Incident Command: the team cohesion aspect of the SitRep


Over the past few weeks, I have been re-engineering Police Incident Command according to The Illinois Model law enforcement operations system (LEOpSys). Most of the ideas aren't earth-shattering, but they suggest some small adjustments to the nationally-mandated program. The first several posts lay some foundation into our vision of what IC should be. This is Part Four. Click on the Incident Command label for all posts in this short series.


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In the last part, I assembled the first two portions of the Situation Report...or SitRep. These portions are the Incident Category and the Location

The SitRep is a quick method for briefing, updating, and directing responders to a police problem. It identifies the problems, prioritizes any intended solutions, and gives a basic plan for implementing the course of action. In this piece, I will add on the remaining portions of the SitRep: Priority of Life, Mission-Objective, Strategy-Tactics, Radio Channel. 



The SitRep framework announces the most critical aspects of an incident.

Again, followers of The Illinois Model recognize these portions of the SitRep to be the top tiers in the pyramidal shape of our system. 


Priority of Life

Here is where the officer describes the threats, if any. Some questions that can be answered here: 
  • What is the threat?
  • How dangerous is the crime?
  • How dangerous is this person, and to whom?

Some of these questions are automatically answered by a good Incident Category or by the sheer nature of the call. An armed person is of course a danger to anyone in the so-called kill zone. A person who is bleeding is in danger of death by bleeding out. A lost person with Alzheimer's is in danger of the weather and elements. An unarmed resistor is only a threat with those he fights with.

Mission-Objectives

In this portion, the officer describes the goals of the incident. Again, some of these questions may be entirely obvious to other police officers. In the case of the missing Autistic boy --- of course the goal is to reunite the boy with his family. In the case of a fleeing criminal --- the goal is the apprehend the person. The answers to these below questions should help other responding officers determine how to use their authority and power:
  • Does the officer have a lawful foundation to take action?
  • Can the officer search (or be, or stand, or open, or look, or go) where s/he is?
  • Can the officer seize (or stop, or arrest, or detain, or restrain) the person?

Officers should have an understanding of their "power" of Search and Seizure for a given situation. Mixups at this level affect the entire police response. 

The pressing goals of other cases aren't so clear, especially when it comes to prioritizing several problems. These include situations when there is both a criminal to be arrested/stopped and persons in need of medical aid. What is more critical? What should be accomplished first?

Strategy-Tactics

The strategy questions get at the "How?" of the matter....as in How will we accomplish the goal? Another way to look at this is How quickly do we need to act? Should we be rushing into the area (Act)? or should responders begin setting containment (Stabilize)?
  • What is the urgency?
  • ACT or STABILIZE?
  • What event(s) will change the Strategy?
  • What threshold of "governmental intrusion" will be acceptable to accomplish the lawful objective?

This is such a critical step, especially because so many officers and agencies have different operational philosophies! Take the active shooter incident below. Imagine how disastrous the outcome might be if responders did not seek out the shooter as a priority. If officers set a perimeter or began rescues BEFORE the shooter was stopped, there may be a much higher "body count." 

You'll notice below that so many of the situations below have Stabilize strategies. That is because we are biased toward them....absent immediate threat to life. 

Sample SitReps

In Part 2, we listed twenty problems. In Part 3, we categorized the incidents, in [square brackets in red type]. In this part, we offer some more complete options of a SitRep. The Priority of Life is {braced in blue type}; Mission-Objective in <angle brackets in green>; Strategy-Tactics in (parenthesis in purple type). Click here for the color-coded version if you are reading this in a black-only font repost.
  • the young Autistic boy who wandered away from home [Endangered Autistic walk-away] Location {9yoa non-verbal Autistic boy wearing only shorts}<NONE>(Keep a roving patrol in the area _______)
  • the police officer who was gunned down during a foot chase of an armed robber [Officer down; suspect at large] Location {NONE}<We are going to rescue the officer first>(I need a rescue team of 4 officers at _______; and the rest setting a perimeter to contain the shooter inside the area __________)
  • the students and teachers who have (or will be) shot by the deranged student gunman [Active shooter; multiple victims] Location {gunman wearing urban camoflague has shot several people inside}<All officers should stop the shooter before any rescues are made>(Be sure to broadcast when the shooter is stopped so all officers can begin rescue operations)
  • the strange man walking in residential yards who fled into darkness upon seeing a police car [Prowler fleeing from police presence] Location {NONE}<Justification for Terry Stop only>(Set up a loose perimeter in the are bound by _______)
  • the sweaty, naked man suffering from some sort of delirium  [Possible Excited Delirium patient] Location {naked man in his 30s with a suspected medical emergency}<We will take him into custody>(I need at least four officers, a Taser, and a medic at ________)
  • the unlicensed driver who won't exit his car to be handcuffed and arrested  [Traffic arrest; barricaded in his car] Location {Motorist who refuses to exit his car}<NONE>(NONE)
  • the juvenile retail thief who pushes the officer away while being escorted out of the store  [Retail theft; resisting arrest] Location {13 year old male Hispanic wearing Michael Jordan Bulls jersey fled S/B}<NONE>(Set up a hasty containment 3 block South of ________)
  • the husband who committed domestic battery, but now locked in a bedroom with a gun  [Barricaded gunman wanted for Domestic Battery] Location {Man is armed with a handgun and locked in his second-floor bedroom by himself}<NONE>(We need a containment. I need at least one officer on the West side of the home, and at least two officers inside with us at the top of the stairs; come inside the front door)
  • the teenaged boy holding a knife to his own throat in a busy park  [Suicidal with a knife] Location {teenaged boy holding a knife to his throat, threatening suicide}<We are going to involuntarily commit him>(We need to evacuate the on-lookers away from the scene; and I need some less-lethal options brought out)
  • the wife who wants officers to remove her belligerent husband from the home for the night  [Domestic trouble; remove unwanted] Location {wife wants husband to leave}<NONE>(We are mediating a solution now)
  • the drug dealer who rarely leaves the house for which the narcotics unit has a search warrant  [Residential search warrant] Location {20 year old male white armed with a black pistol who never leaves his home}<Search Warrant for drugs and guns and Arrest Warrant for him is signed.>(We are going to do a Surround-and-Callout)
  • the hooded men who may have done a "hand-to-hand" transaction in the gas station parking lot  [Hand-to-hand drug investigation] Location {I just saw what looked like a hand-to-hand transfer in the lot}<Try for a Terry Stop on the male white in a white tank top and search the pockets of the long-haired male white in a tie-dyed t-shirt>(NONE)
  • the family who came home from dinner to a forced-open door and suspected residential burglary  [Residential burglary; last two hours] Location {Forced entry to rear North door}<NONE>(I need a perimeter around the home)
  • the search for the motorist and passenger who fled into the wooded forest on a traffic stop  [Area search for traffic violator] Location {two occupants on a traffic stop fled into the woods for unknown reason}<Officers are to arrest both people for Obstructing>(We need to set up containment before we form a K9 search team)
  • the masked robber who went back inside the bank building to hold hostages  [Hostage taking; bank robbery] Location {masked robbery suspect went back into the occupied bank}<NONE>(We need to set up a perimeter and a react team in case of an emergency entry)
  • the Schizophrenic patient who left the emergency room in a hospital gown  [Schizophrenic walk-away against medical advice] Location {60 year old female white wearing a gray hospital gown and flip-flop sandals}<Treat this as a consent contact only>(Keep a mobile patrol in the area)
  • the depressed housewife who took some pills and isn't answering her phone  [Well-being check; possible overdose] Location {40 year old female took some unknown pills and cannot be reached by telephone}<NONE>(We have justification for a forcible entry on the apartment)
  • the suspected drunk driver who drove home and ran into his home, rather than be stopped [Barricaded man wanted for investigation of DUI] Location {I tried to stop the car for DUI, but driver fled into the home where the car registers}<He is to be arrested for Fleeing and Eluding>(I need an officer on the back door so I can knock on the front door)
  • the occupants of a car being stopped by officers for displaying a revolver in road rage  [Felony car stop for unlawful use of firearm] Location {back seat passenger displayed a revolver to passing motorist}<All occupants are to be detained>(We are going to call each occupant out and back to us)
  • the pre-teen girl who ran away from a dysfunctional family situation  [Female juvenile runaway] Location {15 year old black female last seen wearing purple t-shirt left in unknown friend's car}<NONE>(NONE)

Some of the sample situations have such clear-cut aspects that certain portions of the SitRep format aren't necessary. If you are going to be using this list of situations and SitReps for training, be sure to recite them in entirety. Use a real location or address in your jurisdiction. Do these SitReps paint a more accurate, clear, and concise version of the problem than you are used to hearing on the police radio? 

Radio Channel

Lastly, with the fractured lines of radio communications, make sure all responders are talking on the same channel. Chatter on side bands or other frequencies can lead to confusion of situation, mission, or strategy. If an officer ends his broadcast with something as simple as "We will be running this incident on Zone Seven," there is no confusion about what channel to communicate on.

Each agency has their own protocols for radio use, based on so many variables. But if the technology allows, everyone should be on the same channel. This holds true for the crisis phase of incidents. For extremely large incidents in long duration, separate channels might be dedicated for special aspects: traffic direction, rescue, investigation, etc.

Summary

Officers cite the SitRep section as the most useful on our pocket cards.
We emphasize the SitRep in our training. We push it not as a rigid and bureaucratic method to dispatch and talk on the radio. But as a test to see inside the head of the responding officers and Incident Commanders. Officers and Commanders who give solid Situation Reports as updates and briefings generally have a solid decision-making process that got them there! A SitRep is a vision into an officer's mind about what s/he perceives as the problem, solution, and plan. 

Again, I challenge you to practice broadcasting SitReps on police incidents that do not rise to the level of traditional Incident Command. I guarantee you will see better cohesion, cooperation, and teamwork. And of course better communication. That is a recipe for success.

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Louis Hayes is a co-developer of The Illinois Model law enforcement operations system (LEOpSys) and moderates several courses rooted in its theory and concepts. He is a 15-year police officer, currently assigned to a multi-agency tactical unit in Chicagoland.  He believes that shared mission and strategy is the single biggest component of success for any police problem. A full compilation of articles on The Illinois Model can be found here.

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