Shift Briefing Series: How the Safety Priorities influence tactical decision-making

Sometimes referred to as the Priorities of Life, this concept is used to inform the decisions made during incident response


By David Pearson

The Shift Briefing Series is designed to provide law enforcement officers with short training videos that will help make them smarter, safer and more efficient in daily operations and when responding to critical incidents. The videos address key components of the Top 20 Concepts, a class I created and have presented around the country since 2011. The class addresses 20 foundational concepts in law enforcement that are based in law, policy and ethics, are repeatable and defensible, and assist with critical incident decision-making. Group discussion questions are listed after each video to help solidify the topics and ensure the application is in line with your department’s mission and values. 

This Shift Briefing video addresses one of the most important law enforcement concepts used by officers around the country, the Safety Priorities, sometimes referred to as the Priorities of Life: hostages, innocent citizens, LEO and the subject/suspect.

This concept is foundational to tactical decision-making and can be used to inform the decisions made during incident response. When to make entry into a house, whether to use chemical agents during crowd management, and how to act when responding to a suicidal subject are all decisions made easier through consideration of the Safety Priorities.

This video will help viewers understand the concept and how to properly apply it on the street. This concept should be understood by all personnel levels at your agency as it can drive education of the public, inform policy decisions and reduce liability risks.

Questions to consider

1. What is the difference between “value” and “priority”? Why is it important to know that difference when explaining this concept?

2. How can you use this concept to help educate the community where you work and what are the benefits from doing this education?

3. How are the Safety Priorities applied at a traffic stop, domestic violence call, barricaded subject, robbery in progress and hostage rescue? What other calls does your agency handle where the Safety Priorities would be applicable?

4. What can you do as a LEO to prepare yourself for the time when you are risking your life for someone who is a higher priority?

5. How do you use the Safety Priorities to help guide your decisions when addressing a suicidal subject call?

6. How are the Safety Priorities integrated into your department’s decision-making process, policies, tactics and procedures?

Next Shift Briefing: LE response to suicidal subjects


About the author
David Pearson is a lieutenant with Fort Collins Police Services in Fort Collins, Colorado. He has been a police officer since 1990 and held several assignments as a sergeant and lieutenant. He has been a law enforcement instructor since 1996 and has taught a variety of topics to include officer safety, SWAT tactics, active shooter and incident command.

Since 2005, David has been an instructor for the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and has taught classes on several disciplines. David’s focus has been in less lethal technology and tactics and he is the main instructor for the NTOA’s Less Lethal Instructor course. David has certified over 1,000 instructors in the United States and Canada in the less lethal course. Since 2013, he has served in the role of Less Lethal Section Chair for the NTOA.

In 2017, David started his company, Rocky Mountain Blue Line Consulting, LLC, and provides expert witness assistance and consulting. David has presented at the annual conferences for APCO, NSA, IACP, California Chiefs, Utah Chief’s and Utah Sheriff’s Association.

David is a two-time Medal of Valor recipient for his actions on patrol and SWAT. He also earned a Medal of Merit for his life-saving efforts during a major flood. He holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership.

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