Here’s a handy checklist, suitable for periodic review and reinforcement to recharge your warrior mindset.
These eight critical components of tactical performance were itemized by Dallas SWAT veteran Steve Claggett at the 25th annual conference of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association and in an interview with PoliceOne.
Are these consistently your personal priorities when you’re on the street?
1.) 540-degree Awareness
“Continually ask yourself: ‘What people, things, or uncleared spaces are around me or above my eye level that could hurt — or help — me?’ ” Claggett advises.
“As you approach a scene, pause and assess your 540-degree battlefield. Process individuals you encounter — their whole body, their hands, their pockets and waistband, their demeanor. What do you know about them…and what do you know about yourself in that environment? Don’t get hyper-focused on just one subject. Stay aware of potential secondary threats and threat locations.”
2.) Superior Positioning
“Sometimes a single step to the right or left can give you a better tactical edge,” Claggett says.
“Keep your battlefield in front of you. If you can get your back against a wall or something solid, you protect your six and cut your area of concern in half. If you create distance between you and your partner, you split the suspect’s focus — minimize your battlefield, maximize his.
“Does your position facilitate your ability to act and react, or restrict it? Is your nearest cover real, or imaginary? Do you keep the suspect between you and a potential secondary threat? Do you tend to simple but important details, like keeping your flashlight out of your gun hand? Do you recognize and adjust as new vulnerabilities arise?”
3.) “Attack-the-Attack” Ferocity
“When a suspect physically attacks you, defending yourself may need to be much more than just blocking his moves,” Claggett declares.
“If he’s going for your gun, for example, your life is on the line. Turn the attack on him with all the ferocity you can muster. Drive your thumb into his eye socket, punch him in the throat, bite him — you need to overwhelm him so he no longer wants to fight and can’t fight.
“Life-or-death physical combat on the street is likely to turn more on mindset than on skill, and your mindset must be to win, whatever it takes, not merely to survive.”
4.) Clear Mental Triggers
Establishing what Claggett calls “a clear mental trigger” means anticipating the evolution of trouble and having limits in mind in advance.
“Given the specific circumstances you’re in, know what action you will take when the suspect’s behavior reaches your trigger point. How close will you let a guy with a knife get before you shoot? How many times will you tell a gunman to drop his weapon?
“If you don’t know, you’ll more likely make no decision or a bad decision. Mentally drawing a line in the sand lets you avoid hesitation and prevents you from falling back on an unplanned startle response — two confirmed killers of officers. In a sense, you’re giving yourself the answers to the test before the test!”
5.) Personal SOPs
Equally important, Claggett believes, is honest dialogue with yourself to clearly define in advance what you are willing to do in a crisis. Will your personal standards of operation permit you to act confidently and decisively under stress?
“Would you shoot a dangerous suspect in the back when legally justified in doing so?” Claggett asks. “Would you run over someone with your squad car who was threatening to shoot you? Would you feel compelled to try some intermediate-force option before employing deadly force, even in the face of an imminent threat? The time to ponder your moral and ethical code and resolve potential dilemmas is not when lives are on the line.”
6.) Commitment to Movement
“Static positioning during range training leaves a terrible training scar,” Claggett says. “When you’re targeted by a deadly threat, movement is life. Ingrain that concept into your thinking and into your conditioned reaction. Get off the ‘X’. More laterally, not linearly, in relation to your adversary to make yourself a harder target. And if possible, of course, move to cover.”
7.) Uncomfortable Training
Quoting an anonymous sage, Claggett says in a crisis, “‘We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training’.”
To drive that level higher, “training needs to be uncomfortable, always pushing you to meet tougher challenges, acquire more demanding skills, make harder decisions, and build confidence and competence where any trace of uncertainty and mediocrity exists. We often get too little of that because we tend to train in our comfort zone. Think of training like an insurance policy: You hate paying the premiums, but when you need it you want the best coverage there is.”
8.) Unsparing Debriefing
Critique yourself after every stop and every call, Claggett urges.
“What were your strengths and weaknesses? What did you do that could have gotten you hurt or killed? What could you have done better? What do you need to improve on? Don’t let a good end result justify the means by which you got there. Be proactive about remedying shortcomings. Don’t just leave it to Fate, because Fate has a real good way of pointing out our deficiencies when it’s too late.
“Cops don’t like to hear — even from themselves — that they could do things better,” Claggett says.
“Ego can get in the way of self-improvement. True warriors put ego aside and make the principles of tactical thinking a lifestyle. They understand that hope is not a strategy and luck is not a skill. They not only recognize that they can be better, they take action to make it happen.”
Now retired from Dallas PD after 25 years of service, Claggett is director of training for the Fulcrum Tactical Training & Support organization, which offers advanced professional instruction for patrol and SWAT personnel. Course descriptions are available at: www.fulcrumtactical.org. Claggett can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.