Sun Tzu for 21st century cops
“When it is time to strike, strike like thunderbolts from the nine-layered heavens.” That is what Sun Tzu said more than 2,500 years ago. Except for the literary flare, the meaning is the same as something all police officers have heard said by their defensive tactics instructor: “Never spar with your opponent.”
Sun Tzu’s (Also Sun Wu) "The Art of War" is one of the most widely distributed, discussed, footnoted, translated, and argued texts in history. It is utilized in today’s world by successful tacticians in the military, law enforcement, and even in business circles.
Sun Tzu might not be a recommended read for academy students, but after a number of years of careful study and real life application of tactics, Sun Tzu can speak to any police officer or tactical officer who desires to survive their career, their next shift, their next call, or even quite possibly the next moment.
An example of how current Sun Tzu can be is his assertion that success in a confrontation begins with, “moral strength, intellect, benevolence, and righteousness.”
Policing in America has not achieved absolute perfection, but most police officers on the street are benevolent, righteous “Good Guys” and “Good Gals,” looking for the “Bad Guys.” The vast majority of officers strive to serve with honor. They wear it as proudly as their badge.
Here are a few more tenets from more than 2,500 years ago that still speak to the tactics needed to win in today’s world of law enforcement:
“To subdue without fighting is the acme of skill.”
To talk a suspect into submission is always preferred and law enforcement officers at all levels are becoming master communicators with professional communication tactics acquired in training. Patrol officers are trained in “Verbal Judo,” and SWAT Team members are highly trained in crisis negotiation, with skills in empathetic listening designed to subdue without fighting.
TASER is a tool that has prevented as many confrontations as it has ended. In many cases the promise of the impending deployment of the TASER has convinced many a suspect to come along peacefully rather than engage in futile resistance.
“To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of all crimes. To be prepared beforehand for every contingency is the greatest of virtues.”
Administrators are more committed than ever to obtaining and maintaining highly trained personnel. The days of strapping on a gun and a badge and sending cops out on the street are gone. The level of expertise and education, sitting behind the steering wheel of squads across the nation is higher than ever before in history of this country. The days of the “ROD,” or “Rustic on duty,” are long gone and will not be returning.
“Strike when victory is assured.”
Some times the suspect leaves no other option in the case of a sudden assault of an officer or a potential victim an officer is sworn to protect. When possible engaging a suspect(s) should be a tactical decision made, when your odds of winning are based on your superior skills, equipment, positioning, attitude, and personnel.
“Avoid strong and attack weak.”
Police officers today realize that winning is the only option and superior tactics must be utilized to win. Winning with your strength is not only about knowing how to do all of the above, but when to utilize your most effective tools and tactics with justification at the moment to achieve the best outcome.
“Go into emptiness, strike voids, bypass what he defends hit him where he does not expect you.”
In today’s law enforcement tactical instructors stress the need to establish a contact officer and a cover officer, who flanks the suspect. In SWAT operations the fixing element would be the officers on the inner perimeter and the flanking element would be the entry team.
“The expert is divinely mysterious. He is inaudible. Thus he is the master of his enemy’s fate.”
“Good commanders command with wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage,and strictness.”
Sun Tzu felt discipline was essential. Ask yourself are you disciplined? If you discipline yourself no one else will have to discipline you. A good commander not only knows how to effectively use discipline, but they set an example.
“Know yourself and know your enemy and in a thousand battles you will know no peril.”
Sun Tzu’s Five Essentials for victory:
Ask yourself, do these apply today?
Here is one example from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, of a 2,500 year old principle that fits law enforcement today. If you have room in your duty bag for only one of Sun Tzu’s principals take this one with you:
“Victory is secured before the fight.”
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