Tactical Decision-Making: Accuracy versus Time

If I were to ask a question, "What is 17 times 6?" there is only one truly correct answer. In math, solutions are objectively either correct or incorrect. Even during timed classroom quizzes, the answers to questions are graded completely on correctness. If it is not right, then it is wrong.

The same cannot be said of decisions made in combat, or emergency trauma medicine, or fights, or sports, or car racing, or fire fighting, or tactical policing. 

Decision that are timely and accurate are best.

Answers to the questions begin to lose their status as being Right or Wrong. And another factor enters.....Time.

The element of time encroaches on the mind's ability to calculate the perfect answer (if such thing even exists, which I argue rarely does). In the above listed realms, time matters. Sometimes more than the absolute correctness of the solution.

Now before anyone slings "Objectively Reasonable" at me and claims Right or Wrong, let me defend my position. Within the court ruling of Graham v Connor, Chief Justice Rehnquist specifically addressed:
The "reasonableness" of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.
So the Court does accept that time restraints factor into the evaluation of a police officer's decision.  And the whole idea of Objective Reasonableness is not one of right or wrong; there are many legal alternatives and many illegal ones too. A more fitting comparison might be Acceptable or Unacceptable, with an understanding that just because a decision was Acceptable (or "reasonable") does not mean it was the absolute best option.


So irregardless if a tactician is a police officer, or boxer, or trauma surgeon, or combat soldier, or  athlete, or firefighter, or race car driver...their decisions are evaluated by a balance of Time and Accuracy. The best tacticians make great choices immediately. The worst tacticians make poor choices with delay.

Each situation is different. In some circumstance, a near-perfect answer with a short delay might be good. In other cases, a decent answer almost immediately is good. Some scenarios require quick intervention (Time is more critical) while others require perfection (Accuracy is more critical).
  • If a police officer were to suffer an upper leg gunshot wound, would it be better to immediately apply a makeshift tourniquet comprised of a rifle sling and expandable baton? or to wait 20 seconds to get a commercially-manufactured combat tourniquet from a nearby squad car?
  • While responding to an active shooter in an office building, is it better for a pistol-armed officer to respond immediately? or to delay 30 seconds to un-trunk and ready her patrol rifle and medical go-bag?
Cases can be made for both options in both scenarios. (And now that I think of it, why don't you make your own case in the comments section below?!) Those defending their stances should use both Time and Accuracy in their arguments. We believe in a healthy allowance for a bit of inaccuracy of a decision, especially when a decent alternative is put into play immediately. Otherwise, without that allowance, the decision-makers may be paralyzed while contemplating all the options....searching for the perfect one.

So to return to the very first math question...what is 17 times 6? Sometimes a quick response of "about one-hundred" is good enough.


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. He carries a SOFTT-W in his pocket everyday, hoping to never have to use it again. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedIn


  1. While reading the article (yes I read the whole article), one is reminded of past supervisors who were paralyzed in their decision making.

    Scenario 1: Depends on the amount of blood loss.

    Obliviously prefer the commercially manufactured tourniquet. I'd guess it would take 15 seconds to make a tourniquet out of the rifle sling/baton. 5 more seconds to get to the car would be worth it (tie it down, and have hands free). I'm more inclined to go for the car and retrieve the tourniquet.

    Scenario 2:
    Definitely stop the squad and get the rifle / go-bag. The effectiveness of a rifle & go-bag overwhelms the ability to get there faster. My go-bag contains medical scissors, gauze, Israeli battle dressing, water & plenty of ammo. The rifle offers increased accuracy and ballistic vest penetration.

    AA #202

  2. Robert Lanchsweerdt9/28/14, 10:59 AM

    I appreciate your reference to Graham v Connor when evaluating decisions made in a dynamic environment (i.e. response to resistance, vehicle pursuits).

    During a dynamic incident, officers have to make split second decisions as Justice Rehnquist articulated.

    But what about TIME *before* the incident? Specifically, the events that led up to responding to resistance or chasing a fleeing motorist.

    Was the time *prior* to these acts wisely used? Was the officers actions reasonable? Did s/he have lawful authority in the Terry stop *prior* to using a ECW? Lethal force?

    Here's a example to illustrate my point:

    An officer is dispatched to a gas station reference a man harassing patrons. The officer arrives on scene to see a man standing alone in the parking lot. He's not using the gas stations services but he is also not seen engaging in 'harassing' actions.

    Now in the State of Indiana, a law enforcement officer has no lawful authority to order a citizen away from private property unless the owner/property manager gives this authority to police.

    For the gas station, the officer never took time to speak with the gas station attendant. There is no contractual agreement w/the gas station to give the police department authority to act as their agent.

    Despite the lack of authority, the officer orders the citizen to leave the property. The citizen reluctantly agrees.

    As the citizen walks off the property and is crossing the street, he says a few choice words to the officer. The officer orders the citizen to "come back here." The citizen continues to walk away. The officer then runs up and tells the citizen to turn around to be placed under arrest for Resisting Law Enforcement. The citizen attacks the officer, and the officer responds appropriately w/soft and hard techniques.

    At the conclusion of this incident, the officer completes a UOF report.

    Solely looking at the "use of force" encounter, was the force reasonable? Absolutely. Some may argue that a ECW would have been better than "fists." Regardless, we're now at precipice of ACCURACY and TIME when evaluating the decision making in this dynamic encounter.

    But what about the TIME *before* the encounter.

    There was no rush to scurry the person off the property. Time was available to speak with the store clerk; to receive the lawful authority to order the person to leave.

    The citizen did follow the officer's orders to leave the property. The peace keeping function was accomplished.

    How did this officer use his TIME before the encounter? If we're being honest, the TIME was poorly used. In fact, it was rushed. If the TIME was used appropriately (and the ego kept in check), the dynamic encounter (UOF) would not have transpired.


    When evaluating decisions made in combat (dynamic event), it is important to evaluate it with a balance of TIME and ACCURACY. Equally important is evaluating the officer's actions (TIME and ACCURACY) *before* the dynamic event.

    Legitimacy in policing is built from the beginning and not focusing on the end of the police/citizen encounter.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Presentation Hack: Your Last Slide(s)

Presentation Hack: "For those of you who don't know me..."

The Generalist versus The Specialist