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Never underestimate the value of SWAT debriefs, even when all goes to plan

By striving for greatness we may never achieve greatness, but we will be treading a constant path toward excellence

William Shakespeare once wrote, “All’s Well That Ends Well.” Well... is it?

Years ago I was on foot patrol in downtown La Crosse (Wis.) and I witnessed a car accident. As I started walking to the scene, the suspect drove off in a hurry. Since I was on foot I was frustrated, so I flagged down a passing motorcyclist and climbed on the back and said, “Follow that car,” just like I’d seen in the movies.

The hit and run driver made a few turns and we hung with him right up to the point that he crashed into a parked car. The driver of the hit and run vehicle exited and loped off away from the scene. I jumped off the motorcycle, thanked the biker and pursued the suspect. After a few hundred feet I caught the totally surprised suspect and arrested him. No one was hurt and the bad guy was caught.

At the time, I patted myself on the back and reasoned, “All’s well that ends well.” … it’s all good.

All the Sergeant said was, “You did what?”

Debrief When Things Go Well
This is not a discussion on the commandeering of vehicles, but rather the how and when of personal and team debriefs.  It was not until I learned the skill of honest debriefing that I was able to recognize areas for improvement on tactics and techniques.

It was in retrospect years later that it hit me clearly that jumping on the back of a motorcycle to pursue a misdemeanant at bar-time creates a litany of negative possibilities.  It was not an example of “Tombstone Courage.” In my honest self-assessment I concluded that I was engaged in “Tombstone Stupidity.”

There were other options and the reward did not outweigh the risk.

The late Paul Roemer, an FBI Agent and Agent James McDermott taught me to debrief. They said you should certainly debrief when things go wrong, but it is even more important to debrief every aspect of your response, when things go right.

When the public is outraged, law suits are being filed and internal investigators are swirling about you like hungry piranhas, there will clearly be a debriefing.  This is not only a difficult time to learn, but also a difficult way to learn.
The best time to debrief and improve on performance is when things went well. It is then you can comfortably fine tune your next response in the after-glow of success. 

First Question: “Why Did I (We) Do What I (We) Did?
I learned two questions that can be utilized, during a debriefing from two excellent law enforcement trainers — Bob Willis and Randy Revling. The questions can be utilized after individual calls, or in a team setting to start the discussion. After clearing from anything that “ends well,” from a traffic contact to a successful hostage rescue, ask, “Why did I (we) do what (we) I did.”

During this process you analyze your actions and prepare yourself to write the report — and later testify to the incident. You are looking to be able to explain and yes justify your actions, which will most often fall well within the confines of reasonableness.

You will discover that the call or call-out did not end well by accident.  The success was a result of actions taken by you as an individual or as a team. You will find that your response was most probably a trained response and both reasonable and justifiable.

Second Question: “How Do I (We) See Myself (Ourselves) Next Time?”
In answering the question “How do I see myself the next time?” you are looking toward either reinforcing a great response, or mentally imagining an even better response.  This is when you take a diamond and polish it to a blinding luster.

Discussing then imagining minor improvements you could make in your response does not take your initial response out of the realm of “reasonable,” it just prepares you to as Bob Willis would put it, “Be cooler.”

This is a healthy process, during which a good officer becomes great and great teams become outstanding.

Striving Toward the Ultimate Goal
In the martial arts there is a concept called “The ultimate goal.” That goal is to strive for perfection of mind, body, technique, and spirit — realizing that we as human beings can never achieve perfection, but in striving for it we assure we will always be as good as we can be.

Admit it. When you were in the batting cage you didn’t just imagine hitting a home run. You imagined a walk off grand slam, during game seven of the World Series. By striving for greatness we may never achieve greatness, but we will be treading a constant path toward excellence.

When all is well, because it ended well that is the best time to prepare to become even better.

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