Humans make a subconscious assessment of a problem when they choose a solution, and that subtlety cannot be overlooked in training. Last year, we ran a training scenario at my agency where officers responded to a disturbance at an open business. When they arrived, they saw an employee behind the counter with their hands up, and someone pointing a gun at them (a staged robbery). This year, they walked into a scene with the same call information (disturbance at a business), but instead found an off-duty officer in plain clothes holding a suspect face-down at gunpoint (making an arrest). One is clearly a shoot scenario, and the other is predicated on whether they saw a badge and recognize that they are a cop. You could argue that the scenarios are fundamentally the same: One person pointing a gun at another places the latter in jeopardy—and time spent to give commands or scan for a badge after seeing a gun could be catastrophic (action is faster than reaction). A shooting in that scenario might be justified with the information available in the moment, but would obviously not be ideal. Alas, most of our colleagues recognized one scenario as a robbery, and the other as some type of arrest. Consider how the dynamics change if the off-duty officer was, instead, an armed but untrained citizen trying to do the right thing—What if youare that citizen? There are takeaways in these scenarios for off-duty officers and armed citizens alike, but police officers cannot expect that those who they encounter will follow a script. What we need to capitalize on is the fact that our minds will implicitly categorize each problem and try to place it neatly into a pre-existing index of solutions. Humans rely on patterns.This is important for us to understand for a couple of reasons: 1. When using force, the burden is on us to justify it, so we should also be able to explain how we interpret information to make decisions, and 2. The only way we can make those assessments accurately is to add to the bank of possibilities in our mind by exposing ourselves to novel situations in practice. To address the first point, consider the difference between facts and conclusions. While some of the details in these scenarios are fundamentally similar, we have to be dig a little deeper for those elements of context: In training, when I have done high-risk arrests, they looked like “X.” In video footage of the robberies I have seen, they typically look like “Y.” To the second point, take advantage of after-action debriefs, both in training and in real life. Ask yourself, what would have made this situation different? What would have changed my mind? Ask “what if,” and challenge your assumptions.
Mike Doyle

Mike Doyle


Mike is a full-time police officer and tactical medic. He currently works as a K9 handler, SWAT team member, and Police Trainer. Mike started Tactical Tangents as part of his fundamental purpose to save lives. His goal is to enhance the survival of police officers and concerned citizens by helping them become better, smarter, faster, and more efficient. His opinions are for informational purposes only and do not reflect those of his employer or any other government agency.



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