The O.O.D.A. Loop and Officer Survival

The world of law enforcement is currently taking a beating from the liberal media, and politicians with their own agendas who have a tendency to make decisions based on their own ambitions and not public safety. Two of the greatest changes in law enforcement that are currently sweeping the country are the implementation of body cameras for officers and the often hyped up perception that officers are too aggressive while making arrests. While video recovered from these cameras can greatly assist officers in their investigations, they are commonly being used to change the way that officers are being judged on how they perform their jobs. This judgement is not always being made by experts who understand law enforcement, the rules that officers live and die by and constitutional law. More and more often officers are being judged with 20/20 hindsight by critics instead of by the fellow officer rule as instructed by the courts. This type of unethical judgement undermines law enforcement officers and ads increased stress to an already stressful occupation. Even with this type of armchair quarterbacking taking place inside of departments, in the media and in the courtrooms, officers are still required to make life and death split second decisions on a daily basis.

In this ever changing and difficult world it is vitally important that officers and their agencies take a new look at their officer survival training concepts and understand that the best way to win the next physical assault, ugly arrest or critical incident is to avoid it in the first place. While this may sound simplistic, it is vitally important for officers to be able to increase their odds of success and survival by keeping up on their tactics and watching closely for indicators that something bad is coming their way.

The FBI study on violent encounters, A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nations Law Enforcement Officers, showed that approximately two thirds of suspects who assaulted officers in the study knew that the officers did not see the attacks coming. The study also confirmed that most of the surviving officers were unaware of the impending assaults and missed signs of concealed weapons. It is fair to assume that the officers may have also missed other pre-attack indicators and that the suspects would have been less likely to attempt the assaults if they knew that the officers not only saw the attacks coming but were prepared for the assaults and were likely to win during the confrontations. Researchers also showed that the officers commonly failed to follow the rules on waiting of backup, proper handcuffing procedures and prisoner handling during these contacts.

Along with re-enforcing these common safety rules, officers need to better understand the O.O.D.A. Loop and how to incorporate it into law enforcement. The O.O.D.A. Loop, which stands for Observe-Orient-Decide-Act, and was originally coined by Col Boyd USAF and was used in aerial combat but has numerous applications in law enforcement today. One of the many keys to the O.O.D.A. Loop that officers can incorporate into their officer survival tactics and training is the understanding that suspects, like poker players, often have “tells” indicating their intent to take action. These “tells” include pre-attack indicators, indicators of conceals weapons and pre-flight indicators to name a few. When officers miss these “tells” which are often presented during the suspects’ Decision making phases, the suspects may continue to have the tactical advantage and are more empowered to take action against the officers. One simple “tell” that is often missed is commonly seen when a suspect is planning on physical flight during an encounter with officers on the street.

During these contacts suspects will often take a quick look for an escape route before fleeing on foot. When an officer picks up on this indicator he or she can prepare to give chase or better yet, confront the suspect with the knowledge that they know the suspect is planning on fleeing and reset the suspects’ O.O.D.A. Loops back to the Observation and Orientation phases. When officers are able to pick up on these types of indicators, inform the suspects that their intended actions are known and will be unsuccessful, the suspects have to deal with the fact that they have just lost the tactical advantage that they were looking for. The foot pursuit and associated inherent dangers may then be avoided.

While this is only an example of one type of indicator that officers need to be able to pick up on, and one example of how to incorporate the O.O.D.A. Loop into your officer survival concepts, it is also an example of how we can take a new look at our officer survival tactics, techniques and training. Not only do we owe it to ourselves but we also owe it to our co-workers, friends and most importantly our families to make sure that we are doing everything that we can on a daily basis to make it home at the end of our shifts.

For more information about Rally Point Training Consulting or our O.O.D.A. Loop based Officer Survival seminars visit us at or like us at For more information about the author connect with Derek at

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