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6 reasons tactical disengagement and redeployment is not ‘running away’

Tactical redeployment is a strategic tool that should be in our tool kit

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Cops are mission-driven. When they engage they are in it to win it. They hate an order to stand down. Our heroes hold the line, damn the torpedoes, and say “nuts” to surrender.

Retreat is not an option. Or is it?

Completing any mission – whether it be a field contact of a suspect, a hostage situation, or a lengthy investigation – means not only winning but also depriving your target of a victory. One strategic move is to disengage.

Thinking about a retreat brings to mind the famous attack rabbit scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the knights scatter at the frantic command “Run away! Run away!” Running away and tactical disengagement and redeployment are polar opposites because one is a result of poor planning and the other is a winning strategy.

The law enforcement ethos of embracing the battle will always remain preeminent and the courage to walk into chaos will always be a necessary character of a police officer. Disengaging for a tactical objective is not contrary to that character. Making sure you have an avenue of retreat is no less important than scanning for opportunities of cover and concealment.

We also need to recognize strategic retreat as an element of an adversary’s strategy as well. Being lured into a foot pursuit, or engaging a suspect who is pretending to comply is part of our need to understand the concept. Even a snake must recoil before striking again!

Turning our minds to tactical disengagement and redeployment requires a plan. If we have the opportunity to think (and often we only have time to react) consider the advantages of tactical disengagement:

  • It creates time to observe, gather assets, and plan for redeployment.
  • It may get your adversary to let their guard down, making your redeployment more effective
  • It may prevent unacceptable loss or injury
  • It allows redeployment to a more favorable time, place, or emotional state
  • It can thwart an effort by a numerically superior adversary intent on surrounding or flanking you
  • It can avoid an unnecessary battle that can be won by diplomacy.

The reality of many of our engagements is that we often think of our warrior spirit only as the tip of a bayonet. Battles are won by strength and strategy. Tactical disengagement and redeployment is a strategic tool that should be in our tool kit.

NEXT: Gordon Graham on the importance of tactical retreats

This article, originally published on 11/05/2014, has been updated.

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.