How mindset training can help prevent deadly hesitation

"This is the law: The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental." — John Steinbeck


The OODA loop of Colonel John Boyd’s combat philosophy is to Orient yourself on the battlefield, Observe the actions of your enemy, Decide on a course of action and immediately Act on your decision — repeating the cycle rapidly until successful. In the current enforcement climate, where an officer’s deadly force decision may be presumed wrong by some overzealous prosecutors, the loop can break at the Decision step — and that could be fatal.

Many of us in the law enforcement training community have feared the “Ferguson Effect” could result in officers hesitating to use deadly force when their lives are threatened. Indeed, we have one recent example where an officer said just that — he hesitated and nearly died when he got stuck between the “O-O” and the “D-A.”

In my 30-plus years of studying officers’ use of deadly force, I have become convinced that the mindset aspect of the training triad (M1-Marksmanship, M2-Mechanics, and M3-Mindset, about which I wrote in my book, Building a Better Gunfighter) is the primary element. This issue is the one that will save your life in a gunfight. This issue is also the one which receives little or no attention in many training programs. 

Background Programming
The first phase of developing your combat mindset skills is what I call “background programming”. The first bedrock principle you should understand is your righteous standing for self-defense. Long before English common law codified the right of self-defense, came the word of God as written in the texts of most major religions. 

In America’s Judeo-Christian founding, the right of self-defense against an evil-doer’s actions was assumed. As Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch stated so eloquently on an episode of 60 Minutes II, “Some people just need to be shot!”

The Rules of Engagement
The next principle of background programming is an essential understanding of when you can properly use deadly force. We are primarily concerned with state statutes, agency use-of-force policies and federal court decisions like Tennessee v. Garner which restrict local edicts. 

Different jurisdictions have minor variations, but an overarching generalization of the rules of engagement is possible: You are justified in using deadly force against any individual who is threatening you with any force likely to cause death or great bodily harm. You are also justified in using deadly force to protect other persons in your immediate area from that dangerous threat. Under some circumstances, you may use deadly force to prevent the escape of a dangerous, armed felon.

Dangerous weapons — such as a firearm, knife, baseball bat or similar device — are easy to explain when justifying your application of deadly force. In situations like the Ferguson incident, being overwhelmed and beaten or possibly disarmed by a larger or more powerful person, or by multiple assailants, can also be justified if the circumstances dictate. But your burden of proof will be higher. 

You must have these legal/policy aspects of using deadly force memorized, verbatim. Your understanding of your “rules of engagement” must be so deeply programmed your subconscious brain (mid-brain) will instantly recognize a legitimate shooting situation when you encounter one. This deadly force decision must be shaped well in advance so you can literally reach this verdict on automatic; pausing to think about it will put you at risk.

A Trainer’s Task
Trainers tend to think only in terms of firing live rounds at targets when they conduct firearms training. Polishing their marksmanship skill means nothing if an officer doesn’t have an intimate understanding of how to complete the “D” element of the O-O-D-A loop. Take the time to periodically refresh their understanding of the rules of engagement in a classroom setting — many agencies do this annually and require a 100 percent pass on an open-book “deadly force” test.

Prepare your officers to win by programming them with the knowledge they need to complete the combat loop. Help them avoid getting stuck at “O-O” because they hesitate to “D-A.”

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