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Patterns of behavior, officer safety, and ‘the rule of opposites’

Part One: We recognize opposites — day as compared to night, happy compared to sad, failure versus success, peace as opposed to war, and safety counter to danger

Editor’s Note: The below column from Fred Leland is the first part of a two-part series. Please be advised that part two will appear here on PoliceOne on Wednesday, July 11th at 0830 Pacific Time.

You’re assigned to handle an emotionally disturbed person — a female — threatening suicide, according to a person who called dispatch. The location and assailant are known to you — you’ve had frequent interact with this individual, at this location, for the same type of problem.

You arrive on scene, get out of your patrol car, and begin to talk with the woman allegedly in emotional distress. She tells you she is fine and that she did not need police services. Your initial assessment indicates that she’s okay, so you leave. Soon thereafter, the 911 caller — apparently a friend of the subject — calls again and states that the victim is indeed in emotional distress. The caller says the woman had “lied to the cop” and that “she’s going to kill herself.”

En route back to the location, you call off backup, stating, “It’s just another transport to the hospital,” even as you think to yourself, “This is a normal pattern of behavior for this location.”

No Room to Move
You park (out front this time), and walk up to the door — which is open — and begin to speak with the woman. She’s now very angry and animated and shouts she does not want to go to the hospital. You continue the conversation in an attempt to persuade her to go.

You step inside the crammed kitchen (approximately eight feet by ten feet), where you position yourself with a refrigerator to your left, a kitchen table to the right, and the meager kitchen countertop behind you. With just enough walking space between appliances, countertops, and furniture, there’s almost no room to move freely. As you talk with the distraught and angry woman, she reaches behind her back, lifts her shirt, and quickly draws a large knife, removes it from its sheath and thrusts it towards your chest.

You’re shocked and surprised by what’s happening but you quickly grab the knife hand and sweep the woman off her feet and to the ground. She continues to struggle and you used several strikes to get her to stop and regain control.

What did you miss here? What part of situational awareness allowed you to think that this situation was going to end the same as it always does, with an uneventful transport to the hospital and the woman evaluated? After all it was routine and within the normal patterns of behavior you experienced every time before so why only minute or two later was her response different? This time why did she decide to try and kill you? More importantly, why did you believe it was going to be business as usual?

In the end, the officer in this scenario (based on a real event) fulfilled the number one rule in law enforcement: He went home at the end of his shift.

All too often this is where the learning ends, a cop comes out alive and we rightfully celebrate the victory. But what about the lessons in recognizing patterns of behavior and their opposites or anomalies? How would the explorer mentality and situation awareness have changed this situation and reduced the officer created jeopardy? What might the answers to these questions mean to our responding to and dealing with the host of crises we must deal with? Would you have used the same tactics and followed the same procedures? What would you do differently if you decided to continually explore and learn throughout the tactical situation verses anticipating the same old outcome?

Direct experience with deadly force situations is extremely limited even in the most active law enforcement officer career, so we must take advantage of the opportunity to learn from each and every experience to become more effective. How do we apply these lessons to shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success?

Do we not owe it to ourselves, those we care for, and those we serve to learn the most from all deadly force situations — not just those which we may personally experience?

Recognizing Patterns of Behavior
Napoleon once said, “The first quality for a commander is a cool head which receives a just impression of things. He should not allow himself to be confused by either good or bad news. The impressions which he receives successively or simultaneously in the course of a day should classify themselves in his mind in such a way as to occupy the place which they merit, because reason and judgment are the result of the comparison of various impressions taken into just consideration.”

We recognize things through the rule of opposites — we understand day as compared to night, happy compared to sad, failure versus success, peace from war, and safety from danger. From the great book, The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker I remember a scenario that illustrates this rule of pattern recognition and the rule of opposites:

A repair man comes to the house to fix an item. What about his behavior is favorable (meaning his intentions are on the job at hand) and what about his behavior is unfavorable (meaning he may have other things on his mind)?

Recognizing patterns of behavior and then their anomalies is critical to survival. Here are some things for you to consider as the repair man makes his house call.


Does his job and no more
Respectful of privacy
Stands at appropriate distance
Waits to be escorted
Keeps his comments to the job at hand
Mindful of the time-works quickly
Doesn’t care if others are home
Doesn’t care if others are expected
Doesn’t pay undue attention to you


Offers to help on unrelated tasks
Curious, asks too many questions
Stands too close
Walks around the house freely
Tries to get into discussions on other topics; makes personal comments
No concern about time; in no hurry to leave
Wants to know if others are home
Wants to know if others are expected
Stares at you

If you’re away from home and out working the street which attributes would you want loved ones to observe in the repair man visiting your home? The answer is rather obvious as it is very apparent as to which behavior does and does not fit the context of the situation.

This simple lesson in recognizing patterns of behavior and the rule of opposites is a survival mechanism we should all etch in our minds, not just for the repair man but for our street encounters as well.

Officer safety and effectiveness is hinged on knowledge and understanding. This knowledge and understanding is what we call situational awareness which is our ability to collect, correlate and store data in a fluid, dynamic environment, accurately predicting future events based on this real time data collection so we may decide and act accordingly. In other words, we observe, orient, decide, and act based on the unfolding and current conditions and what we believe these unfolding conditions mean.

This means we must always be looking, exploring for behavior that doesn’t fit the context of the contact. This includes not only the overt furtive gestures often described in training. It includes also words and or actions such as micro facial expressions and non-verbal gestures that are congruent or incongruent with the circumstances. It includes any other outside obvious or subtle factors that may dictate changes in the circumstances making them more dangerous or that allow you to observe and orient to an opportunity to seize the initiative and gain voluntary compliance or physical control.

Close observations and continually exploring the situation is paramount to making winning decisions and taking sound actions in dynamic encounters.

That’s it for today. In part two of this column, we’ll look at how the metaphor of the early American explorer fits into policing, and the complex problems we face on the street daily. That column will be entitled, Situational awareness, officer safety, and the ‘explorer mentality’ and Police1 Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie tells me that it’s scheduled to appear on Police1 two weeks from today (on Wednesday, July 11, 2012). Check it out.

In the meantime, stay oriented!

Fred T. Leland, Jr. is the founder and principal trainer of LESC: Law Enforcement & Security Consulting. He retired as a police lieutenant with the Walpole (Mass.) Police Department in 2016. He previously worked as a deputy with the Charlotte County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Department and before that spent six years with the United States Marines, including as a squad leader in Beirut, Lebanon.

Leland is an accomplished trainer teaching law enforcement, military and security professionals. His programs of instruction include handling dynamic encounters, threat assessment, non-verbal communications, decision-making under pressure, evolving threats, violence prevention, firearms, use of force, officer-created jeopardy and adaptive leadership. He is also a 2004 graduate of the FBI National Academy Class 216, and a current instructor for the Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee.