Principles Are Your Answer Key

 

Principles are the foundation of which all our tactics are built.

If you consider that our operating tactics are like branches of a tree, then the principles are the trunk.

Any prudent operator or trainer will question and challenge the principles of their own system and when they do, they will learn that although the language, terminology and tactics may vary slightly, its all pretty much a different pile of the same stuff.

In like 500 BC, Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War“, citing the first known script of the principles of war drawing evolution, regurgitation and development by every major military contender up to present day. However, the law enforcement community didn’t recognize more specific operating guidelines until the birth of the O.O.D.A. loop in the 1960s.

OODA LOOP

The O.O.D.A. loop is the brain child of United States Air Force pilot and academic Col. John Boyd (ret.) who noted that to succeed in combat the one who is can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act first and most effectively wins.

In his ground breaking and brutally no nonsense book Sound Doctrine; A Tactical Primer, Charles “Sid” Heal, speaks most aptly to this critical thought process required to be successful in combative situations.

According to Boyd’s theory, conflict can be seen as a series of time competitive, Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) cycles. Each party to a conflict begins by observing itself, the physical surroundings, and the enemy. Next, it orients itself. Orientation refers to making a mental image or “snapshot” of the situation. Orientation is necessary because the fluid, chaotic nature of conflicts make it impossible to process the information as fast as we can process it. This requires a “freeze frame” concept and provides a perspective or orientation. Once there is orientation a decision needs to be made. The decision takes into account all the factors present at the time of the orientation. Last comes the implementation of the decision. This requires action, then, because we hope that our actions will have changed the situation, the cycle begins anew. The cycle continues to renew itself throughout the tactical operation.

The adversary who can consistently go through the Boyd Cycle faster than the other gains tremendous advantage. By the time the slower adversary reacts, the faster one is doing something different and that action becomes ineffective.

About 25 years later, Charles Remsberg, author of the Calibre Press’ Street Survival Series had similar deductions he termed the Thought Process, in that he observed an officer had to go through four distinct stages. He first had to locate the threat, react to the threat, make an assessment of the appropriate action and then initiate the action and control that threat.

The bad guy only needs to locate, react and attack the officer thus giving him the bad guy the upper hand.

Both tactical thinking pioneers recognized the importance of initiative during combative encounters as well as the series of time sensitive processes to shape our tactics.

These are only two examples of principles that serve as excellent litmus tests for the operating methods we employ.

Understanding principles such as these is so important because nothing is more debatable and drags our training day down to a dead crawl like the discussions over which tactics are best.

Solid principles give our tactics an anchor point to ask the pertinent question, such as with the OODA loop, will this tactic allow us to observe, orient, decide or act better and faster than our adversary. If the answer is yes, the tactic is sound, if the answer is no, it is not.

Quick decisions can be made and we can move on.  

It’s Not the Critic Who Counts; A Thank You Letter to Constable Lam

 

On April 23rd, 2018 at approximately 1:30 in the afternoon, a male who’s name I refuse to utter but one whom was presumably fed up with the rejection of women, rented a full sized van and plowed through a crowd of people walking on a sidewalk along one of downtown Toronto’s busiest streets killing ten and seriously injuring over a dozen more.

When the vehicle was stopped, the suspect was confronted by Ken Lam, a Constable with the Metropolitan Toronto Police Service in a single officer unit and taken into custody where he now faces ten counts of first degree murder and thirteen counts of attempted murder.

Since that time, criticism of that officer’s actions and his failure to kill the suspect has erupted from people like those whom Theodore Roosevelt, in his speech The Man in the Arena, referred to as those “cold and timid souls who point out how the strong man stumbles and how the doer of deeds could have done them better.”

Although killing the reject who had just committed the most heinous mass murder in the city’s history may have satisfied the public’s bloodlust and undoubtedly drawn the condemnation of others, it also would have made Constable Lam guilty of murder.

For legal clarity, the Criminal Code of Canada states, and I paraphrase, that a police officer is justified in using force that is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm, like shooting a person for example, if that force is necessary to protect that officer, or another person from imminent or future death or grievous bodily harm.

When the suspect and his death rental mobile came to rest there was a standoff between himself and Constable Lam. Lam drew his firearm and challenged the suspect at which time the suspect failed to comply with the officer’s commands to surrender. Although the suspect’s actions leading up to this standoff were deadly, what was occurring at that moment was not. This is the key. An officer has to take the circumstances that he is presented with in that situation.

I’ll caveat that last paragraph. I’m not suggesting the actions of the suspect leading up to the stand-off should not be given serious consideration, they should.  They demonstrate his willingness and intent to use deadly force and can no doubt culminate a part of what is referred to in training circles as the Totality of Circumstances. However, it cannot justify the stand alone use of deadly force after the fact. In a different situation with similar circumstances and factors too numerous to debate, maybe lethal force would have been justified, but not here.

If the situation changed, for example- if the suspect began to put that vehicle into motion- an officer could reasonably fear for future loss of life given the suspect’s previous behavior and then would most likely be justified in using lethal force to stop that threat, but that was not the case here.

What occurred was a police stand-off in which the suspect did not want to be taken into custody and figured the easiest way out of being held accountable for his actions would be to have the police kill him. It’s called suicide by cop and it’s a thing. The suspect made several threatening gestures to entice Constable Lam to end his own life including reaching into his pocket and brandishing a cell phone like a pistol. He even verbally taunted the officer to kill him stating that he ‘had a gun in his pocket.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bih9X2wp7wg

Constable Lam did not shoot the suspect because the reality was that he did not fear imminent death or grievous bodily harm. It did not exist because Lam recognized that the suspect was holding a cell phone, not a gun and did not belief he was armed otherwise. Acting alone, Ken Lam recognized the suspect’s ploy, maintained vigilance and acted in the manner in which he was trained in order to bring this monster into custody and stand accused for what he had done. Constable Lam is neither coward or hero. He is a police officer who made the right call.

Constable’s Lam’s only failure was that he did not take on the role of executioner, and because of this, the suspect’s suffering did not end on the sidewalk that afternoon but will now continue on and on in some dank prison cell for the remainder of his abundant years.

So, thank you Constable Lam for facing evil in its purest form and not faltering. Thank you for acting in the professional manner in which you were trained and sworn to do; and for temporarily silencing the throngs of accusers of police officers as violence mongering murderers.

Thank you for thwarting this coward’s easy exit strategy and replacing it with the promise of decade after decade of suffering and misery in a metal box.

But most of all, thank you Constable Lam, and all others in that arena for reminding us that it is not the critic who counts. Who counts are those whom are “marred by dust and sweat and blood, for actually striving to do the deeds, the great devotions, for spending themselves in a worthy cause so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”   

 

 

 

Deconstructing Tactical Formations

The ideal tactical formation is like an amoeba: a moving organism possessing the ability to alter its shape, assimilate and adapt to it’s ever changing environment; a single, flexible formation, as opposed to a series of different formations for every new situation.

This is doable, trainable, and much easier than you think. An amoeba-type formation is achieved by each member of the formation possessing a thorough understanding of the operating principles and possessing the ability to effectively communicate with each other—while maintaining the integrity and objective of the formation itself.

Basic Principles

Principles are the foundation from which all our tactics are built. If you consider our operating tactics as the branches of a tree, then the principles would be the trunk. Any prudent operator or trainer will question and challenge the principles of their own system, and, when they do, they will learn that although the language, terminology, and tactics may vary slightly, it’s all pretty much variations along themes.

Principles such as John Boyd’s OODA Loop or Charles Remsberg’s Thought Process have given us a measuring stick in which to quickly evaluate our tactics for effectiveness.

Sound principles give our tactics an anchor point to ask the frank questions. In the case of the OODA Loop, we might ask will this tactic allow us to observe, orient, decide, or act better and faster than our adversary? If the answer is yes, the tactic is sound, if the answer is no—don’t do it. Quick, sound decisions are made, and we move on.   

But we must train on our tactics in advance to achieve unconscious competence. Most trainers will tell you that this is no small task. But they will further agree the way to accomplish it is through mass repetitions. When tactical dilemmas present themselves, we can rely on our principles to guide us to tactically sound solutions quickly and proceed.

Communication

The second essential component of an effective formation is effective communication with our counterparts. One way to do this is the key off: this simply means that your next tactical movement is dictated by the team member in front of or around you. This can be done verbally (announcing), non-verbally (squeezing up), or visually.   

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the key off is that it is a built-in corrector. If a team member makes a poor decision—and we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge this does happen—the key off acts as a control measure to correct the error and continue with the objective.

By constantly keying off our team members, we maintain a constant state of communication with each other, thus maintaining the integrity of the formation and staying focused on the overall objective.

Resist Rigidity

Rigid formations don’t allow for this sort of feedback. An inflexible branch is easily snapped. There’s no question that a file formation, or any formation for that matter, may be optimal for some situations but not good for others. A five-member tethered or diamond formation, for example, look great on a chalkboard for specific situations. But when the situation, mission, or objective changes without warning and with no time to plan, the greatest chance for success arises from the simplest, most flexible and principally sound formation that can be learned quickly, trained effectively, and applied most widely.

It isn’t practical to expect human beings, with limited training, operating in life-threatening situations to be able access a different formation every time the situation changes—especially when you consider the limitations in training time most of us experience.

Wouldn’t learning one malleable formation be better?

The focus of our formation needs to be principally based. Each member of that formation must have a sound understanding of its governing principles to mitigate as many foreseeable issues in training as possible. When unforeseeable problems emerge in operation, those members will be equipped to apply those principles and find tactically sound solutions on the fly.

Likewise, when moving as a formation, each member of the principally proficient group will be constantly evaluating the environment, weighing the tactical advantages and disadvantages of their position, and move and adjust to enhance their effectiveness. Their teammates will do the same while keeping in constant contact with—keying off—their teammates.

Training for the Amoeba

Training begins at a crawl by assuming a basic formation, such as a file formation and moving through an environment. The trainer will stop the formation and freeze-frame before every action and ask each member what their next movement, positioning, and priority should be. Ensure that they are drawing on your principles to make those decisions.

This part requires patience as the students begin to solve their own problems, while internalizing the principles and adapting them to changing situations. The tempo increases faster than you think and before you know it you’ll be having to reign them in.

A formation may begin as a file, stack or column. When the formation begins moving through an environment the space may begin to open-up, as in the widening of a hallway, for example. The team may no longer feel that a straight line is the most optimal way to achieve its tactical objectives, so the second person in the formation begins to fan out of the file to gain a better vantage point on his areas of responsibility. The third man in the formation keys off his movement and does the same.

The formation doesn’t look like a file formation anymore, but it’s much more effective.

If the situation changes, such as an imminent threat to life, for example, the formation morphs into the most optimal shape given the environment, to move directly to the threat without changing or altering its tactics, principles or mind-set.

Does everything need to change? Do we throw all principles out the window?

Absolutely not.

All that needs to change is that we must adjust our areas of responsibility. In this case, we are now passing areas without clearing them so each operator has to adjust his area of responsibility and rear security has to be addressed.

Yes. It’s that simple.

This approach and mindset can be used for any situation.

Conclusion

Training is greatly enhanced once the principles are internalized. They must only be adapted to the changing tactical objectives, as opposed to assuming a different formation for every situation. Members learn one formation. More accurately, what they learn is a mindset. They drill to possess the skills and understanding to morph effectively to every situation and changing environment. The training focus becomes one of mindset, threat recognition, and understanding of principles—not chalkboard debates.

The result is a moving, shape altering mass of tactically and principally sound organisms, each communicating verbally and non-verbally with each other, making tactically and principally sound decisions in harmony with their mission and environment.

Kind of like an amoeba.       

 

Three Solutions to School Shootings

Teachers are our shepherds. They teach and nurture our children in our absence but for some reason we presume they’ll protect them too.

I believe this is unfair to our educational professionals but reality being what it is, history has proven that an armed response as quickly as possible is the only way to terminate a lethal threat and save lives.

I’ll caveat this by saying I  believe that prevention is the key. In the recent school shootings in Parkland, Florida, the shooter made it known what his intentions were and I suggest that this is not an anomaly but the norm. Recently in my home town, a teenager posted on his facebook page  “it’s going to be a good day at school” while posing with a replica assault rifle. The school was put into lockdown, the child was spoken to, harshly I’m sure, asked many questions about his feelings and suspended for 3 days. The parents were told by a school official that the lock down involved a student and it was ‘non violent.’

Denial and ignoring threat cues are the problem but in lieu of that, here are 3 potential solutions.

1.Keep our Fingers Crossed

This is the option currently utilized. Commendably, many civilians are being trained in various run-hide-fight strategies, which is a good start but ultimately the primary response to neutralizing an active killer is too get armed personnel on scene as quickly as possible. Once the 911 call is made, a communication centre call taker would dispatch police units and if response time is good, they will be on scene to deal with the threat in 5 minutes from the beginning of the incident, at best.

Ron Borsch of the SEALE active shooter training academy developed a what he calls the Stopwatch of Death, which reveals that the killing is over in less than two minutes.

So by the time the Police arrived, your kid or mine would be dead.

Follow up this option would then be to change our facebook page indicating that we’ll say our prayers for the involved, hold a vigil, shake our heads at the television and probably debate gun control for a few weeks. Rinse and Repeat.

2. Arm our Teachers.

Desperate measures but I’m sure there would be volunteers. Not every teacher would need to be armed but just the knowledge that some may be would be enough to cause a potential assassin to choose another target. Train them in the ways of the would-be assassins and equip them with the tools, training and mindset to protect our children. It almost seems negligent not too!

There are many discreet holsters and clothing options on the market that children would not need to be looking at guns on their teacher’s belt. If you add a public campaign and some awareness stickers on the school entrances, you have just made a very unattractive target for a potential killer.

People who commit mass murders have but one goal- kill as many people as they can.

Active killers all possess another common characteristic, cowardice. If they know there is someone armed and prepared waiting for them before they kill others, they will pick another place.

3. Armed Off Duty or Retired Police Officers/ Military Members in Every School

If we did this, school shootings would never happen again. According to Borsch, almost all of active killings are aborted by a school resource officer, security guard, civilian or the killer taking his own life. In short, somebody who is already on scene.

If done properly and discretely, you wouldn’t even know they were there. But they would be, and the potential active killer would know it too.

How many retired police officers or service members do you know that would be willing to band up with 10 or 20 colleagues and draw up a schedule within their school divisions to protect the community’s children. My bet is that if there wasn’t room in the city budgets for it, they would do it for free.

This would be the best way to deal with school shootings.

Until this time comes, refer to solution 1.

 

Stop Debating and Train!

 

Too much valuable training time is often wasted pontificating the endless tactical solutions to the problems that arise during training. We need to square these issues away in the boardroom before hand and if new problems arise, have an ‘answer key,’ an agreed upon set of standards to measure against our problem, find a solution and get back to work. That answer key or measuring tool lies in our is our core principles.

Principles are the base from which all our tactics stem.

If you consider that our operating tactics are like branches of a tree, then the principles are the trunk.

Any prudent operator or trainer will question and challenge the principles of their own system and when they do, they will learn that although the language, terminology and tactics may vary slightly, its all pretty much a different branches from the same trunk.

In like 500 BC, Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War”, citing one of the first known scripts of the principles of war; also drawing evolution, regurgitation and development by every major military contender up to present day. However, the law enforcement community didn’t recognize more specific operating principles until the birth of the O.O.D.A. loop in the 1960s.

OODA LOOP

The O.O.D.A. loop is the brain child of United States Air Force pilot and academic Col. John Boyd (ret.) who noted that to succeed in combat the one who is can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act first and most effectively wins.

In his ground breaking and brutally no nonsense book Sound Doctrine; A Tactical Primer, Charles “Sid” Heal, speaks most aptly to this critical thought process required to be successful in combative situations.

According to Boyd’s theory, conflict can be seen as a series of time competitive, Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) cycles. Each party to a conflict begins by observing itself, the physical surroundings, and the enemy. Next, it orients itself. Orientation refers to making a mental image or “snapshot” of the situation. Orientation is necessary because the fluid, chaotic nature of conflicts make it impossible to process the information as fast as we can process it. This requires a “freeze frame” concept and provides a perspective or orientation. Once there is orientation a decision needs to be made. The decision takes into account all the factors present at the time of the orientation. Last comes the implementation of the decision. This requires action, then, because we hope that our actions will have changed the situation, the cycle begins anew. The cycle continues to renew itself throughout the tactical operation.

The adversary who can consistently go through the Boyd Cycle faster than the other gains tremendous advantage. By the time the slower adversary reacts, the faster one is doing something different and that action becomes ineffective.

About 25 years later, Charles Remsberg, author of the renown Calibre Press’ Street Survival Series, had similar deductions he called The Thought Process.  He observed that an officer had to go through four distinct stages. He first has to locate the subject. Then the officer has to physically be in a position to react to the subject’s action. He then needs to identify the subject, the level of threat they pose, formulate an appropriate action and then initiate that action in order to control the subject.

The bad guy only needs to locate, react and attack the officer thus giving the bad guy the upper hand.

Consider these actions like a personal roster. Whomever can make their own roster shorter and their adversary’s longer wins.

Both tactical thinking pioneers recognized the importance of initiative during combative encounters as well as a series of time sensitive processes that need to occur.

These are only two examples of principles that serve as excellent litmus tests for the operating methods we employ.

Tactics are like a Pandora’s Box. And when that box opens up and the endless possibilities of appropriate tactics are discussed, valuable minutes and hours are lost. Time that should be spent conducting ad nauseam repetitions.

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.”  George S. Patton Jr.

Solid principles give our trainers the answer key to measure training solutions.

When debating whether or not a certain tactic is optimal, trainers only need ask a simple question:

Will this tactic enhance our abilities to proceed through our processes more efficiently than our adversary, or, hinder our adversary’s abilities to proceed through his processes? 

If the answer to that question is yes, let’s do it. if the answer is no, let’s not.

Quick decisions can be made and we can move on.