For years, police training has made the mistake of trying to simplify policing by making rigid “if/then” or numerically sequenced “police by numbers” policies. All this has done is create ever-growing books of police operation orders that no one could ever memorize completely. While well intentioned, this type of training ultimately results in developing officers that struggle processing information or handling situations that do not meet the “if/then” policies they were taught. This impedes an officer’s decision-making and puts them at greater risk of making poor decisions which could result in rights violations, getting injured, or possibly killed.
With the current climate surrounding policing, we cannot afford to have officers routinely making poor decisions. We, as supervisors of police officers, also do not want to see our men and women in uniform injured, killed, violate rights, or become the next “what not to do in policing” YouTube sensation. Therefore, it is vital that we recognize the best way to assist our officers is to provide training, both officially at in-service trainings and unofficially in the briefing room, that focuses on decision-making. To be more specific, we need to focus on adaptive decision-making that trains officers to creatively work their way through problems using available information and knowledge base prioritization to come to decisions that are safe, effective, within policy, within the law, and ethically right.
Over the years working with my squads, I developed the PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model. I have trained every one of my officers in this model and have seen it work on every type of call imaginable. Whether it is a traffic stop, burglary report, subject with a weapon, tactical barricade situation, or a collision scene; this model teaches officers to use their knowledge, experience, and skills to adapt and overcome the problems they face from shift to shift.
PREDICT: The PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model starts with predicting what the possible outcomes of a given situation may be or playing the “what if” game, as some like to call it. The better an officer is at visualizing possible outcomes and solutions, the better the concluding decision will be. The amount of prior experience and training an officer has directly correlates to the accuracy of the officer’s predictions regarding what could be coming. Another aspect of predicting is considering the initial role or mindset that would be best suited for the situation – warrior, guardian, enforcer, caregiver, medic, tactician, etc. The major benefit of predicting, especially accurate predictions, is that it lessens both the stress level and the initial reaction time for getting to a decision.
REACT: The next step in the PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model is to React. The officer must react to the reality of the situation they are now presented with in front of them. Does it confirm their prediction or is there new information or situational feedback to update the prediction with? React is based upon human instincts of fight/flight and self-preservation. Officer safety considerations must be part of the initial read of the situation. This step is not solely selfish in nature; it is also goal-oriented based upon the culture and mission of the role the officer is in. The primary questions being answered in this step are . . . Do I need to make a significant decision, do I have time to think, or do I need to make an immediate decision? The amount of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, chaos, and anxiety) present in the situation will lead the officer to the appropriate next step.
* If no significant decision needs to be made, proceed to evaluate and continue the situational awareness loop.
* If there is time to think and gather more information, proceed to Investigate.
* If there is NO time to think and gather more information, proceed to Decide.
INVESTIGATE: When there is time to think and gather more information, the next step in the PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model is to Investigate. Time to think does not necessarily mean that the danger of a situation is not still real and present, but it means that the officer has reached a point where they can gather new information such as the who, what, when, where, and why of the situation from various sources. It is also the time when an officer that is unfamiliar with this type of situation, can gather relevant information from either their Department Field Orders, State Legal Statutes, or the experience of a trusted source.
In the transition between React and Decide, the specific circumstance of the incident at hand must pass through the officer’s prioritized knowledge filters. As the information flows through the knowledge filters, relevant knowledge gets applied. The filters of a police officer should include their organizational culture, department mission, experience, skills, and knowledge. The organizational culture and department mission create a lens that should shadow all decisions. This is the reason law enforcement leaders cannot take organizational culture and mission for granted; significant resources, time, and effort should be dedicate to these areas throughout a department. Experience, knowledge, and skills are all obtained through classroom, reality-based, and on-the-street training. Once all applicable knowledge and experience has been applied to the circumstances of the incident, then a decision can be made.
DECIDE: The next step in the PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model is to Decide. When making the final decision, the phrase “take deliberate action” best describes what should be expected of an officer. Deliberate action means that the officer makes the decision and can then articulate their reasoning, intent, and expected outcome(s) clearly and effectively. In the law enforcement world, this usually comes out in the form of a report about the incident that highlights major decision-making points; for example, why force was used or why an arrest was made. Deliberate action also implies that an officer is confident in their decision and proceeded forward without hesitation. Certainty in a decision is absolutely dependent upon the experience, skills, and knowledge the officer brought into the situation to begin with. As the great Peyton Manning once said, “Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell you are doing.”
EVALUATE: The final step in the PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model is to Evaluate. Evaluation of decisions is critical to the continuation of the adaptive decision-making loop. Was the last decision a success or was it a failure? Both successes and failures lead to learning and add experience which will be available for the officer to draw from in the next revolution of the adaptive decision-making loop. Once an incident is completed and there are no more decisions to be made regarding its outcome, the final part of the Evaluate step is to share what was learned with others. When decision-making processes are shared with others, additional information is gained from their feedback and then added to the officer’s knowledge filters that will be available the next time a similar incident occurs. It also builds up the other officer’s knowledge filters, as well. In turn, both officers are better for discussing the process for formulating the decision(s) that handled the incident.
The PRIDE Decision-Making Model applies to making decisions on both large and small scales. The larger the scale, the more cycles of the loop that will need to be completed before a final outcome can be reached. When steps in the loop are skipped, used out of order, or done in a half-assed manner; that is when no or poor decisions are made.
The applications of the PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model are endless, but its most direct application would be to use it as the basis of a police department’s training program. Whether training in firearms, defensive tactics, emergency driving, report writing, courtroom testimony, tactical operations, handling calls for service, or any other topic, relating it to the PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model will make for better learning outcomes than any rigid “if/then” or numerically sequenced “police by numbers” policies.
Try the PRIDE Adaptive Decision-Making Model out for yourself. Imagine that you received a call for service of a burglary alarm at a residence. Walk yourself through all the decisions that must be made just to handle a simple call like this to test its application.
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Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!