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Are we paying attention to lessons learned?

Identifying and assessing tactical lessons learned from local, national and international incidents is critical to improving individual, group, and organizational performance

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of the Los Angeles Police Department or any other agency.

There is a renewed focus on terrorism and preparing for large scale terrorist incidents. Accordingly, agencies are assessing critical sites in their jurisdictions and honing related tactical response and mutual aid protocols. However, it is equally as important to glean and communicate lessons learned from incidents that are less momentous in scope but more common or frequently encountered by first responders.

How well do we individually and collectively assess significant incidents, including those occurring in our own back yard? When a lengthy high speed pursuit, assault on an officer, or officer involved shooting occurs either within our agency, in a neighboring jurisdiction or even hundreds of miles away — do we conduct an assessment of the facts known to us to determine what lessons could be learned to benefit of our own personnel?

A timely tactical debriefing protocol is one valuable process for identifying what went right during an incident and how we can improve in the future. These debriefings are not intended to castigate or criticize any individual or group. Whether formal or informal, debriefings should be on-point and all inclusive, without consideration of rank or position; everyone should participate and feel like they can speak openly and frankly.

Some agencies have formal reviewing systems in place to assess incidents and provide after-action reports or less formal assessment for areas such as tactics and use of force. An effective way to relay lessons learned to our personnel is through routine communications provided soon after an incident occurs or an issue or trend is identified. This information can be provided to officers via roll call training or tactical bulletins, newsletters or other electronic means.

Many agencies, including the New York, Chicago and San Jose Police Departments regularly publish Training or Tactical Bulletins containing vital and timely information. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) publishes quarterly TacOps Newsletter containing articles related to contemporaneous tactical issues identified during the review of major tactical or use of force incidents. Additionally, LAPD regularly publishes a Roll Call Briefing Sheet that is distributed to operational commands Citywide for use during roll calls.

The objective of having a systematic process to communicate with line personnel is to ensure that all personnel are regularly informed of current tactical issues and trends as well as threats to officer safety. Developing protocols for disseminating lessons learned, risk assessments, best practices and other current issues may be as easy as assigning one person to be a “clearing house” for tactical and officer safety trends and issues, with a clear responsibility to relay that information to all personnel as effectively as possible through the appropriate forum. While many of the most relevant lessons and trends may be identified within our own agency; those in the global arena can be identified through sources such as Policeone.com or other online resources. Regardless of how this process is accomplished, as agency leaders, we are obligated to provide the most timely and relevant information that will help to ensure the safety of all of our personnel.

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