, by John Demand

“The pursuit of data, in almost any field has come to resemble a form of substance abuse.” ~Gary Klein, author “Street Lights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making”

My good friend John Demand from Observation on Demand has a thought provoking article on information. Is too much information gathering distracting to the street officer?

John Demand is a forty year veteran of law enforcement and corporate security. He has protected high level executives, celebrities and public figures. He realized after attending numerous training programs and seminars that there was little, if anything available to increase critical thinking or observation skills. After a counter terrorism training mission to Israel in 2006 Demand formed Observation On Demand, which is a research and training organization to develop and deliver cost effective and performance based skill development training that can be used "on the street". He is a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Behavioral Science and is a graduate of Northwestern University in Police Administration. Demand has published several articles and has built a network of advisors from law enforcement and academia on an international basis to continue this important research and program development.

John’s article brings to light the importance of rapid decision making and the ability to make quick decisions under pressure, an attribute most often sought in law enforcement, especially for the front line officer. Such decisions are expected in the heat of rapidly changing and complex circumstances, often under life threatening conditions with limited information. But how much information is too much? Where does focus, attention, situational awareness and tempo get lost in the fog of too much information and create friction in decision making? 

John gives his thoughts in the article:

“Too many officers have lost their lives due to lack of what I consider to be four core elements of officer safety: Focus, Attention, Situational awareness, and Tempo.” ~John Demand

The officer was sitting at a stop light focused on his mobile terminal when his LT who was out for a casual bike ride, pulled up and grabbed onto the door handle of the squad car. The lieutenant looked into the car as the officer was working on his MDT. After about ten seconds, the LT banged on the window of the squad and the officer almost jumped out of his pants when he saw his LT sitting next to him. The moral of the story is the MDT distracting the officer’s situational awareness had more suction power than a super-charged Binford 2000 shop vac.

What is situational awareness (SA)? Technically defined, SA is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future. Simply stated, it is what you are paying attention to and more importantly what you are not paying attention to. Clearly in this situation the officer’s attention was strictly limited to the MDT. Anything that could have been a threat around him was being ignored short of the bang on his window which interrupted his mental focus.

As officers we see motorists talking on their cell phones and even some text messaging. It is easy to see how others are distracted using these devices. But what about police officers who are expected to be using all this great technology to do the job? Do we as police officers seem to think we are somehow exempt from these distractions?

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Stay Oriented!