The anatomy of victory (part one): What does it take to win?

Winning on the street comes in many forms and means different things to different people

Winning in law enforcement encounters can be gaining voluntary compliance through communication and negotiation or it can ebb and flow back and forth through a vast array of outcomes up to and including deadly force. Winning to the cop means one thing, while to an adversary winning on his terms is quite another.

What about winning in the eyes of the public? How important is public support or decent when we cops use force? What outcomes can we expect during a dynamic encounter, what about in the aftermath, with public support, without it?

We cops know that the use of force is always an option taken as a last resort when we have exhausted all other means and our decision is forced by the actions of the person we are dealing with. Reasonable and necessary force is not something we cops take lightly.

Attributes of the Victor
Winning in the arena — the places where interaction and efforts are made to resolve dangerous and dynamic encounters in real time — requires a certain breed of person, a person capable of remaining mentally calm. A person who can think both critically and creatively. By critically thinking I mean the ability to focus and to achieve understanding (real-time situation awareness), to evaluate viewpoints, and to solve problems.

Creative thinking is equally important, called fingerspitzengefühl or the feeling in the tip of one’s fingers or feel for the situation — Napoleon called it a “gut” feeling — we cops call this ability our sixth sense.

A person who deals with conflict and violence must also be intuitive. This enables rapid decision making without conscious awareness or effort, which is basked in training and experience...a lot of it.

Self-awareness (an understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses), social skills (the ability, to assess other peoples’ strengths and weaknesses) the use of communication skills, and the art of listening are also part of the strategic game of interaction. Each weighs heavily in our ability to isolate an adversary and help us to shape and reshape the events in favorable terms.

All these are key attributes to winning when balanced by efforts to persuade and when necessary efforts to use force. Winning requires knowing and applying many other things, including an understanding of strategy, tactics, human nature, culture, the environment, the climate of the situation, psychological, and physiological effects, nonverbal communication skills, implicit and explicit decision making, friction in decision making, tactical skills, combative skills, firearms skills, focus of effort, uncertainty, adaptability, deception, surprise, time and space, and leadership and the overall mission or intent, etc.

When we encounter and interact with people on the street, all these factors combine in novel and synergistic ways. When considered in the context of conflict, crisis and violence from our perspective and the adversaries they help us shape or influence events and enhance our spirit and strength making us safer and more effective as we handle dynamic encounters.

To maneuver and position yourself to win requires the strategic game of interaction and isolation as you accord with an adversary's, fellow officers and the community you work in, if victory is to be completed in the moral, mental and physical dimensions. COL John Boyd described the outcome of winning in the moral, mental, and physical dimensions:

“Unless one can penetrate adversaries moral, mental and physical being and sever those interacting bonds that permit him to exist as an organic whole, by being able to subvert, shatter, seize, or otherwise subdue those moral, mental and physical bastions, connections, or activities that he depends upon, one will find it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to collapse adversaries will to resist.”

Moral, Mental, Physical
To get a better understanding of the moral, mental, and physical dimensions of conflict let’s look at how Boyd describes the three dimensions and how we play the strategic game of interaction and isolation.

Moral represents the cultural codes of conduct or standards of behavior that constrain, as well as sustain and focus, our emotional/intellectual responses.

Morally we interact with others by avoiding mismatches between what we say we are what we are and the world we have to deal with, as well as by abiding by those other cultural codes or standards we are expected to uphold. Morally our adversaries isolate themselves when they visibly improve their wellbeing to the detriment of others (allies, the uncommitted), by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold.

Mental represents the emotional/intellectual activity we generate to adjust to cope with, that physical world.

Mentally we interact by selecting information from a variety of sources or channels in order to generate mental images or impressions that match up with the world of events or happenings that we are trying to understand and cope with.

Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out, nor keep up with. Operating inside their OODA loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on.

Physical represents the world of matter-energy-information all of us are a part of, live in, and feed upon.

Physically we interact by opening up and maintaining many channels of communication with the outside world, hence with others out there, that we depend upon for sustenance, nourishment or support. Physically we isolate our adversaries by severing their communications with the outside world as well as by severing their internal communications to one another. We can accomplish this by cutting them off from their allies and the uncommitted via diplomatic, psychological and other efforts.

To cut them off from one another we should penetrate their system by being unpredictable, otherwise they can counter our efforts.

Real-World Application
It is important that you study these dimensions and attempt to translate them to how they apply to the law enforcement world. The idea here is to destroy adversary’s moral, mental, physical harmony, produce paralysis and collapse his will to resist, while at the same time amplifying our own spirit and strength. This effort is not all about physical force it’s about maneuver, interaction and the balance of persuasion and force in an all out effort to morally, mentally, and physically isolate adversary from his allies or any outside support as well as isolate elements of adversary or adversaries from one another and overwhelm them by being able to penetrate their moral, mental, and physical being at any and all levels.

All this, while at the same time enhancing our spirit and strength and winning over the uncommitted (public support).

Cops protect society and we must win the conflicts we face that are difficult, rapidly-changing situations that require strength of character, courage, and resolve. These traits are inherent in cops and the types of traits the public cheers for and supports in athletes as they attempt to win a game, yet in law enforcement, the gate keepers are often criticized by the public for action taken where the stakes are so much higher and often paid with life and death.

Cops use force (this includes all levels) in about one percent of all our contacts. One percent!

Why the lack of support? What are we in law enforcement missing that could enhance support? Could winning at low cost be the key to winning the trust we seek and need from our communities?

Connecting Strategy and Tactics
This brings to mind a question I adapted with law enforcement in mind, from one that Boyd asked considering connecting strategy and tactics with our national goals. How do we connect the tactical and strategic ideas or the theme for disintegration and collapse of an adversary, with our community and law enforcement goals? Boyd had some answers I have adapted for us in law enforcement to consider.

Gain support of our goals and the methods we use
Pumped-up resolve, drain away adversaries resolve, and attract the uncommitted
End conflict on favorable terms
Ensure that conflict and terms of justice do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict

In Boyd’s view our strategy must first and foremost be an appealing idea or set of objectives and interests, which inspires and unites the populace as well as allies and the uncommitted.

My thinking on this is that, we need public support in all we do! I understand gaining community trust and support has been talked about much, over the last few decades, however it’s been implemented robustly in law enforcement circles only sparingly. To WIN at low cost we need to be implement these ideas more vigorously in all we do. We must be more transparent with the public in all we do; it is the only way we get a completed victory on the street and in the aftermath.

More than 2,500 hundred years ago Sun Tzu said:

“You must win your battles without effort. Avoid difficult struggles. Fight when your position must win. You always win by preventing your defeat.”

This short ancient stanza has much meaning as we in law enforcement attempt to root out serious crime and crime problems and stop those who would do harm to those we serve and to protect ourselves as we put into operation those methods we utilize. To enhance our spirit and strength while gaining public support we must learn to win considering the moral, mental, and physical dimensions of conflict if we are to have a complete and full victory.

Do we in law enforcement really need to apply these ideas and principles in our efforts to win on the street? If so, why are we not?

To win a completely, law enforcement must understand our overall philosophy, mission, and intent. We must know the objective to be obtained. We must understand the climate of the situation, and the environment or ground we are working on and in. We have to know what’s going on or what our perception is of what’s going on, before we can make sound tactical decisions and take action.

Good leadership is another key factor. The importance of a proper command system, leading to a correct distribution of authority and responsibility among the various echelons are critical to success. Without striking the correct balance between centralization and decentralization, discipline and initiative, authority and individual responsibility, it is impossible for any organization, let alone a law enforcement one, operating as it does in an environment where disorder, uncertainty, and confusion are prevalent to function effectively. Finally do we understand strategy and tactics and how to position ourselves advantageously based on the current situation?

Strategy is about first avoiding failure and then positioning ourselves so we can exploit opportunities as they appear. To do this we must have a sound tactical repertoire that we can apply effectively on the street, adapting as the situation requires. By tactics I am not just focusing on the physical skills such as firearms and defensive techniques, room entries or the tactical formations we use, although they are very important.

Tactics has as much to do with thinking as it does about applying the physical!

Questions to Consider
Have you developed your observation skills to the point you are exploring the situation and have true awareness? Here are some other questions to challenge yourself with — to confront — as you consider the anatomy of victory.

Do we possess social skills and the ability to negotiate in an effort gain voluntary compliance?
Do we possess critical and creative thinking and decision making abilities?
Do we understand the complexity of deciding under pressure and how the Boyd Cycle (OODA Loop) when understood and considered from all sides is critical to success?
Do we know how to apply the methods we know so we compress our own time and stretch out adversary time, diminishing our own friction and magnify adversary’s friction in decision making?
Do we possess the strength of character to implement the decisions we make or do our decisions get put into action based on emotion, peer pressure and what others think?
Do we understand the tactical principles of speed, fast and slow transients maneuvers, and understanding that balancing slow and fast transients based on the conditions is critical to tactical positioning, exploiting opportunities and winning at low cost?
Do we understand that the adversary you face has his own objectives and plans and will be working against you?
Do we know our people well and understand our strengths and weaknesses?
Do we know how to exploit our adversary’s weaknesses while avoiding his strengths?
Do we understand there is no one scientific solution to a tactical problem and that variety of methods and adaptation are keys to winning?
Do our policies and procedures take this into consideration?

That’s it for now. Check this space one week from today (Monday, September 10th) for part two of this two-part series. There we’ll delve even deeper into this discussion, focusing in on the differences between simply achieving victory, and achieving victory at minimal cost. 

Stay Oriented!

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