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THE TACTICAL TANGENTS BULLETIN

What is the role of training?

Every day you spend doing “…whatever it is you do here,” you’re programming yourself for the future. Sometimes I ask myself what habits I picked up by accident. After years of working nights, I turn on my headlights as I leave the gates of the police station—even in broad daylight. I reach for my flashlight on daytime traffic stops. Consider how mindful you were when you first learned how to drive a car—something that is now very intuitive, if not autonomic.

Over the course of my career, I’ve conducted thousands of traffic stops, arrests, and searches. And that means thousands of repetitions where everything went mostly according to plan. But every one of those reps shaped the next one—Little by little, our habits evolve based on the outcomes. During the police academy, recruits are taught how to perform a pat-down for weapons: Manage angles and distance, put the person in a position of disadvantage, establish some degree of control, start at your highest probability danger areas. Only occasionally finding a weapon might cause our pat-downs to become more informal, maybe even lazy or complacent. But that’s okay, because if we think they are armed we’ll still do it the old-fashioned way, right? Well, why even do a pat-down then? Problem is, we’re often deciding how much danger there is before we really know for sure.

This is where our logic and reasoning skills fit in. Our intuition is absolutely something we should trust and rely on—but not without caveats. If your intuition suggests you’re in danger—layer that into you decision making. But if you think you’re “good,” the same rules apply: account for that into your decision-making and always challenge assumptions. “This seems safe—What am I missing?”

The problem with becoming “good” at our jobs and racking up all that tenure and experience is that it might give us a false sense of security. We need to pressure test our habits from time to time, otherwise we’re setting ourselves up to miss those potentially critical faults. This is where the importance of “real” training comes in—and what does that look like? It means that we have to step out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves. Don’t over-rely on experience, because it can trick you. Find the gaps in your decision making and validate your so-called expertise. Actively seek out opportunities to learn about your personal strengths and limitations. Be humble enough to ask for advice. Take personal responsibility for the fact that the most important variable in a life- threatening situation is your own behavior, and train accordingly.

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