Defining Dynamic

“Of every thing, first ask what it is in itself.”  

Marcus Aurelius

There has been a lot of discussion around about the future of the tactical dynamic entry.

How long will officers blast into rooms to awaiting potential gunfire and risk life for the purpose of preventing the destruction of evidence.

This hardly seems worth debating as no right minded individual would ever argue that a police officer’s life is worth any drug seizure.

I think the missed point is that eventually the police will have to proceed into a dwelling house or structure and when they do, at what speed will they proceed. 

The term dynamic conjures up images of blitz style, door obliterating, sensory overwhelming entries, and the compromising of safety measures to complete the mission or objective. 

Perhaps it is not the dynamic entry that needs to be questioned, but our perceptions and stigmas attached to the dynamic entry that need to be investigated further and understood.

What is the dynamic entry, really? Or a better question, what should it be?

The term dynamic itself is defined as characterized by constant change, activity or progress. At no time is there any mention of speed, surprise or violence of action in the definition of dynamic. Yet any mention of the word dynamic implies an overwhelming assault on person, place or thing.

Perhaps it is not the time to speak the end of the dynamic entry but to better understand the word. What exactly does it mean to dynamically enter and search or clear a location. I suggest that the speed of the operation is not an appropriate measure for this type of description and therein lies the confusion.

If dynamic by its essence is characterized by constant change or activity then isn’t every tactical operation dynamic? Or at least shouldn’t it be?

A tactical operation is a complex process involving intelligence, environmental and adversarial factors that all have a significant impact on what tactics should be employed. The entry of operators past the threshold of a structure is one very small, but necessary part of that operation. All reading this will agree that breaching the threshold and penetrating the target location needs to be executed prior to the completion of the operation. 

We have to go in at some point.

The implication of dynamic as a reference to speed is the first flaw in our thinking. Speed is the rate at which we move and should be referred to in a completely different category. When we attempt to identify rates of speed, how about we adopt some simpler terminology. How about slow, medium or fast? The problem is, these terms are not very tactical sounding, but it would certainly clarify things.

As you can see, the controversy surrounding the tactical dynamic entry is quickly becoming one not of tactics, but of semantics.

If you’re looking for the proper terms in which to move as a team through the environment, my suggestion would be to move carefully and optimally, given the circumstances. The rate of speed an operator moves is commonly believed to be to move as fast as you can accurately shoot your firearm, but I would edify this; the optimal speed to move as a tactical operator should be as fast as you can cognitively process information. 

If the information your senses are feeding to your brain are overloading your ability to make meaning of that information and formulate a reaction, you’re moving too fast. If you are giving up your position and allowing your adversary the advantage of locating and reacting to you more optimally than you can to the same to them, then you’re moving too slow.  

Even in a situation where an armed suspect is potentially lying in wait for the first officer to go through the door, an absolute worse case scenario, even then, that criteria for your rate of speed should apply. The tactics that you employ up until that point will vary drastically. If the intelligence is reliable, big if, that an armed male is inside and refusing to come out, we’d deploy chemicals and use technology to our tactical advantage and do what ever we could to bring him out of his hiding spot before proceeding into the potential kill zone. But ultimately, we will have to go into that room, even if the suspect surrenders. And when we do go into that room, it should be with the same fluid cadence that allows us to process the information our senses are receiving, assess that information and respond appropriately. 

Conversely, if the intelligence of the threat is unreliable or proven false, or if reliable intelligence is that the weapon is not within immediate reach of the suspect, such as in a hiding spot, will it then be advantageous to move decisively, and without stagnation to remove the suspects time and space to access that weapon or formulate a plan of attack on officers?

Risk aversive actions are sometimes more hazardous than the dangers they are intended to mitigate.

All of these things need to be considered when formulating a tactical plan, but if the conversation turns to the extinction of the dynamic entry, we’re referring to the dynamic entry as it is perceived, which is rushing into an unknown environment faster that we can process the information we are taking in and regardless of the intelligence.

If the end of the dynamic entry means the end of haphazard tactics such as these that put officers lives in jeopardy, then I’m for its demise. 

The truth is, the dynamic entry will never be extinct because good tactics should never be stagnant. What needs to improve is our understanding of the terminology we use and the reasons why we employ the tactics we do. If we are moving into an environment to control a suspect and we are doing so fluidly, without pauses, then we need to be prepared to justify the tactical advantages we feel we have gained in employing that process.

We do not only need to better understand the language we use, we also need to incorporate it into our lessons plans and educate executive members of our services, lawyers and judges so that they understand them as well.

That simple understanding must be this: dynamic does not equate to speed, it equates to progress.

Intuition versus Instinct

Intuition and instinct are two different things.

My Meriam-Webster Dictionary app defines instinct as : a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reasoning; behaviour that is meditated by actions below the conscious level.

If you analyze the language that we are using quite commonly to justify our actions, you will notice that some key words and concepts in this definition can be problematic; words such as ‘responding without reasoning’, ‘actions below the conscious level’ and ‘inheritable and unalterable tendency’ all imply that our actions are carried out without thought or reason.

Yet still, on a daily basis, when police officers specifically, are asked to justify and articulate their actions, actions usually involving the escalation of force, or perhaps when articulating why they are stopping a citizen on the street to question them on what they perceive as suspicious behaviour, actions that we are frequently and most often scrutinized for, our justifications and reasoning are not immediately available to us so we answer : “instinct.”  

A cop hunch is another popular one.

Instinct or a cop hunch should never be used to justify our reasoning for the escalation of force, because reasoning, according to the definition, is not present in either of these two concepts.

A flinch response to a punch or quickly removing your hand from a hot burner are both examples of instinctual behaviour. Your brain, operating at a subconscious level has ordered your body to respond in order to preserve itself from harm. 

But when a tactical team leader makes the decision that if he/she does not enter a suite immediately to end a volatile and dangerous unfolding situation, as opposed to remaining outside the stronghold and continuing negotiations, it is not instinct. This is not a cop hunch.  This decision is an incredibly complex cognitive process that needs to be recognized and acknowledged.

If a police officer is making a decision to escalate force that cannot be explained by logic and reasoning at the rational level of thinking, that is, decisions made in the frontal cortex of your brain, that’s where our highest level of thinking and problem solving is done, then I suggest that those actions are intuition, not instinct.

Intuition is defined by the same aforementioned source as: the power or faculty of attaining direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.

In layman’s terms, the most accurate interpretation of what intuition means that I’ve heard was by a Psychologist named Seymour Epstein who was quoted as saying: “ Intuition is something that you have learned, without realizing you have learned it.” 

What this means is that we probably have valid reasons for the actions we take and the decisions we make, we just have to deeply consider why and discuss it with each other.

John Ratey is a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Harvard University and in his book : A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention and the Four Theaters of the Brain; he describes this incredibly complex cognitive process occurring in your brain at any given time, which I’ll try to summarize.

Neural networks begin forming before birth and are constantly being reinforced throughout your entire life. Your perceptions and experiences all have a significant impact. Each time you make a decision or take action based on your experiences you are subconsciously accessing a group of neurons that have formed together. Ratey estimates there are 100 million such groups in the brain all containing from 50-10,000 neurons.

All of these neural associations are the product of experiences, and are formed to enable us to function properly and most importantly, survive. All of these millions of neurons are firing full tilt in every cop’s brain during a stressful encounter where critical decisions need to be made. 

When you act in a certain way, there are numerous valid reasons at the subconscious level why you are acting in the way that you are and we need to do better at identifying them.

We need to debrief incidents properly and identify why our intuition told us that this action needed to be taken now. What have I learned here without realizing I have learned it? 

Please keep in mind, this goes deeper that the simple notion of articulable cause for detention. For example, if you are patrolling an area where high level of crimes has been reported, or if you see a person skulking around with no purpose at zero dark thirty and he is evading the police, your decision to want to talk to, identify and query him as to his activities is a decision that is made at a rational level.

Intuition goes deeper that that.

Is there a look in the person’s eyes that you have learned long ago, through many different experiences and that you can’t quite put your finger on, but tells you he is lying. Is he positioning his body in the same way as someone who took a swing at you you last year. Is his voice during negotiations the same tone and insincerity of a previous experiences of a suspect who was stalling for time, had no intention of complying and/or was formulating a plan of attack that caused you to feel if you do’t act now, the situation will worsen. Something in all those firing neurons has relayed to you this guy is using time to his own tactical advantage and counter measures need to be taken. 

I encourage all of you readers to recognize and appreciate this incredibly complex process going on in your brain at all times and do it justice by accessing the actual reason why you are doing what you are doing.

As an exercise, post incident, have a discussion with your teammates or your partner and list no less than 10 reasons why you felt your course of action was justified. What are the things that you have learned in the past that you didn’t realize you’ve learned, but those which are weighing heavily in your decision making.

These feeling are intuitive, not instinctual or a cop hunch. They are the truth. And they are valid and need to be expressed and developed.

They need to be discussed and brought into the conscious realm.

Select the Right People

A person’s character is the most important criteria when recruiting new members for your team.

A colleague was running a selection process for an elite and prestigious unit of a police service with more than 1500 sworn officers. He had concerns with the process and asked me for my opinion.

He described the try-outs to me which began with the candidates attending the firearms range on Day 1 and shooting the service firearms qualifier. If they were successful, they would move on in the process and if they weren’t, they would be eliminated from the competition. 

I asked him why he was asking people to shoot the service qualifier, to which he responded “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  

Although firearms proficiency is important for any position in a police service, some units more than others, every member of the police service is required to shoot a service qualifier such as this one annually, at minimum. So I posed a few more questions… 

  • What are you asking them to do that they haven’t already done? 
  • What are you going to measure and learn about your candidates?
  • What if they fail the service qualifier? This may now place a liability on the service if they are involved in a shooting and say, kill an innocent by-stander, for example.
  • How is this fair for the potentially stellar candidate that may be an asset to your unit who is just having a bad day on the range, or maybe just finished their nightshift; as opposed to the magnificent target turned in by the candidate who is in a job position that allows them to practice as often as they want? It’s a bias evaluation. 

Moving to my point I asked him…

  • But wasn’t there a memorandum announcing the anticipated vacancies in the specialty unit? 
  • And in that memorandum, wasn’t there a directive to the potential applicants that “NO JEANS” will be permitted during any part of the selection process?

Low and behold, there were candidates that attended the selection process wearing jeans. 

Now this particular specialty unit was one which was responsible for the protection of high profile political figures who were visiting the city and I can assure you that possessing the ability to follow directions is critical! Now you have a candidate who has just proven that they don’t possess that characteristic. 

If this were my unit’s selection process, unfortunately that candidate would be dropped from the process but most importantly, told exactly why.

This is what you should be measuring, not a score on a target.

Shooting at the range may very well be an excellent way to observe and evaluate your candidates but the target’s score is not what you should be measuring. You can improve people’s shooting ability but good luck improving their character. You can try, or you can just pick the candidates who already have the character you’re looking for.


Many people know that character should be the most important criteria in selecting people but most don’t know how to do it. To do so you must define, elicit and measure the characteristic effectively.

Defining the Behaviour

Before you measure character, you must first define it. As a team leader or evaluator, you must first define the characteristics that have garnered members of your team success, and even provide real world examples.

If you don’t know where to begin, start with a dictionary definition and tailor it to your needs. Involve your supervisory group and keep your list of characteristics to a minimum of core characteristics for simplicity in measuring.

Elicit the Behaviour

You cannot measure what you don’t observe. You have to elicit the behaviour. This needs to be integrated into your selection process. In the case of following directions, for example, this can be done easily, by giving specific instructions to candidates, written or orally, and grade them on their ability to carry them out, such as with the written memorandum cited earlier.

Measure the Behaviour

Once defined and elicited, you need a means of measuring the desired characteristic on each of the evaluation day’s scoresheets. A simple way could be a score of 1-4. 1 being poor and 4 being excellent. By using 1-4 as opposed to 1-5, you force evaluators to choose a pass or a fail. Research suggests that the evaluators default to 3 out of 5 for sub-standard performances, probably because they don’t want to fail their peers. They want to be nice. Rating a performance from 1-4 encourages the evaluators to make a commitment.

I’ve used the character trait of following directions up until now but any characteristic can be defined, elicited and measured.

For example, coach-ability is a desirable trait for most recruiters. To elicit coach-ability you can teach a candidate something that they don’t know, a new skill, and see how they adapt to it, how they take instructions and how they handle the stress.

Another characteristic may be composure. You can test composure by assigning candidates difficult, even impossible tasks, to see how they cope and push candidates to their limits.

Sense of humour is an enormously underrated characteristic in selections and speaks volumes about a person’s nature. Also, it’s very easy to elicit and measure. Let’s face it, we are going to have to spend long hours with the people we select and having a positive and colourful personality is important.

Following Directions, Coach-Ability, Composure and Humour are only four of the dozens of qualities and characteristics that may or may not be important to you as a recruiter. 

The bottom line is that character should be your selection criteria, not pass or fail objective and meaningless scoring. And to accomplish this you must define, elicit and measure what characteristics you are looking for.

At the conclusion of your selection process, you will have a set of scores which reflect the characteristics you desire. You will select the right candidates for your team, be able to defend your position and provide honest and evidence based feedback for the unsuccessful applicants.

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 its 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. 

It is achieved by: 

  1. Each member of the formation possessing a thorough understanding of its operating principles 
  2. Each member of the formation possessing the ability to effectively communicate with each other to maintain the integrity and the objective of the formation itself.


Principles are the foundation of which all our tactics are built. If you consider that our operating tactics are like the branches of a tree, then the principles are the trunk and roots. Trainers should challenge their systems and question the origin of their tactics and when you do, you’ll trace them back to the same sources.

Sources such as John Boyd’s O.O.D.A. 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 critical questions 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.   

Once our tactics are decided upon, the process of training so repetitively to achieve unconscious competence begins. Any trainer will tell you that this is no easy task but all will agree, the way to accomplish it is through repetition. When tactical dilemmas present themselves, we can rely on our principles to guide us to tactically sound solutions quickly.


The second essential component of a flexible formation is effective communication with our counter parts. One way to do this is the reading-off or keying-off your teammatesReading-off 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 reading-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, reading-off acts as a control measure to correct the error and continue with the objective. 

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

Too many formations are rigid and therein lies their faults. An inflexible tree branch is easily snapped. There is no question that a file formation, or any formation for that matter, may be optimal for some situations but not good for others. A 5-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, it is the simple, flexible and principally sound formation that will give officers the greatest chance for success. 

It is irresponsible training to expect students operating in life threatening situations to be able access a different formation for every time the situation changes considering 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 principally learned member of the 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 team mates will do the same while keeping in constant contact with, reading-off, their teammates.

Training it.

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 the 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 officer in the formation begins to fan out of the file to gain a better vantage point on their areas of responsibility. The third officer in the formation reads-off that movement and does the same. 

The formation does not look like a file formation anymore but it is much more effective.

If the situation changes, such as an imminent threat to life, an active killing 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 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.

Training is greatly enhanced once the principles are internalized, it only needs to be adapted to the changing tactical objectives as opposed to assuming a different formation for every situation. Members learn one formation, more accurately, a mindset and 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 one of chalkboard debates. 

The result is a morphing 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.  

Principles Are Your Answer Key


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. 


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 can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act best wins.

The OODA Loop was developed in the 1960s by United States Air Force Pilot Colonel John Boyd. Boyd, who having degrees in economics and industrial engineering, applied his higher education and logical thinking to the realm of tactics. In formulating his decision-making cycle, he drew from a variety of scientific theories.

Essentially, the OODA Loop is premised on the idea that we are in a constant state of uncertainty and therefore rely on mental models to help us make sense and order of our experiences. Mental models are patterns our brains have learned to follow. Sometimes these are referred to as schemas or hardwiring, where neurons firing repeatedly will form pathways in our brain. These pathways are physically set and reinforced within our brain tissues, hence the term “hardwired,” making the same actions easier to access in the future.

Models can be very useful if they work, but if they don’t, they can be counterproductive. If a mental model we are depending on doesn’t work, then it needs to be deconstructed and reconstructed. If we are not able to do this, or if we are relying too much on old models that have given us success in the past but are not working now, or if our adversary is able to deconstruct and reconstruct mental models better than we can, we will not succeed.

Using the OODA Loop can help us determine exactly what we need to do better than our adversary in order to gain the upper hand. The stages are all interdependent and continually changing; thus the loop is not a checklist but a process or continuous cycle.


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 frank 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.