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Incorporating the ‘tenth man’ concept into critical decision-making

An independent examination of intelligence should be considered in planning for an event or responding to a real-time, unplanned incident

tenth man devils advocate

By considering the tenth man’s perspective, information or scenarios that may otherwise be overlooked and unanticipated may be revealed.

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When problem-solving, creating policy, or preparing for the next big event, it is important to designate someone on the planning team to be the “tenth man” (or woman). This individual essentially plays devil’s advocate in stating alternative perspectives to problem-solving. The concept was devised by the Israeli government in response to poor planning for the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The role of the tenth man is to review available intelligence to then articulate opposing arguments to whatever solutions or decisions are being proposed. By considering the tenth man’s perspective, information or scenarios that may otherwise be overlooked and unanticipated may be revealed.

In the American military and in law enforcement, the “Red Team” concept involves examining intelligence or a policy proposal. The US Army’s definition of red teaming is:

A function executed by trained, educated, and practiced team members that provides commanders an independent capability to fully explore alternatives in plans, operations, concepts, organizations, and capabilities in the context of the operational environment and from the perspectives of our partners, adversaries, and others.”

We used the process at my former department in accordance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) in preparation for large, planned events. NIMS and the Incident Command System guidelines allow for a planning structure to include the command structure, including the designation of individuals in charge of staging, personnel, and strategies in the form of the Planning Section, Operations Section, Finance and Administration and Logistics Sections. An Intelligence Section or Intel Unit is responsible for analyzing all available information to help plan for the event, including reports from outside state and local agencies, federal agencies, and open-source materials, including social media.

NIMS provides an explanation and training on how an Intelligence Officer (Intel Officer or I-Cell) as part of the Command Staff or Planning Section, can evaluate intelligence and data:

The scalability and flexibility of NIMS allows the Intelligence/Investigations (I/I) Function to be seamlessly integrated with the other functions of ICS. The I/I Function within ICS provides a framework that allows for the integration of intelligence and information collection, analysis, and sharing, as well as investigations that identify the cause and origin of an incident regardless of source. If the incident is determined to be a criminal event, the I/I Function leads to the identification, apprehension, and prosecution of the perpetrator. The I/I Function can be used for planned events as well as incidents.” — NIMS Intelligence/Investigations Function Guidance and Field Operations Guide

In a real-time, criminal event, the I-cell may be tasked to gather information on a suspect (review background, contacts and rap sheet), prepare an arrest or search warrant, and provide intelligence reports to the Incident Command and Operations Section of ICS. For large, planned events, the I-Cell may work with county, state and federal agencies such as state agencies, the Secret Service, or FBI, including as part of a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) if appropriate.

In my role on different command staffs, I may have just assumed the role of the tenth man due to my contrarian default attitude. I would sometimes go against the grain of the majority to voice opposition in consideration of any possible unintended consequences. In policymaking, it is decidedly important to determine and entertain possible unintended consequences of changes to policy. In previous articles posted on Police1, I explained the benefit of having a PACE plan to be able to shift gears during an event when new scenarios emerged.

Questioning policy change proposals

Regarding a proposed policy change concerning the positioning of the patrol shotgun vs. the less-lethal shotgun, it was proposed that the less-lethal shotgun replace the Remington shotgun in the front compartment of the radio car. The rationale was that it would encourage less-lethal force options at scenes and that the traditional shotgun would be available in the trunk of the vehicle.

The vote to affirm the change went around the table with nine members of command staff in agreement. When it came to my vote, I disagreed with the group. I countered with the argument that in the event of a critical situation that called for a lead-based round of double-aught buckshot or a rifled round slug, the delay in getting to the Remington shotgun, secured in the trunk, could be deadly. After another round of discussion and debate, it was determined that the less-lethal shotgun would remain in the trunk.

For planned events, we certainly welcomed the Intelligence reports from our allies at state and federal agencies. Still, we continued to monitor open-source data and social media as the event neared. The PACE plan acknowledged the reports and pertinent information that assisted flexibility of resources as the event unfolded. Contingency planned for events was discussed in event briefings and allowed us to shift to alternate plans seamlessly.


Agencies need to consider the designation of the “tenth man” or Red Team planning to avoid meetings that are merely sessions of “groupthink,” echo chambers, or simply a too narrow approach to situations. Situational awareness is critical in planning for events with the possibility of major disruption or violence. A formal examination of prior incidents involving familiar actors should be done. Social media should be considered and not simply ignored as rumor or innuendo. Lines of communication are key for intelligence to be considered at all levels connected to the event (including the I-Cell, planning group, allied agencies and event operational command).

Certainly, intelligence reports from outside agencies need to be analyzed and disseminated. Still, an independent examination of intelligence information and data should be considered in planning for an event or in responding to a real-time, unplanned incident.

James Dudley is a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau. He has served as the DC of Special Operations and Liaison to the Department of Emergency Management where he served as Event and Incident Commander for a variety of incidents, operations and emergencies. He has a Master’s degree in Criminology and Social Ecology from the University of California at Irvine. He is currently a member of the Criminal Justice faculty at San Francisco State University, consults on organizational assessments for LE agencies and hosts the Policing Matters podcast for Police1.