The anatomy of victory (part two): Victory at minimal cost

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

In part one of this two-part series, we asked and answered a lot of important questions about our preparedness to win. If you haven’t yet read part one, please do so before reading one, for it is the foundation on which that what follows is built.

In chapter one of H. John Poole’s outstanding book The Last Hundred Yards: The NCO’S Contribution to Warfare, he discusses the anatomy of small unit victory and asks some key questions of individual soldiers and marines.

To Americans, what constitutes a military victory? What does it take to defeat an enemy at any cost? What else does it take to defeat an enemy at minimal cost?

I feel these questions — rephrased just a bit to meet the law enforcement mission and intent of protect and serve — are relevant to law enforcement and how we police.

We're Not Soliders
It is important to keep in mind that law enforcement officers are not soldiers or Marines and although our mission and intent are similar (in that we both protect and serve and use similar tactics, obviously adapted to meet our law enforcement role as protectors of those we serve here at home, the American citizen.

Here at home we are a free society that for the most part works day to day in a peaceful and collaborative way abiding by the rules society as deemed necessary so the tactics and strategies we utilize must be in accord with the standards set by society.

Our law enforcement role is to ensure those standards are meant and adhered to on all sides.

However, there are those folks who do not like to play by the rules and become a menace to society and their actions require law enforcement responses. We must strike a delicate balance of persuasion to gain the compliance we seek and the utility of force when an adversary decides to live on his own terms that may jeopardize lives.

The questions above rephrased to meet the law enforcement role may look like this:

To Americans, what constitutes a law enforcement victory? What does it take to defeat an adversary in crisis at any cost? What else does it take to defeat an adversary in crisis at minimal cost?

The term "crisis" I use here to represent any and all encounters law enforcement respond to that either are known high-risk encounters or those we go into where the circumstances and risks are unknown — they have the potential for turning into a high-risk situation.

Motive, Intent Unknown
My perspective on known high risk verses the unknown is that any circumstances we handle as law enforcement have the potential for escalating as an individual’s motive and intent are in the vast majority of cases unknown to law enforcement as they arrive and attempt to gain voluntary compliance and regain control.

Poole discusses the annals of warfare are filled with exploits of armies, divisions, and regiments, not the separate actions of squads, fire teams, and rifleman.

For the small-unit leader to learn more about his wartime role from the literature, he must examine a concept universal to units of every size…what it takes to win. Of course winning means different things to different people. To Sun Tzu in 350 B.C., it meant more than just defeating and enemy:

“Only when the enemy could not be overcome by these political means was there recourse to armed force, which was applied so the victory was gained, in the shortest possible time, at the least possible cost in lives and effort and with infliction on the enemy of the fewest possible casualties. “

In any civilization, defeating an enemy at too great a cost no longer constitutes winning. A victory won with too many lives was not victory at all.

Street encounters are won through battles of wits and battles of wits are won through interaction and engagements with an adversary. Officers of every rank must strive to determine what it takes to win at low cost.

Handling dynamic encounters and winning on the street as mentioned above, requires knowing many things and then being able to apply what we know to the given situation in an innovative way considering of course the give and take of conflict and emotionally charged individuals.

H. John Poole offers some great information on winning minimally verses winning at low cost

Just defeating an enemy minimally takes the following tactics.

Logistical Assets

Some tactical knowledge
Accurate assessment of the initial situation
Logical decision making
A localized combat power advantage
Some semblance of control

Personnel Assets

The will to fight
Some training
Some leadership

For winning at low cost, there are additional requirements.


State of the art tactical knowledge (considering the moral, mental, and physical dimensions)
Authority to make common-sense decisions at every echelon within a unit
Minimizing the number of actions taken without thinking
Allowing subordinates to obey human survival instincts
Flexibility to an ever changing situation
Making as small a target as possible
Consistently surprising the enemy
Exploiting success to keep the foe off balance (momentum)

Personnel Assets

Well-focus personnel
Troops with the movement skills to utilize existing cover
Troops with the shooting skills to cover the movement of others by fire when necessary
Specialized training for those who need it to survive
Enough trained personnel to rotate dangerous billets
Appropriate assignment of personnel
Pairing up personnel
A leadership style that permits subordinates to react quickly to unforeseen dangers

As you can see from this list, being good is not good enough.

To win at low cost in the moral, mental, and physical dimensions conflict, it takes cops who are of fuller spectrum. It takes cops who understand and take whole of conflict. We must look deeper at how we respond — and leverage every lesson — if we are to enhance our safety and effectiveness and win at low cost.

The solutions to all tactical situations necessarily depend on the training status of the individuals and units involved. Often the optimal tactical solution is not viable simply because of the training deficiencies of individual officers and their department.

With unity and focus of effort on creating and nurturing these skills, we can do better! We can get results that keep us safe on the street and then in the aftermath get the support we need and deserve.

I challenge you to think about these questions — inspired by John Poole and his work in The Last hundred Yards — and how they may apply to you as law enforcement officers who just might have to handle one of those low frequency, high risk encounters:

Minimal Cost?
To Americans, what constitutes a law enforcement victory? What does it take to defeat an adversary in crisis at any cost? What else does it take to defeat an adversary in crisis at minimal cost?

Americans — those we protect and serve — will not tolerate careless police tactics from officers or leaders. Neither should professional cops tolerate, sloppy poorly-thought-out (or worse, thoughtless) methods and tactics. Just read or watch the news and all the talk and debate of police tactics. Not everyone discussing the issue is anti-cop!

If this debate and discussion is not enough for you to rethink your strategy and tactics, just look at the numbers of cops being killed in the line of duty. Look at the ever increasing ambush rate of cops. Look at the lessons learned from our law enforcement history and ask, yourself are we applying the lessons learned?

Talk to a cop who has been there and done that and ask him about surviving the fight and then ask him about the aftermath and the stress involved in dealing with that. Going home at the end of your shift is paramount but we also want to survive the aftermath.

I would rather be tried by twelve than carried by six is a great mantra, until you’re the guy sitting in front of the twelve. Winning at low cost means we survive both the fight and the aftermath.

Always Controversy
There will always be controversy involving how we handle situations, people will still take things to the ultimate level and attempt to use deadly force, so why change anything, why worry about winning at low cost when we have enough to worry about already?

I happen to believe — and I do not think I am alone in my belief — that by making the effort to understand strategy and get better tactically we will be more able to respond in a way that keeps us safe in all types of situations to which we respond. We will actually slow things down enough to position ourselves, gaining the advantage that comes from positioning and win without fighting in many more situations, which is the acme of skill.

When we do have to fight we will be better at it using strategy and tactics verses emotion and luck. Skill will win the day verses reactions often leveraged by emotion. It will be well known we did everything in our power to resolve it peacefully and that the balance of persuasion and force was used in accord with our overall mission and intent to protect and serve. Support will come from the uncommitted because we will have gained their trust.

Our whole public safety effort is based on what cops can collectively accomplish on patrol. Community trust is key to us accomplishing anything from minor problems to serious crime problems and any evolving threat we may have to face in the future. How we respond and handle situations is, whether we like it or not, judged by those we serve.

It’s time we work harder getting them on board with what it is we do and how we do it.

Let’s make the well-known and talked about five percent mindset more prevalent in law enforcement. Let’s not be satisfied with our efforts until the five percent mindset is more like 95 percent and then those who pin a badge on and holster a gun are out there working with a strategic and tactical mindset that gets them results we can all be proud of. Results based on continued learning, will and skill basked in those who walk the talk to victory in all its dimensions.

Stay Oriented!

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