Cops vs. Drugs: Tactics and Issues for All Officers
with Det. Steve Walton (Ret.)
Seven Tactical Principles
The seven tactical principles identified below are not some cleverly kept secret or some mysterious formula that can enhance safety in law enforcement. These principles are tried and true safety enhancers and in fact are very widely recognized when viewed as independent elements.
Over the course of my 25 year law enforcement career in one application or another, I had an opportunity to implement all of these strategies to my advantage. In this article I would like to introduce the 7 tactical principles as a cohesive officer safety system. This system can be applied at many different levels of law enforcement and in many different situations.
These principles are as follows:
• Threat Cues/Threat Assessment
• Time/Distance Ratio
• The Plus One Rule
• The Winning Mind
In any given situation, officers must evaluate what their status is with respect to cover. In properly understanding this concept one must realize that there are two types of cover; cover from fire and cover from view. As a young SWAT officer I was told “you may not always have cover from fire, but you should always have cover from view”.
Obviously there is a fundamental difference between cover from fire and cover from view. The distinction is best described in this fashion; cover from fire provides the officer with protection from high caliber rounds. Cover from view provides the officer with protection from an assailant or potential assailant because the assailant cannot see the officer. Every officer needs to remember that if someone can see you they can shoot at you.
Cover from fire can be obtained from objects that are made of metal or concrete. It can also be obtained in nature by slipping into a depression in the ground or crawling behind a hill of dirt. Large living trees can also provide officers with cover from fire. Although cover from fire is obviously preferred it might not be strategically beneficial. For example, the only tree in a field may provide cover from fire but it could isolate an officer. Huge risk may have been undertaken to obtain the cover and the officer, in obtaining the cover may be outside of the effective range of their own firearm.
For clarity, the effective range of a firearm is measured not in the effectiveness of the weapon but in the ability of the individual officer, when under stress, to deliver deadly, accurate gunfire.
At the most basic level, all officers wear or should wear personal cover from fire, what I am referring to is body armor. I am pleased to see that this generation of law enforcement officer is prepared to accept armor as a required piece of kit. It also appears to me that technology has continued to both improve the capabilities of armor as well as its comfort level.
By constantly evaluating their cover or their need for cover and by comprehensively understanding the true nature and different types of cover, law enforcement officers can seriously enhance their safety.
Threat Cues/Threat Assessment
To further enhance their safety, officers must constantly monitor and evaluate threat cues. Most of those involved in law enforcement are already aware of this tactic however, I believe there is a more global approach to threat cue interpretation than simply observing the body language and verbal information that is presented and provided by a subject. The activities associated to this tactical principle can best be described as intelligence gathering and reconnoitering.
When dealing with an individual or when involved in a situation, it is incumbent on officers to have complete situational awareness and they have to be articulate in the dynamics of conflict. Situational awareness is the comprehensive understanding of where an officer is, what their spatial relationship is to the subjects he or she is dealing with, cover requirements, and escape routes, etc.
With respect to contingency planning, and in conjunction with sound intelligence gathering, law enforcement officers have to continually ask themselves a series of questions:
• How can I obtain cover if required?
• Did I remove myself from a position of cover to deal with this situation?
• Have I conducted a weapons inventory regarding opportunity weapons?
• Is there an escape route, if I have to tactically disengage?
• Is my body positioning appropriate to the circumstance?
Considerations for contingency planning have to also include knowledge of conflict dynamics. Understanding that many things can happen in a short period of time can lead officers down the positive path of pre-planning and the initiation of exigent circumstance or immediate action plans.
This tactical principle is straight forward and important for officers to grasp. What is learned from the time-distance ratio is that there is a direct correlation between time and distance during conflict.
For example, if an officer can put distance between himself and a subject, it takes longer for the subject to initiate contact with the officer. The more time the officer has, the more likely that the officer will be able to develop alternate action plans and avoid making snap decisions.
(This rule excludes firearms as the delivery system for a firearm is spontaneous).
Many officers are familiar with the term “minimum space cushion”; this tells us that there is a relative comfort zone for officers during a conflict. The distances that have been established for the minimum space cushion range from 21 to 32 feet.
With respect to conflict dynamics, officers must realize that when in motion, an adult human can cover 10 feet every second. Constantly evaluating distance can assist officers in developing their minimum space cushion for any given encounter.
The Plus One Rule
Like the time/distance ratio, the plus one rule is very straight forward. There is always one more than you think there is; so no matter what it is you are looking for, conduct a thorough and complete search.
There is nothing worse than leaving somewhere or someone and then having the thought that the premises or the subject or both weren’t searched properly. To avoid these unsettling feeling officers should develop logical search systems that are subject to practice and repetition.
The implementation of effective searching techniques inclusive of building clearing tactics will ensure that the officer has included the plus one rule in their strategic planning.
At the end of the day, law enforcement officers are mandated in force application situations to incorporate the minimal amount of force that is necessary or reasonable in any given encounter. De-escalation or the attempt to de-escalate will serve officers well in surviving once the incident has been concluded.
It goes without saying that officer survival is paramount in any task that requires an officer’s attention. De-escalation is a form of housekeeping that can be initiated to ensure that the officer not only acutely survives a situation, but has implemented appropriate measures to ensure after the fact survival.
All force encounters involving law enforcement officers will be examined with a fine toothed comb. The actions that individual officers undertake at the time of force application can lead to surviving internal disciplinary proceedings, or criminal investigations. These actions include de-escalation or at the very least attempted de-escalation.
Another after the fact survival principle is verbalization. Like de-escalation, an officers verbal actions can not only assist as a situation unfolds but it can provide constructive assistance in after incident proceedings.
Whether their verbal skills are used to create witnesses, deliver clear, concise commands to subjects, or by incorporating verbal judo techniques to take control of a situation or an event; verbalization can tactically and strategically assist officers and enhance their safety.
One word of advice for officers involved in spontaneous high risk encounters; designate one officer to handle verbal duties. I have watched many times in training scenarios and real life situations where more than one officer is handling the verbal responsibilities. Often the officers are delivering contradictory commands or they are speaking over one another. This type of law enforcement response can further enflame a situation and can cause those involved to become confused and frustrated.
Another observation I have made with respect to verbalization is what I refer to as the “verbal loop”. The verbal loop occurs when an officer provides a rather singular and clearly stated command such as “drop the knife”. When they don’t get the desired response the officer will continue verbalizing the command “drop the knife”.
For whatever reason, the subject they are dealing with is not going to respond to that command. When and if this occurs, the officer has to be prepared to elicit another tactically sound behavior from that subject through the officer’s verbal skills.
One example for getting out of the verbal loop (“drop the knife”) is to issue an alternate command like “get down on the ground”.
Avoiding or defeating the “verbal loop” will assist in safety enhancement and can prove to be a stress reliever in challenging encounters.
The “Winning Mind” The most effective weapon that we all have is our ability to think clearly and act decisively in times of duress. Unfortunately this capability does not come naturally to many and training programs have to be initiated and maintained to hone the skill sets associated to the winning mind concept.
• First, what the winning mind tells us is that no matter what, an officer can always work their way out of a situation.
• Second, no matter what, an officer should never give up trying or give up hope.
• Lastly, by incorporating techniques such as visualization, mental imagery, and crisis rehearsal (if/then thinking) officers can supplement the effectiveness of their winning attitude.
I recall a law enforcement training video that was produced and circulated a number of years ago. This video was a reenactment of an event that occurred in Louisiana and it demonstrated the mental toughness and the winning mind a patrol officer possessed during a suspected burglary call. On attending the call, the officer was initially surprised by an armed and extremely determined adversary.
As I watched the dramatization of the real events I was struck by the officer who was involved and his unwillingness to accept certain things and his willingness to survive. I realized his was a total package approach to officer safety and ultimately for him, officer survival. This officer’s total package included an appropriate level of physical fitness which served to augment and enhance an appropriate level of mental fitness.
As mentioned at the outset, I am hopeful that brother and sister law enforcement officers find the information contained herein to be relevant and useful. I know that the tactical principles I mentioned work because I used them hundreds of times in hundreds of applications.