Incident Strategy and Tactics (Part 2): The Importance of Teaching Your People How to Change Their Own Diaper

This is a followup to Part One, where I contended the bulk of police training wrongly focused on tactics at the cost of neglecting more critical strategic issues. However, there is only so much a police officer can do to control or influence a situation in the field. Since not everything goes to plan, officers must have the skills and abilities to fix a situation when it goes bad. 

While moderating a recent class on Incident Command for supervisory and senior police officers, I asked attendees what aspect of police training was needed most back at their respective police agencies. One student said, "Weapons training...we get into a lot of officer-involved shootings."

I questioned whether some of the shootings could have been avoided had officers implemented more stabilizing strategies. I used the analogy of potty training versus changing one's own diaper. Based on the head nods from other students while I explained my theory, a point was made: maybe some of these police shootings could have been avoided by better planning, increased distance, slower response, less "intrusiveness"...maybe some of the deadly threats were (in a way) actually caused by the officers' reckless or actions.

Then she responded...."Uh...we just got a lot of assholes in our city." We all laughed.  Undoubtedly, based on the crime-ridden neighborhood she policed, there was some truth to that. Some people are just that violent and disrespectful of life. Of the recent shootings with her police force, maybe they were all unavoidable. Maybe not. Even if just one of those officer-involved shootings was inescapable, that makes a point for needing the skills to change your own diaper. Weapons training is absolutely necessary.

My Beginning as a Trainer

My introduction into the world of police training came in 2001 when I became a Firearms Instructor. As such, my role was extremely narrow in scope when compared to what it is now. Back then, the bulk of my trainer role was to make police officers into better pistol gunfighters. I followed and developed a curriculum based on: marksmanship, speed, reloading, malfunction clearing, and all sorts of manipulations and techniques.

As my personal experiences and training grew, so did the training program. It matured into including dynamic lateral body movements, compressed time constraints, and more intimate distances. But as a whole, the firearms training program was still limited to techniques for being a better shooter. And that started to bother me.

Need for Strategic Thinking

I did what can be a very dangerous thing for young inexperienced trainers (such as myself in the early 2000s): I began to question. And when the questions being asked begin with "Why ____," weird things happen. Questions like:
  • Why are we so focused on turning officers into better shooters (static marksman)?
  • Why aren't we more committed to developing officers into gunfighters (Why aren't we adding in the "not getting shot" aspect of dynamic officer movement)? 
  • Why don't we push officers to maintain distance, proximity, positioning, and control to be in the best possible situation should a deadly force incident unfold?
  • Why don't we teach officers to use strategies that minimize the chances of being in a dangerous position or vulnerable situation in the first place?
The majority of the student officers I was training were firing between 750-1,000 rounds of ammo per year. For veteran officers, this is significantly above national averages. However, we starting asking ourselves what was really being practiced during those thousand trigger pulls each year. Unfortunately when I analyzed the training exercises, most of the training was done at slow speed, long distance (>21 feet), in bright lighting conditions, and from static positions. There was NO tactical decision-making. And absolutely NO strategic thinking whatsoever.

That's changed.

Our current annual round count is lower (but still above national averages). But now the bulk of firearms training blends in strategy, teamwork, and communications. Each live fire course of fire is driven by a scenario...or a problem. Each drill then becomes a problem solving exercise. Officers are required to coordinate their speed of approach, or even the need to approach. Officers are making strategic and tactical plans, decisions, and adjustments. They need to determine a mission, a strategy, and employ team tactics.

Simply, officers are being asked to do more than simply punch holes in targets. They are being potty trained into avoiding deadly confrontations...or when unavoidable, being in the best possible position to survive and win.

Infographic on importance of "potty training" in police work.
Making "Shit Happen" in Training

Here is one of the problems in scenario training for instructors who stress solid strategic thinking among their students: How can trainers include these relatively bad situations that require "diaper changing" when the students have employed the proper strategies to minimize or prevent their occurrence? It's a tricky answer. Shouldn't officers be rewarded in training scenarios when they employ a safe, legal, and ethical strategy? Why would an instructor penalize a student by giving that officer an injury or forcing a physical confrontation when the student did all the right things?

Well, it comes down to "Process versus Outcome." Not all great processes yield great outcomes. Professional poker players lose to amateurs. High school finance students outperform seasoned veteran portfolio managers in short-term investment projects. Underdogs win the championship. Workout fanatics suffer heart attacks. Cautious drivers get killed in wrecks. And intelligent, analytic, thinking cops find themselves face-to-face with offenders who desire to kill them.

Trainers and agency administrators must instill this value of process-over-outcome. Officers have to be rewarded or disciplined based heavily on a safe, lawful, ethical process. This creates a healthy culture of systems-thinkng, process-driven (yet still outcome-focused) problem solvers.

Therefore, making "shit happen" in training cannot be seen as a punishment. Student officers who employ solid strategy have to understand that the unfortunate change in the situation was not in response to their correct actions. Officers who use good strategy should be PRAISED in training (and in real life too!) And any poor outcome or change in the training exercise has to be explained to these officers as a necessary part of technical and skills based testing that falls within a set of learning objectives. Imagine this evaluation to a student:
"Officer, you did everything right, especially with your use of distance, cover, and concealment. Unfortunately, we have to test you on use of the tourniquet in this environment as well as the rest of the students on an officer-down rescue, so our instructors had to tell you that you were shot in your leg. This is not a punishment to you or them. You did everything possible to reduce risk and danger in this incident. Great job!"
Officers who are a part of a culture that focuses on process understand that shit happens to good people. But they also know the sword cuts both ways. Just because something ends with a positive outcome does not mean that the process was a good one. (But that's a discussion for another time.)

Finding a Balance

There is an adage in police firearms training. It explains that weapons practice is important not because of the frequency of police shootings (clearly they are rare even in the most dangerous cities and neighborhoods). But rather shooting practice is important because of the devastating outcome if one fails to perform well. If an officer faces that unavoidable deadly force danger, s/he better be able to deliver quick and accurate fire while avoiding being struck him/herself. That officer better have preprogrammed the skills to change his/her own diaper when shit unexpectedly happens.

But we in policing all know the veteran officer who can "sell the ketchup popsicle to the woman wearing white gloves." He doesn't use force....because he knows how to avoid it. This officer talks even the most hardened criminal into submission for handcuffing. Or who brings calm to the tense and volatile situation.  Or who talks "fighter pilot cool" on the radio while driving to the most dangerous radio call. Or who grabs the rookie by the collar and says, "Slow down!" This officer is a strategic thinker.  We need more of them.

But it's easy for this veteran officer to believe s/he can talk his/her way out of all dangerous situations. It's entirely possible the next criminal will be hell-bent on killing. Or the next bullet will be a lucky stray round that finds its way under his/her ballistic vest. This officer has to remain vigilant with tactical and technical skills - use of force, fighting, teamwork, shooting, rescue, medical aid...the list is endless. Even the most potty-trained of officers experience accidents and mishaps.

We must reward process - especially solid strategic thinking. It's the strategy that keeps accidents, mishaps, and bad outcomes to a minimum.  However, the student in my class last week was right. There are a lot of assholes out there! Expect them. Prepare for the worst.


Louis Hayes is a co-developer of The Illinois Model and teaches a comprehensive suite of courses rooted in its theory and concepts. He is a 19-year police officer/detective/sergeant, currently assigned as Rangemaster and Training Coordinator. Lou authors this blog between diaper-changings (his kids'...not his own) and lessons to his kids on the art and science of Tactical Philosophy Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr


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