Building the Custom Operator

With advancements in law enforcement and a change in the law enforcement culture, more and more agencies are putting together tactical response teams to deal with the violence found in today’s society. While certain factions of our society believe this is just the militarization of state and local law enforcement, or even more the extreme, the far- reaching hand of the federal government coming to take away their rights and freedoms, officers on these teams know differently. The tactical operators who face the dangers head on everyday know that they are there to make a positive impact on society and to save lives. With advancements in training and technology more and more officers’ lives are being saved every year, including the lives of tactical operators throughout the country.

Tactical teams are saving officers’ lives with the use of high-tech armored vehicles, select fire automatic weapons, improvements in body armor and changes in attitudes, tactics, training and technology. A few years ago the dynamic entry method was prevalent throughout tactical teams in theUnited Statesand violence of action was a dominating concept. Unfortunately officers were commonly putting their lives at more risk than was necessary for the mission being accomplished. While violence of action and the dynamic entry have their places, more and more teams are slowing down and utilizing other advanced tactics. Many teams have also convinced their local narcotics task forces that drug cases should not be built upon the plunder found during search warrants and that the cases should be solid for prosecution before their tactical teams have to execute search warrants for them. This change in mindset allows officers to have better control of their actions and lessens the chances of officers being shot and killed trying to recover narcotics. Tactical teams are first and most importantly life-saving organizations.

Unfortunately not all tactical teams are always well trained and many have difficulty getting the proper funding for what should be minimum mandatory equipment and training. Fortunately, even for under-funded teams, advancements in training concepts can allow them to build their tactical operators just as they would prefer to build their tactical weapons.

Currently, the most commonly used weapon in the tactical operator’s arsenal would easily be the AR platform rifle. This rifle is a high-quality weapon that has been in use for decades throughout the world and is being modified on virtually a daily basis to fit the operator’s needs.

One of the first steps in building better weapons systems and tactical operators is to make the weapon and the operator more flexible and able to perform in many different environments. Modifying the weapon system is easy, simply attach a collapsible stock and shorten the barrel. This allows for easier use in tight spaces while still being accurate at long distances such as in rural areas. In order to help make the operators more flexible, they must be trained in many different environments, from rural operations to close- quarter combat. Tactical teams which work in large metropolitan areas may be called upon at any time to assist agencies in rural areas, and rural agencies are commonly working in both open environments and close quarters during the same mission.

During deadly force encounters both tactical operators and their weapons must be able to prevail for the long run. High capacity magazines allow officers to stay in gun fights longer with less need for downtime during reloads. Proper physical training for operators, including strength training, cardio training, flexibility and mental preparation helps to keep operators physically in the fight for longer periods of time, allows better performance and reduces stress.

To continue improving on their weapon systems more and more tactical teams are going to weapons with select fire capabilities. This allows the officers to send one strategically placed round downrange or to send multiple rounds downrange in rapid fire succession to deal with closer, more immediate personal threats. Tactical operators can be trained not only to proficiently engage targets at multiple distances and conditions but also to be proficient on multiple weapons systems, both lethal and less lethal. Tactical operators must be able to properly select between the application of no force, less lethal force and lethal force as easily as flipping a selector switch and must be proficient with all their options.

In order for officers to see their targets and take in more information, iron sights are no longer the norm and weapon platforms are commonly being outfitted with red dot or holographic sights. These sights allow for quicker and easier target acquisition and, more importantly, they allow for operators to keep both eyes open during an engagement. Having both eyes open allows for the operators to see what is happening around them more clearly. The operators themselves can also be trained to help keep a clearer image of what is happening around them. Officers facing deadly threats often suffer from what is known as tunnel vision. Tunnel vision occurs when an officer’s stress levels rise and his pupils begin to flatten. This natural physical reaction limits the amount of visual information that the officer needs to process and helps an officer to gain a clearer threat picture; however, it can also cause an officer to miss other vital information. Officers who train to reduce their stress levels and increase their stress thresholds may be less likely to suffer from tunnel vision during deadly force encounters.

To help gather more information high power lights are also affixed to the weapons systems, thereby allowing greater visibility in low-light conditions and at night. These lights not only help to locate suspects but may also help to disorient a suspect with a blinding or dazzling light. When this occurs the suspect may not be able to properly gather needed information and it can force the suspect to focus on the light and not the all-important weapon that it is attached to and the trained professional operating it. Officers can also be trained on how to negatively impact a suspect’s information processing abilities and can intentionally cause the suspect to focus on less important information utilizing many different tools and processes. In order for the operators to maximize this ability they need to understand how to negatively affect their adversaries’ O.O.D.A. loop.

More and more tactical teams are now adding suppressors to their weapons. While these do add length and weight to the weapons systems they definitely have their up sides. Suppressors can help save officer’s hearing, especially the hearing of fellow officers in close quarters who did not know that weapons were about to be fired. Suppressors may also help to avoid letting additional suspects who are not immediately present at the scene of a shooting to know exactly what is happening. Operators who are trained to move slowly, quietly and communicate with hand signals can also gain advantages on suspects by lessening the amount of information available to the suspects about the team’s presence, location and intent.

If we take our current attitude towards our most commonly used and often most vital weapon system and look at our most vital tool in our arsenals, our minds, with the same mindset we are more likely to make better, more proficient, faster thinking, quality and skilled operators. One of the best ways to take typical tactical operators and make them a tactical machine is to understand how their training affects their actions. In order to truly understand this, supervisors, team leaders and instructors need to understand the O.O.D.A. loop, how it affects officers and how to maximize their officer’s physical and mental performance.

The term O.O.D.A. loop, which stands for Observe-Orient-Decide-Act, was coined by United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd while he was researching military history, the dynamics of fighter jets, and how fighter pilots can win in aerial combat. The O.O.D.A. loop is a simplified, but in depth, way to look at how the human brain processes information which then leads us to action or inaction.

First, we observe what is going on around us by using our senses. Next, we orient to what is going on around us by using information that we just observed and putting it into context with information rooted in our long-term memory. Then we take that information and make decisions on how to act or react. The final stage, if there truly was one, is the act. We perform a physical action to implement the decision we have made. Of course to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So we must then orient to what our action accomplished, how it failed, or what it caused, and process through the O.O.D.A. loop again. Luckily like when we breathe, we don’t have to think about the process for the process to occur.

Colonel Boyd first presented the concept of the O.O.D.A. loop in his lecture series Patterns of Conflict. Colonel Boyd not only understood the basics of the O.O.D.A. loop but also how to maximize his abilities and performance by maximizing his O.O.D.A. loop. Proof positive of his abilities was his aptly earned nickname “40 Second Boyd”. During aerial combat training Colonel Boyd was able to go from a position of disadvantage to a position of advantage for a kill in 40 seconds or less or he would have to pay his adversary $40.00. Colonel Boyd reportedly never lost a bet and was only tied one time by a United States Marine Corps pilot.

Colonel Boyd was able to earn his title by not only knowing how far he could push his airplanes, which was often further than other pilots were willing to go, but he was also able to speed up his timeline while slowing down his adversaries’ timeline. Colonel Boyd was able to speed up his timeline by knowing what action to take and when to take it without having to consciously think about his actions. This allowed him to skip the orientation and decision making phases when faced with a known threat. Colonel Boyd named this process “implicit guidance and control”. This unconscious, immediate, physical-trained reaction to a threat stimulus is also known as a “learned automatic response”.

With an advanced understanding of the O.O.D.A. loop, tactical teams can begin building more advanced operators like their weapons systems, but that is only part of the process. Tactical operators, like their weapon systems, must be cleaned, oiled and constantly maintained in order to operate smoothly and without major malfunctions. In order to perform smoothly and avoid malfunctioning operators must be properly trained and the training must be continually refined and reinforced. As training is refined and reinforced it begins to become a survival or tactical skill. Psychologist E.R. Guthrie defines a skill as, “A skill consists of the ability to bring about some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy, or of time and energy.” Encoding tactical and survival skills into operators’ long-term unconscious memories allows for operators to respond to threats and threat stimuli with the proper learned automatic responses with a minimum outlay of time and energy.

In order for physical training concepts to become true skills they must be properly encoded into the officer’s implicit or procedural long-term memory. This encoding can be accomplished with proper training and can save lives. Tactical operators should be subjected to the most lifelike training that safety allows. Training should be emotionally driven, challenging, and repetitive. Training should include multiple decision making processes including engaging shoot/don’t shoot targets and scenarios that change from active shooters to barricaded gunman, barricaded subjects to hostage rescues and other flexible lifelike scenarios. Training should be relevant to the operators and should be built on previously encoded training and skills. Suboptimal performance in training should not be a standard and training discussions should focus on the positive. When operators fail in training they should be forced to face their failures head on and repeat the training until it ends with success. This allows for increased skill confidence, stress reduction and better future performance.

Lifelike scenarios, lifelike responses and lifelike targets also help to build skill confidence, increase stress inoculation and assist in long-term memory encoding. Tactical teams of all sizes need to run training scenarios with active role players using simulated ammunition in real weapons systems or air soft type pellets in appropriate guns. Both allow for real life target engagement with actual projectiles going down range when needed. With that in mind it is important to realize that using simulated ammunition and real weapons systems allows for more realistic training, thus leading to even better stress inoculation and skill confidence in operators.

Nothing surpasses realism in training better than live fire training. Fortunately tactical teams no longer have to settle for just shooting stationary paper targets that do not pose an actual threat. Three dimensional stationary targets can be used to represent threats and innocent civilians in training and can be engaged with both real and simulated ammunition.

The best option available to many tactical teams to help build skill confidence and stress inoculation is the use of live ammunition in live fire shoot houses. Shoot houses are expensive but even departments that cannot afford their own shoot houses may be able to utilize military training facilities. Often these facilities will allow tactical teams to train in not only shoot houses but entire small towns, aircraft, buses and other challenging environments.

Many military installations also have realistic three dimensional human-like targets that can be remotely operated by range officers. These targets can be equipped with less-lethal projectile weapons systems, much like paint ball guns, and can engage operators with less-lethal rounds while being engaged by tactical operators with live fire.

When it comes to building tactical operators, like their weapons systems, it is important to remember that the weapon is not built just to look good. It is built for a purpose. While some may think they are both killing machines, they are actually life saving tools. Both require time, training and financial investments, but they are also vitally important to their departments and the public alike. Every effort should be put into making sure they operate properly, whenever needed, no matter what the conditions are, in the most efficient manner possible.







Understanding the O.O.D.A. Loop

Understanding the O.O.D.A. Loop

The more you study law enforcement training, the more you are likely to see the term “OODA loop.” This term was coined by U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd to explain the dynamics of fighter combat and why some pilots succeed when others fail. Boyd concluded that the outcomes of aerial engagements were often determined by how quickly a fighter pilot can process through the OODA, which meant to observe the enemy, orient to the stimulus presented by the enemy, decide to take action, and then act on that decision. Boyd added “loop” to signify that the process was continuous as long as combat was engaged. Today, Boyd’s combat theory is being applied to military engagements, to business strategy, to litigation, and of course to law enforcement operations and individual officer defense.

The OODA Loop has its place in law enforcement, but unfortunately, the concept has become something of a training catch phrase that is often misunderstood.

What It All Means. The OODA loop is a simple yet complex summation of how the human brain processes information and how humans react. First, you observe what is going on around you using your senses. Next, you orient to what is going on around you and put it into context with information rooted in your long-term memory, including training—both good and bad—life experiences, and your genetic heritage. After processing this information you must come to a conclusion about your surroundings, and you must make a decision to act or react. The final stage, if there truly is one, is the physical action. In order to process through the OODA loop, you must perform a physical action to implement the decision you have made. If your action is appropriate and effective you begin to gain the upper hand and can often process through more OODA loop cycles at a faster tempo than your adversary, which ultimately leads to victory.

Failing to act, or failing to act quickly and appropriately, will often result in defeat. The more defeat you suffer without being able to gain an advantage, the less likely you are to have an effective physical and mental performance. This puts you behind the reaction curve, where you process information more slowly and every time you cycle through the OODA loop you are at even more of a disadvantage. Boyd understood how people process information in combat and the role that training, experience, and forethought play in maximizing your ability to be victorious.

The Way to Victory. One of the most important things that Boyd’s OODA loop can teach you as law enforcement officers is that your survival skills such as firearms training and defensive tactics training must be properly encoded into memory.

In a life or death situation, you need to be able to process through the OODA loop as quickly and effectively as possible in order to increase your odds of survival and triumph. The fastest way to process through the OODA loop is to quickly orient to what is happening and virtually bypass the decision-making process by already knowing what action to take based on the stimulus. Boyd called the process of bypassing steps of the OODA loop “implicit guidance and control.”

Implicit guidance and control is an unconscious preplanned physical response to a known threat stimulus, which is often referred to by psychologists as a “learned automatic response.” Some experts also refer to this as a “threat stimulus response pairing.”

Mental BridgesIn order for survival skills training to truly be effective, training needs to be capable of rooting its goal, purpose, tactic, or maneuver into your long-term memory. Psychologist E.R. Guthrie wrote that “A skill consists of the ability to bring about some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy, or of time and energy.” For our purposes in law enforcement this seems to be a perfect definition of a skill because we must continue to face countless dangers, seen and unseen, and be able to bring about a proper end result with maximum certainty as quickly and safely as possible. Failure for us to do so can end in tragedy and/or unnecessary danger to the public at large.

Building these skill sets can often be accomplished by using repetitive, emotionally based interactive training that utilizes at least two human senses and is relevant to the trainee. When a skill set is encoded into your long-term memory, the body is physically building synaptic connections between brain cells. These connections help form your unconscious memory and, much like the physical training itself, the more you exercise your brain the stronger the connections become. This process can include both physical and mental training.

An easy way to understand this is to imagine two bridges as representing these synaptic connections in your mind. The first bridge is a rickety old rope bridge with missing planks. The bridge sways high above the bottom of a deep cavern and it creaks in the wind. This rickety bridge is there because you built it in one day, and you did not put the proper effort into building it. The failure to properly maintain the bridge over the years has also caused it to become more and more unstable; the ropes are rotting and the connections are weak. Unfortunately, the only reason you built the bridge was because you were told to do so by a skill set instructor, and you only had to walk across it one time by taking baby steps in order to show you could. This happens all the time in law enforcement when officers and trainers don’t think the training will actually have to be used to survive.

On the other hand, the second bridge is a large, multilane highway span that you and your brain can race across. When you built this bridge you put lots of time, effort, and physical expense into its completion, and you understand that you must properly maintain it so that it too does not deteriorate. You had expert help in building it to make certain all the connections are correct and the bridge does not fail you. You built it because you understood the need to do so, and you have most likely raced across it at least once at work, or have at least envisioned racing across it often while mentally preparing for your survival.

To understand why we want the skill sets built into your long-term unconscious memory, you should be familiar with the Theory of Schema, which states that “The conscious mind is slow and the unconscious mind is fast.” According to this theory, if you have to think before reacting, your body will suffer an approximately half-second delay. On the other hand, if you unconsciously react to a threat or stimulus, your reaction time is a small fraction of a half second.

With these pictures in your mind, simply think about which bridge you want your brain and your trained survival skill set to have to race across while engaging someone who is determined on taking your life in a cold, dark alley.

When you have a greater understanding of how the OODA loop works, how skills training is set into your long-term unconscious memory, and how these can affect your physical response to a threat stimulus, it is easier to understand the need for proper skills training. Not only can the training assist you in properly orienting and responding to a threat, it can help you avoid improper responses.

Unfortunately, officers are sometimes improperly trained, and habits are not corrected and allowed to continue in training. When this happens officers are unfairly placed in situations that may lead to ultimate failure and loss. Take, for example, the tragic story in Colorado where an officer was involved in a deadly gun battle with an armed assailant and reportedly fired at the assailant at distance from the high-tuck position. This improper, most likely unconscious response, allowed the firearm to entangle with the officer’s uniform, causing the officer’s gun to jam. Unable to quickly fix the jam, the officer then reportedly raised a hand and appeared to wait momentarily for assistance, only to be executed by an advancing assailant who was more than willing to take advantage of the situation.

The tragic loss of an officer’s life in this situation may have stemmed from both improper training, shooting from the high-tuck position while the assailant was not in close quarters, and from a bad, uncorrected habit of raising a hand for assistance on the firing range. When trainers allow officers to do such things on the range they allow them to become a learned automatic response to a malfunction.

In order to help prevent future tragedies, we owe it to ourselves and our families to ensure that we, as officers, trainers, and supervisors, know and understand how the OODA loop works and how to maximize our training for survival. Take time to look at your physical traits and habits at work. Could you be unknowingly setting yourself up for failure?
Are your trainers presenting training because they are required to, or are they presenting well thought out training that is more likely to help you survive life and death struggles?

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


Hitting the Mark in Training

It is unfortunate how easily law enforcement trainers and departments can miss the mark when it comes to officer survival training. Most of these misses may be attributed to simple human errors including a lack of understanding, complacency and laziness. These factors simply mean that departments, for whatever reason, don’t want to change or don’t see the need to change training tactics and techniques.

If you step back and look at this situation you may see that those “misses” are actually failures and failing to properly train officers can lead to devastating consequences for officers, agencies and the public. Not only can failing to properly train lead directly to inappropriate and ineffective actions by officer it is also a major component of most law suits against law enforcement agencies when it comes to excessive force claims and claims of civil rights violations.

In Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386 (1989) the courts not only set the precedent for the three pronged test, which most agencies and individual officers are aware of, but the court also set the custom, pattern or practice precedent. Custom, pattern or practice can be summed up to show that if a department’s customs, patterns or practices demonstrate such an obvious need for different training that policy makers could reasonable be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need, under the concept of knew or should have known, and liability could therefore arise for the department. Unfortunately for departments and officers involved in civil rights litigation the courts may believe they see an obvious need for different training when policy makers “missed” or failed to see the same need.

Even if departments are compliant with the orders set forth by the court in Graham v. Connor they may still be missing the root of the training issue, a lack of understanding of how the brain works along with body and how to positively affect change. In order for agencies and officers to overcome this hurdle they again often need to step back and look at the situation or training.

As more officers are learning, a good way to get a fresh look at survival skills training is to start with a basic understanding of the O.O.D.A. Loop and how it affects officers. The O.O.D.A. Loop is a simplified, but in depth way to look at how the human brain processes information and helps us makes decisions and spring to action when presented with potential threats.

One concept often missed when dealing with the O.O.D.A. Loop is what Boyd called “implicit guidance and control”. Implicit guidance and control represents an unconscious pre-planned physical response to a threat stimulus and is also known as a learned automatic response. Simplified, this ability means that we can perform a physical skill, such as drawing your firearm from a level three retention holster, under great physical and psychological stress without conscious thought or intent. When we perform these types of actions unconsciously they are faster, feel more instinctive and allow our conscious minds to focus on threats and other tasks at hand. While it is becoming more common to hear about the O.O.D.A. loop in magazine articles, web blogs or training seminars, many instructors miss the mark when they talk about the O.O.D.A. Loop because they fail to step back and see how to incorporate the ins and outs of the O.O.D.A. Loop into officer survival skills training for proper long term memory encoding and they only use it as the catch phrase of the day.

A recently published article claiming to have been written by a skills instructor with decades of experience in instruction taught that physical survival skills, much like the skill of knowing how to drive a vehicle, are stored in your short term memory. This constitutes a great “miss” when trying to get survival skills training to hit the mark and shows a lack of understanding of how and where memory is encoded, how the O.O.D.A. Loop works and how to maximize training to increase our odds of survival.

It is true that your short term memory is vital to officer survival and can be effectively used to make an action plan including available options for officers when facing immediate “what if” situations, thereby helping to speed up their O.O.D.A. Loops. It can also be very successfully used as a virtual trainer to help strengthen long term memory connections in the brain but the unconscious, pre-planned, physical threat-stimulus response survival skills that officers need to win the day must be properly rooted in an officers unconscious long term memory so the skills can be employed without the need for conscious thought or decision making in a critical stress environment. In order to accomplish this task we must understand how we learn and how memory is encoded, both positively and negatively.

Aristotle said “Learning occurs through the association of two stimuli or a stimulus and a response”. Survival skills training should consist of the association of true to life stimuli and a true to life response, or as close as we can safely get in law enforcement training to help properly encode it into our long term unconscious memory.

It is a challenge for supervisors, survival skills instructors and officers of all ranks and positions to step back, look beyond their typical training programs and find ways to maximize them to hit the mark. Take a fairly typical firearms qualification course and the phenomenons of sympathetic and contagious fire as an example.

For years the act of firing your weapon at a suspect or potential threat just because your partner fired was considered to be “sympathetic fire”. A deeper look leads many to classify sympathetic fire as an involuntary startle response from the sympathetic nervous system when the officer improperly has their finger on the trigger and for whatever reason becomes scared or startled. With this definition of a sympathetic nervous system response we can easily see that the training failure is allowing officers to disengage their safety and put their finger on the trigger before intentionally firing their weapons.

A better label for the old sympathetic fire syndrome, a voluntary responsive reaction by a fellow officer to fire at a potentially deadly threat based solely on the fact that another officer fired rounds at the same potential threat; would be “contagious fire”. Contagious fire incidents may involve numerous officers all firing solely because a fellow officer is firing. This phenomenon has also been called an “associative firing impulse” and occurs when officers believe that the other officer who initiated fire must have correctly identified a deadly threat. During these incidents officers who may not have originally fired their weapons may end up firing their weapons as the number of rounds fired by other officers increases.

When contagious fire is captured on video it often appears as sporadic uncontrolled mayhem where officers are sometimes caught in the crossfire, which can also cause more problems when the officers become mistaken about the actual origin of the firing. We all know that the news media and defense lawyers love to play up the number of rounds fired during any officer involved shooting but it sometimes appears that we may feed their fire during contagious fire incidents.

Not all situations where multiple officers fire a large number of rounds at a deadly threat to life indicate any type of a failure, but we must admit that there are situations where stress, emotions, a lack of information and a lack of proper training can easily lead to and have led to uncontrolled, contagious fire incidents by officers who never even saw or understood the threat that were trying to stop. Officers may also be mistaken about the origin of the shots fired which they are hearing thus compounding the situation.

The challenge to trainers and agencies is how to combat this type of overreaction and to keep the officers and public safe while limiting their liability. First ask the question, “Do we train officers to shoot just because other officers are shooting?” The answer should be “No” but look at a fairly typical firearms qualification course. Officers are lined up in front of paper target and told to “fire” or given another threat command when the instructor wants them to fire a set number of rounds at the target, which may or may not be a lifelike threat target with a deadly weapon. If an officer misses the instructor give the threat command he/she will likely begin firing just because other officers are firing. If they don’t respond to the sound of gunfire in this manner they will likely fail the qualification course because they did not get enough rounds on the target.

Repeat this type of qualification course over and over throughout the years and it can easily seed in an officer’s long term unconscious memory as a threat-stimulus response to the sound of gunfire next to them.

We all know that officers are all responsible for their own actions and rounds down range but if you don’t think this type of response is programmed into officers then imagine this training scenario. Officers are safely lined up in front of threat targets at an indoor range. The instructor turns out the lights and without the officers knowledge turns the targets to the side so no physical threat target is presented to the officers. The instructor gives the threat command and fires a blank round aimed downrange from the line. Do you think other officers will fire their weapons? Will more officers, who did not originally fire, fire their weapons because more and more officers are? If you think that even one officer will suffer from contagious fire there is a training failure.

How can we combat this, especially if we don’t have access to turning targets? It may be as easy as making the officers think momentarily before firing on the threat command. An example of how this may be accomplished is by placing different colors, shapes and or numbers on the threat targets. When the threat command is given a color, shape or number is also called out so that officers must quickly analysis their own target to see if it matches the threat target before engaging the target. If the color, shape or number does not match the threat indicator the target is not a threat and the officer must wait to engage even though officers next to them are firing their weapons. This type of training can also help to encourage officers to better scan their threats to ensure that they are not missing vital information like a police badge on the belt line. If you want to make sure that officers are still willing to shoot and assist their partners, allow them to safely shoot at a partner’s threat target if safe to do so.

While this is just one possible solution, and creative thinking by officers and trainers can yield many different training options, it may be the first step to avoiding a future deadly mistake. All agencies need to occasionally step back, look at the physical survival skills training that they are providing to their officers, and be willing to review their training programs to ensure that they are not missing the mark when it comes to officer survival training.

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Finding Your Victory!

One of the most important things to understand about officer survival skills training, including firearms, arrest control and defensive tactics, is that while officers are training their bodies to perform a distinct physical action under stress they are actually preparing their minds first. During a quick search on the internet you can easily find video after video of law enforcement officers getting shot in a variety of circumstances. Their actions and reactions say a lot about their mindsets going into the deadly confrontations. From shock and acceptance of failure, asking another officer to tell your wife and kids that you love them while dealing with a non-life threatening flesh wound, to the absolute resolve to win after having taken physical punishment that could easily have killed others. The difference often lies in the officer’s mental preparation. The acknowledgement that no matter what happens they will win and be victorious. It is an inherent ability of the officers to find their victory.

A few decades ago law enforcement trainers began realizing how vital an officer’s mindset was and began training law enforcement officers in the concept of not accepting death. To hang on during the worst moments of their lives’ and refuse to die. To think positive thoughts about friends and family and how you will see them again.

While an “I will not die today” mindset is vital in law enforcement, a strong argument can be made that it is not enough. A refusal to die, while a good beginning, still leaves officers with an option to lose. It sets a minimum standard and not an ultimate goal. It allows officers to lay in the mud waiting for someone else to take control instead of pushing the officer to own the situation that they find themselves in and control their outcome.

When Deputy DeGrow from the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was shot six times while investigating a burglary in 2011, including being shot in the face and losing an eye, the radio traffic proves that he was able to remain calm and took control of his situation. Deputy DeGrow was not only able to call for help and provide fellow deputies with information on his assailant he seemed to realize that not only was he going to need medical assistance but that he was not in a good place for his help to find and assist him. Deputy DeGrow can be heard working his way out of his location to an area where help could get to him easier, thus allowing him to take ownership in his situation. When we can take ownership of these situations we can help reduce our fear, stress and anxiety. When we reduce our stress we can help fend off panic and the unconscious fight, flight and freeze response, allowing us to keep our conscious thinking minds in control in a time when we need it the most.

When Officer Osilka from the Loveland Police Department was shot in the line of duty at point blank range by a sawed off shotgun he suffered major trauma to his upper chest leaving a whole the size of his fist. While the round was stopped by his vest the physical compression into his chest cavity broke numerous bones and collapsed both of his lungs leaving him struggling to breathe to stay alive. After returning fire at the fleeing suspect Officer Osilka began a self-assessment in an attempt to determine the extent of his injuries. Not being able to see his injury because it was too high on his chest he reached up with his hand and found that he was now able to put his own hand inside of his chest.

Running out of air and with an extreme burning feeling in his chest Officer Osilka’s thoughts turned to his family and how he was not going to let his assailant win and take him from his family. Officer Osilka always knew that this day was a possibility and had pre-determined that he was not going to allow someone else to win. Quickly realizing that he was in charge of his own fate Officer Osilka told himself one simple thing. As long as I can breathe, even a little, I can stay alive. Officer Osilka was able to radio for help and begin broadcasting suspect information, eventually leading to his capture and conviction. Even while being rolled into the operating room Officer Osilka’s refusal to lose was apparent when he called his wife on a borrowed cell phone and told her that he had been shot, was going into surgery and would see her in a little while.

A victory under such circumstances does not always come with winning the gunfight but it does come when we take ownership of the situation and take control of our own survival. Both officers lived through their encounters after suffering life threatening wounds.  Both officers got to see their attackers off to prison but most importantly they both took control, owned the situations that they found themselves in and found their victories at a time when they needed it the most.

Officers owe it to themselves, their friends, their partners, and most importantly their families to take a new look at their mental preparation and mindsets. It is not enough for officers to be determined not to die when someone is attempting to take their lives, they need to be fully committed to coming out on top and being victorious.

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

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

The Third Brake Light Theory

Approaching vehicles during what are commonly referred to and misrepresented as routine” traffic stops has always been an extremely dangerous task that officers in the United States and around the world face everyday in law enforcement. Without direct, prior knowledge of any criminal activities that the occupant or occupants have been involved in, little is ever really known about the occupants, their mindsets or intentions when officers make the short but possibly deadly walk up to the vehicle.

Law enforcement trainers have taught different approaches on vehicle stops for years, but not all law enforcement officers can agree on the safest ways to approach a vehicle. Some officers approach vehicles on the driver’s side and position themselves at the driver’s windows. Some stay behind the B pillar on the driver’s side, while others believe that standing in front of the A pillar and looking into the vehicle partially through the windshield in a more face-to-face manner with the occupants provides them with a better view into the vehicle and of the driver’s hands. Many officers will utilize a passenger side approach on at least a few occasions during their careers when they feel that something may be unusual about the situation or they have a specific officer safety concern. Advocates for each of these techniques can attempt to argue that their preferred approaches are safer or more tactically sound than others, but few officers would agree that simply standing at the driver’s side window and leaning into the vehicle is a safe tactical approach to traffic stops.

With that in mind, the question of why officers find themselves in bad positions on traffic stops begs to be answered. The answer is usually very simple–laziness. Officers can easily find themselves being lackadaisical about their vehicle contacts because they get complacent after having conducted hundreds or thousands of stops without encountering immediate danger on first contact. Even officers who have encountered a deadly threat upon first contact may slack on their officer safety and find themselves quickly becoming complacent about their initial vehicle approaches. Some officers believe that the best approach is to have the driver of the vehicle exit the vehicle and walk back to the officer’s patrol car. While this may alleviate some of the dangers faced during the initial contact, it opens the door for entirely new dangers including face-to-face gunfights where the offender has the ability to quickly and freely move on their feet, rush the officers or to jump back into a vehicle.

In order to minimize some of the risks involved with traffic stops, some common officer safety techniques have been agreed upon by most of the law enforcement community and include how to position your patrol vehicles. The most common technique of off-setting your vehicle to the left and canting the front to an angle gives you some limited protection if an occupant of the vehicle engages you with gunfire from a distance. It also helps to create a small buffer zone designed to keep you safer from vehicles and careless drivers who are driving by your stop once you are in front of your car and interacting with the occupants of the vehicle that you stopped.

In addition to how we stop and approach vehicles, officers are allowed, and should be encouraged, to transition from “routine” traffic stops to a high risk stops if they observe dangerous furtive movements on behalf of the occupants at any time. Unfortunately, most officers commonly miss what could arguably be the easiest danger sign that they should not approach the vehicle in the first place. Not because they are being lazy or were trained wrong but because they were never trained to recognize, understand and address the danger sign in the first place.

This is what I call the third brake light theory. Law enforcement agencies throughout the United States have been using dash board cameras for years, and footage from those cameras has captured a large number of officer-involved shootings during traffic stops. Upon closer examination many of these videos have shed light on a common trend on behalf of the suspects– the brake lights are almost always on when the officers approach the vehicles and the offenders shoot or attempt to shoot the officers upon the initial contact. In order to help understand what this means and how to interpret the information, it is important to have a basic understanding of the O.O.D.A. loop and how it works. The O.O.D.A. loop was coined by Col John Boyd of the United States Air Force when he was researching aerial combat tactics, techniques and human behavior. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. The O.O.D.A. loop not only explains how we gather, process, decipher and act on information provided to us, it can also help us to get a glimpse of what other people are thinking or planning. Once you understand how the O.O.D.A. loop works and you pick up on an officer safety or survival danger sign, you can often use your adversary’s O.O.D.A. loop against them by disrupting their mental and physical processes before they can take physical action against you.

When most people are contacted on traffic stops by law enforcement officers, they put the vehicle in park because they know they will be interacting with the officers and that they are not simply allowed leave. Most drivers also understand that they will have to provide the officers with their driver’s licenses and paperwork, which will usually have the drivers somewhat distracted and in need of their free hands to comply.

When someone is stopped and they do not have any intent on staying around long enough to gather documents and interact with the officers, there is no need for them to put the vehicle in park. If the driver is intending on shooting the officer on first contact then immediately fleeing in the vehicle, it is not only a waste of time to put the vehicle in park, it is tactically unsound for them to do so. What they do not likely understand or think about is the fact that their brake lights will be activated, thereby warning the officers of the possible impending deadly assault.

This of course does not mean that every person who is stopped and leaves their vehicle in drive is intent on shooting and killing law enforcement officers. Many good, average citizens simply get nervous when stopped on traffic stops, or they may be in such a hurry to get somewhere that they don’t wish to stay around but are not an immediate threat.

Vehicle manufacturing rules in the United States have made this danger sign easier for law enforcement officers to spot with the advent of the third brake light. This light, centered on the back of the vehicle, does not activate with the driving lights as the other brake lights do so it provides for a clear, easy-to-see warning sign that should prompt officers to take a pause, verbally and calmly address the driver and analyze the situation.

A simple way to check for compliance, calmly challenge the occupants, and disrupt an adversary’s O.O.D.A. loop is for the officer to simply tell the driver to put the vehicle in park and turn the engine off. This should be done before physically approaching the vehicle. The majority of people will put the vehicle in park and comply because they did not have any ill intent in the first place.

Numerous video examples of officers coming under fire during the initial contact with vehicle occupants are available on-line and include the video of ex-con and 211 crew gang member Evan “Evil” Ebel shooting Montague Deputy James Boyd during a traffic stop in Texas. Ebel was suspected of shooting and killing Nathan Leon in order to steal his pizza delivery uniform, only to wear it during the deadly ambush of Tom Clements, the head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, at his residence. During the traffic stop in Texas, Deputy Boyd approached Ebel’s Cadillac sedan and approached on the passenger side of the vehicle. The brake lights were clearly activated the entire time and Ebel can be seen watching the passenger side approach. Ebel shot Deputy Boyd three times before fleeing the scene, only to later be killed during a shootout with other law enforcement officers.

While there are no guarantees in this or any other incident that simply addressing the driver of a vehicle who has not put his vehicle in park will prevent a shooting, it may encourage a suspect who is contemplating shooting an officer on first contact to flee instead. Officers should consider it a victory if the driver refuses to comply and flees in the vehicle because they may have just avoided a deadly assault against them.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations study titled Violent Encounters, a Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers, indicated that two thirds of the suspects interviewed during the study that had killed or attempted to kill law enforcement officers believed that the officers were not aware of how dangerous the situations had become. The study followed up and concluded that most of the surviving officers were in fact unaware of the impending assaults.

The tactics behind verbally addressing the driver and ordering them to put the vehicle in park and turn it off are not only a simple way to check the driver’s level of compliance, but it will also let the offenders know that the officers are paying attention to their surroundings and are physically on guard. Offenders, having had their plans and O.O.D.A. loops disrupted, may believe that officers are aware of the dangers or impending assault and are then forced to change their plans. Because their plans for an ambush at the window did not work out and the officers are still located near their patrol vehicles, the suspects will not know what the officer will do next and will have more difficulty processing through another plan of attack.

By disrupting an adversary’s O.O.D.A. loop, officers are able to lessen the risks of a deadly assault upon first contact and force an offender to choose between putting himself in a more vulnerable position during the contact and fleeing. Addressing the driver and challenging his compliance also helps to move officers into a more alert status, affords them a tactical pause in relative safety, helps to prepare their O.O.D.A. loops for what may come next, and may in the end help to avert another tragedy.

Never be afraid to research, learn and utilize new tactics and techniques to keep you and your partners safer. You owe it to yourself, your partners and your families.

To learn more about O.O.D.A. Loop based Officer Survival for law enforcement visit us at, like us on Facebook at or follow us on LinkedIn at Rally Point Training Consulting.