Developing police leaders during every call out

Some qualities in an individual's makeup, particularly those concerning his integrity and ethical foundation, are absolutely essential in the potential leader


What defines your style of tactical management and leadership when dealing with subordinates? When you were promoted did you receive specialized training in the concept of command and control?

Unfortunately, in many cases tactical command officers and team leaders are given a tremendous amount of responsibility without the proper training.

A very important element in tactical environments for tactical supervisors is command and control. Understanding the various challenges in combat that guide our tactical decision-making is critical in managing a team in tactical operators.

The Prussian Influence
Mission command is a style of military command, derived from the Prussian military doctrine, promoting relatively decentralized command, freedom and speed of action, and initiative, within certain constraints. Subordinates, understanding the commander’s intentions, their own missions and the context of those missions, are told what objectives they are to achieve and the reason why it needs to be achieved. They then decide within their delegated freedom of action how best to achieve their missions.

The bottom line here is “mission command” is task oriented orders to inform subordinates what his tactical objectives are and not necessarily how to achieve them.

When your team leaders and subordinates are empowered with clear direction, the entire team has a greater capability to function in the chaos of combat. Team leaders will now have the ability to respond to tactical challenges as they arise on the battlefield. Without this empowerment team leaders have to request permission or direction when faced with obstacles that can be quickly mitigated from their level. When a team leader has to stop his tactical movement and ask for direction he must wait for a response from a superior officer. This can compromise the tactical advantage of time, speed, surprise, and violence of action.

Successful mission command rests on the following three elements:

1.) Tactical Commander’s Intent
2.) Subordinates Initiative
3.) Tactical Operation Orders

Leaving details of execution to the team leaders require them to use initiative and judgment to accomplish the mission. Expecting these team leaders to identify and act on unforeseen circumstances, whether opportunities or threats, while conducting their tactical operations. Seizing, retaining, and exploiting the operational initiative requires team leaders to exercise individual initiative and they should have the authority to do so.

Training team leaders under mission command develops disciplined initiative and skilled judgment. It also gives tactical commanders the confidence to delegate them the necessary authority during operations. Mission command enables tactical commanders to use the unprecedented agility and flexibility of the modular force to take advantage of the chaos of combat. It allows tactical teams to rapidly adapt to changes in a situation and exercise initiative within the tactical commander’s intent to accomplish the mission.

Mission command also allows tactical team leaders the ability to seize, retain and exploit the objectives with initiative, speed, shock, surprise, tactical depth, simultaneity and endurance.

1.) Initiative: in its operational sense, is setting or dictating the terms of action throughout an operation. The side with the initiative determines the nature, tempo, and sequence of actions. Initiative is decisive if retained and exploited. In any operation, a tactical force has the initiative when it is controlling the situation rather than reacting to circumstances. The counterpart to operational initiative is individual initiative, the willingness to act in the absence of orders or when existing orders no longer fit the situation.

2.) Speed: the ability of tactical squads to act rapidly. Rapid maneuver dislocates your adversary and exposes his elements before they are prepared or positioned. Rapid action preempts threats to security. It reduces suffering and loss of life among noncombatants or victims by restoring order. At the strategic level, speed gives tactical forces their expeditionary quality and allows tactical forces to keep the initiative. It contributes to their ability to achieve shock and surprise.

3.) Shock: the application of violence of such magnitude that your adversary is stunned and helpless to reverse the situation. Shock entails the use of an “overwhelming dominating force” at the decisive time and place.

4.) Surprise: involves the delivery of a powerful blow at a time and place for which your adversary is unprepared. When combined with shock, it reduces friendly casualties and ends opposition swiftly.

5.) Depth: the ability to operate across the entire area of tactical operations. It includes the ability to act in the information environment of the tactical operation as well as the support elements. 

6.) Simultaneity: a function of time, confronts opponents with multiple actions occurring at once, disrupting their cognitive function as they process through the OODA loop. Multiple actions overload adversaries control systems and this provides an advantage to the tactical forces. 

7.) Endurance: the ability to survive and persevere over time. Swift tactical response may be desirable; however a swift response is the exception for most call outs. To succeed, tactical forces must prepare to conduct operations for protracted periods.

Mission Command Development
Mission command requires good policy, team structure, strong leadership, and frequent training. Tactical teams must operate under department policy, which is the foundation for clear function and operations. These policies must be provided to each individual officer and they must be held accountable when they act outside of these policies. Overlooking a minor offense may bring you a larger problem in the future if left uncorrected. Act upon any recognized deficiencies observed in your tactical officers but do this in a positive manner, as your goal is to improve the officer’s capabilities.

Officers will come to appreciate this approach since it is fair and safer.

Team structure is very important to provide a foundation too your team. This includes a clear chain of command. Tactical teams should be split into multiple squads with no fewer than eight officers and no more than twelve. Many teams operate as one squad and this system can stretch a tactical teams limit when responding to large critical incidents such as a barricaded gunman or hostage situations.

The span of command and control can become too great for one individual thus resulting in missed opportunities. Also, a single tactical commander may not be able to deliver the same level of planning and execution as a team with a deep command structure. A tactical team with multiple layers of command and team leaders in its structure provides a greater response of multiple tactical elements.  

Fundamentals of Leadership
Some individuals appear to be “born leaders” while other individuals can be developed into leaders. Either way, a solid foundation of “character” is essential in any successful leader. Some qualities in an individual’s makeup, particularly those concerning his integrity and ethical foundation, are absolutely essential in the potential leader, and which cannot be added through schooling or experience.

Good judgment and common sense is an absolute requirement for successful combat leadership. The ability to perform well in formal training, while not a negative characteristic, is a less important factor for a combat leader. In particular, the leader must have a well-developed and practiced ability in making decisions under pressure.

Develop your team leaders and officers by allowing them to do their jobs. When a subordinate is free to do his job, he perceives this as trust and confidence from his commanders and takes more pride in his job, himself, and the team’s goals and objectives. Delegation of tactical authority, training development and implementation, and the proper use of personnel develops future leaders. This should be the goal of every commander.

Great leaders will recognize and train future leaders.  

About the author

Glenn French, a Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 22 years police experience and currently serves as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and Sergeant of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 14 years SWAT experience and served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

He is the author of the award-winning book “Police Tactical Life Saver” which has been named the 2012 Public Safety Writers Association Technical Manual of the year. Glenn is also the President of www.tacticallifesaver.org.

Glenn has instructed basic and advanced SWAT / Tactical officer courses, basic and advanced Sniper courses, Cold Weather / Winter Sniper Operations and Active Shooter Response courses, Tactical Lifesaver Course and others. Sgt French served in the U.S. Army. During his military tenure Sgt French gained valuable experience in C.Q.B., infantry tactics and explosive breaching operations. 

Contact Glenn French.

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