What Makes a "World Class" Tactically Proficient Peacekeeper?

I had a discussion on facebook that centered on the question; how can a law enforcement organization gain “world class” tactical proficiency? This posed an insightful question from my good friend Marshall Wallace, What is "world class"? Is there a definition or metric that would allow an officer to know that he/she was approaching that level? I thought to myself that, my friend is the question? What is “world class” and how do we measure it? What are the tangible skills and attributes as well as the intangibles skills and attributes, a world class tactically proficient cop should possess?

Marshall Wallace is the author of "Opting Out Of War: Strategies To Prevent Violent Conflict" whose efforts are depicted in the book and focuses on humanitarian efforts to preventing conflict around the world. In our discussion Marshall brought up some experiences in his efforts towards developing “world class” humanitarians.

“Humanitarianism is in a similar bind. We have not yet figured out what "world class" means, so individuals don't have real professional goals that are globally meaningful. I'm trying to help set some norms that exist on the organization level, but that must be understood, practiced, and implemented by individuals (though I stress teamwork). At the same time I'm doing this, there are other people who see their norms as the "crucial" ones. We don't work together to build general concepts (or snowmobiles) because of ego - though others might well prefer to blame lack of funding. Isolation or interaction, which one spurs evolution?"

I see some of the same problems in law enforcement Marshall, observes in his profession. I also believe we worry way too much about what “world class” is in an effort to standardize it when instead we should be developing complex problem solvers who focus is outcomes based. What do I mean by outcomes based approach? The best definition I have found on the topic of outcomes based approach is from the folks up at West Point’s Department of Military Instruction. “A holistic approach to the planning, execution and assessment of training that goes beyond task proficiency and incorporates a focus on developing critical attributes in officers and leaders by emphasizing the why behind actions and the consequences of decisions within a wider context.” When the context is people who adapt to changing conditions, there is no standard situation, no two situations are identical, they all have novelties and different fact patterns, emotions and ebb and flow and so to must we be able to maneuver without patterns, recipes or formulas so an adversary cannot predict what it is you will do.

There is no standard way to “world class” as many today would envision it described procedurally or in a checklist of some kind. In short it comes done to people with the right attributes and mindset applying ideas to meet the problem they face. Dr. Terry Barnhart author of “Creating a Lean R&D System: Lean Principles and Approaches for Pharmaceutical and Research-Based Organizations” (much more than an R&D book and very useful for law enforcement problem solving,) a fellow Boydian thinker, continuous improvement practitioner and tactical problem solver in his own right chimed in on this discussion as well and offered important insight.

“Marshall, we spend a lot of time worrying about whether we are world class, and to my estimation, without value except to the consultants who then sell and advances in order to make everyone normative. My measure is this: if you have to ask (that is, if the answer is not obvious), then you have a long way to go. By contrast, world class is easily defined by what I call the wow metric. If people walk in and say "wow", chances are you are defining world class. Otherwise, you are just one of the pack.”

To adapt Supreme Court justice Potter Stewarts quote describing pornography some 48 years ago…”I will know it when I see it” holds true in law enforcement, as well, to describe world class tactical proficiency. It is difficult to explain but you know it when you see it. However there are some tangible/intangible skills and personal attributes that I think will help in reaching “world class tactical proficiency.”


  • Tactical knowledge that can be translated to skills that allow us to maneuver in the unfolding situation (considering the moral, mental and physical dimensions)
  • Authority to make common-sense decisions at every echelon within a unit
  • Minimizing the number of actions taken without over thinking
  • Allowing frontline to obey human survival and decision making instincts
  • Flexibility to an ever changing situation
  • Consistently surprising the adversary
  • Exploiting success to keep the foe off balance (momentum/initiative)
  • Personnel with the movement skills to utilize existing cover and advantageous positions
    Personnel assets
  • Well-focused personnel able to accept confusion and uncertainty and operate in it while also generating confusion and disorder in an adversary;
  • Intuitive-this enables rapid decision-making without conscious awareness or effort;
  • Critical thinker-the ability to achieve understanding, evaluates viewpoints, and solves problems;
  • Creative Thinker-equally important, called fingerspitzenfuhl or the feeling in the tip of one’s fingers, coupe d’oeil, (Napoleon called it a “gut” feeling), it the ability to sense more than you can see, while understanding an adversaries strengths and weaknesses;
  • Self-Aware-an understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses;
  • Social Skills-the ability, to assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, the use of communication skills, and the art of listening.
  • These above characteristics are critical to being a sound decision maker and adaptive individual. I think imperative to becoming “world class.” There are indeed Challenges: Confusing and conflicting information are always present in a crisis. We need situational awareness, but can’t gather all information before needing to make decisions. We need to be able to gather as much information as possible while competing for priorities and objectives in accord with time and risk creating friction in decision making and inability to act quickly; we must continuously balance reflection and action based on conditions we are confronted with. Leadership wants to take responsibility and command and strives to gather information by asking a barrage of questions from the frontline personnel tasked with solving the tactical dilemma adding more confusion, stress and anxiety to the situation by tasking these frontline people to give answers to command post staff while they in real time are trying to identify the threats, design and plan real-time action. People responding to scene should always allow people at scene to handle it. Sometimes we need to “plan on the fly” to develop a hasty plan to put into effect. We need agility to put things in place. There are always time-sensitive and time-competing issues. Always tendency to over-mission/task units (e.g., SWAT becomes responsible for everything). Uncertainty “Friction-fog-noise” is a distraction. Everything has a political consequence, risk to innocent people versus risk to career. These can be reasons people are slow, or don’t decide and affects our tactical problem solving or world class tactical proficiency…fear of failure due to the paradoxes that exist in conflict. I have only named a few.

    Some more to consider:

  • Specialized training for those who need it to win;
  • Enough trained personnel to rotate dangerous jobs;
  • Appropriate assignment of personnel;
  • Pairing up personnel “WORKING TOGETHER”;
  • A leadership style that permits subordinates to react quickly to unforeseen dangers (Leadership is an everyday thing not an event driven thing!) Only a decentralized force can have a fast OODA loop.
  • We could expand on all of these above and I am sure adding more based on the particular discipline but a good start I think? I would love your thoughts on this topic so please add to the discussion with what you think makes a world class tactically proficient cop?

    Stay Oriented!