Does Mass Violence Unfold Randomly and Chaotic or is There Hidden Order We Can Leverage in Our Prevention Efforts?

“Newton’s laws describe the motion of everything under the Sun and give physics great power in its ability to relate cause and effect. Yet the path of a ball in a pin ball machine seems to defy human control, it seems chaotic.” ~Chaos, Professor Steven Strogatz, Cornell University

Chaotic, a word often used to describe, the acts of mass killings we see happening all too frequently as of late and over the past couple of decades. Although still rare statistically, the randomness, unpredictability, chaos and sheer rage and deliberate violence and lives taken, involved in these acts has us with a laser like focus on, questioning, WHY would someone be so evil and do something like this, something so senseless, seemingly random and unpredictable? Yet when we dig deeper into these seemingly chaotic and random acts there seems to be some determinism, something’s in common, that strangely attracts these killers, towards rage filled outbursts that leads to these horrific and violent acts. Within these acts of violence is there some semblance of hidden order we can harness in the prevention of violent encounters? If so, what are these strange attractors that lead to chaos, hidden within the mind of a mass killer as stress, anxiety, motive and intent? When and how do they manifest themselves in the signs and signals we can read and interpret helping us exploit an opportunity in a timely way to prevent the violence and the chaos that ensues?

The science of chaos asks a critical question I think relevant to these violent acts. How can something be chaotic and random yet follow deterministic laws? I am a non-scientist but I am an avid explorer into violent acts and the people that commit them, who asks critical questions, how does chaos relate to violence and what are the commonalties in these tragedies that can help us prevent more violence from occurring and bring order to disorder? Can we predict violence in its chaotic and disordered form or is there something hidden or fail to see or, see and fail to act on in those who would commit violence in its ugliest form, that can help us prevent violent acts and if so, how?

What is chaos? The ancient Greeks summarized the tension between order and disorder with two opposing words cosmos and chaos. Cosmos means order. Chaos initially meant chasm, the abyss, the bottomless pit. Later, it came to mean the primeval state before creation, a state of utter disorder. This sense of “chaos” as utter confusion persisted into the modern era. Over the past few decades scientist began finding strange, unexpected connections between different forms of chaos. Geologist noticed surprising patterns in the frequency of earthquakes. The same patterns appeared in the variability of human heart rates and bursts of traffic on the internet. The rules of chaos were turning out to be universal, independent of the stuff behaving chaotically, the same for electronic circuits, lasers, chemical reactions, or nerve cells. It was if disorder was a thing in itself. It didn’t matter what was behaving chaotically; the process of becoming chaotic was turning out to be lawful, but the laws were like nothing science had ever seen before. (Chaos, Professor Steven Strogatz, Cornell University, 2008) Continue reading

Take Small Steps, Towards, Lifelong Learning In 2013

“The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better. You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end the man they commemorate is the builder.” ~Jacob Bronowski

Professional trainers/developers will tell you they are sometimes a teacher, but always a student. This is a very important attribute we cops must make an effort to continuously “build” and improve upon. There is a constant ebb and flow of conflict in our world and we need to be able to cope with the diverse conditions and adapt sound tactical options towards them in a way that makes sense. What we must develop is a way to respond to these diverse situations without taking a dogmatic closed-minded approach. Our responses need to be executed with strategic and tactical mindsets versus the all too prevalent emotional responses basked in a false sense of urgency or the, this is the only way we do it mentality.

The key to mastering our craft is learning. Learning is something I consider to be a lifelong building process of continuous improvement. If we are to succeed in continuous improvement and become, better than good, we must, take an interest in our own learning and in how, what we learn applies to, what we do. This does not come from a sole training class or even a full academy. It does come from making every effort to better ourselves throughout our lives. Continue reading

In Mastering Tactics Shouldn’t We Be Blending Policy and Procedures with People and Ideas?

“In complex settings in which we have to take the context into account, we can’t codify all the work in a set of procedures. No matter how comprehensive the procedures, people probably will run into something unexpected and will have to use their judgment.” ~Gary Klein

Much of this post comes from an outstanding book, Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, written by Gary Klein. Klein is a leading researcher on recognized primed decision making and experiential learning that has culminated in two other books, “Sources of Power” and “Intuition at Work,” as well, as, countless research papers. The information in this topic of decision making and how to create and nurture it, is beneficial to every cop in their quest to mastering tactics and tactical decision making and are a must read for every cop wanting to be more effective and safe on the street. My purpose is to get cops thinking about this Critical question: In mastering tactics shouldn’t we be blending policy and procedure with people and ideas?

It should be understandable that teaching people, procedures helps them perform tasks more skillfully doesn’t always apply. Procedures are most useful in well-ordered situations when they can substitute for skill, not augment it. In complex situations, in the shadows of the unknown, uncertain and unpredictable and complex world of law enforcement conflict, procedures are less likely to substitute for expertise and may even stifle its development. Continue reading

Book Review: Guerrilla Leader: T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt

Guerrilla Leader,I read last year and have been meaning to do a review.  T.E. Lawrence in my humble opinion was the epitome of what a leader should be. As you read the book you will find it is much more than a lesson in history and that it is in fact, a lesson in leadership. T.E. Lawrence took the principle of know yourself and no your enemy to a level I have not read of anywhere before. He dug in and learned all he could about the Arab culture and adapted his leadership style to meet the task at hand.

Think about it a British officer becomes liaison officer to the Arabs during the Arab revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule. He is able to gain their trust which forms into mutual trust and inspires them to action in campaigns of insurgency distracting the Ottoman Turks.

The book covers the campaigns, his ideas on strategy and tactics, his triumphs and troubles and my favorite part his leadership style which is adaptive and relevant today.

The next couple of pages are straight from the book Chapter 7: “The Grief of Leaders” which ultimately discusses the toll combat, combat leadership, betrayal and distrust can take on an individual and talks of Lawrence’s internal struggles within himself and the British Army. I found this particular section on what the author describes as Heroic verses Autonomous Leadership very intriguing. Continue reading

Mutual Trust, Unity and Cohesion Underlie Everything

“The challenge for every organization is to build a feeling of oneness of dependence one another because the question is usually not how well each person works, but how well they work together.” ~Vince Lombardi

Cohesion is the message of Coach Lombardi in the quote above. Cohesion means sticking together. It is hard to underrate it. So how do we create and nurture it?

I read an interesting article, which mentioned S.L.A. Marshall, who was a military historian who developed a unique way of doing historical research. He went to the front lines and interviewed everyone from private soldiers to their sergeants and officers, right after the action. He frequently came under fire in doing his research. Afterwards he analyzed his results.

One of the most amazing things he discovered was that when it was a life and death situation in battle, soldiers soon forgot about their idealism or patriotic reasons for fighting. If things were tough enough, even unit pride lost much of its power. But there was one emotion which never slipped. It was such a strong motivator that soldiers would frequently give up their lives because of it. What was this great motivator? It was not to let their buddies down. Everything else might vanish under the stresses and strains of combat, but not this one feeling. That feeling made all the difference in sticking together, in cohesion. No wonder that the idea of an army constituting a “band of brothers” should be shared by cops. It is the wise leader who fosters cohesion for with it; any organization is many times stronger than an organization that lacks it.

Cohesion is one of the most important elements of organizational productivity. Cohesion means that every member of the organization bears a responsibility for success or failure. Cohesion helps motivate members to put the organization needs above their individual needs. If we focus on sowing cohesion verses sowing discord how much more effective an organization would we be? How much better servants would we be? How much better prepared would we be for handling crisis situations? How much more respect would we garner from one another, from the community? How much stress and anxiety would be relieved if cohesion out weighed individualism?

Cohesion will help the organization attain great achievements. Police departments are organizations that can create and nurture this group feeling of unity also known as cohesion or esprit de corps. Yes it takes work. Yes it takes self reflection and self-awareness and learning to focus on the important issues, like each other and those we serve. Yes it takes getting out of the past and moving forward! For example; if you feel you have been wronged professionally in some way that’s ok…for a short period of time, but then you must pick yourself up and carry on! I have seen too many folks in our profession let an ass chewing or some other grievance ruin there careers and or more critically ruin their attitudes toward other officers and the public they serve. To quote the character Rocky Balboa: “It ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” In other words being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.

“Know yourself and seek self improvement” is a leadership principle I have never forgotten since my days in the Marine Corps and it is applicable to us cops of all ranks as well. There are 16 traits that we should focus on when we put the principle “Know yourself and seek self improvement” to work creating and nurturing a cohesive environment.

  • Courage or strength of character, demonstrated by taking calculated risks on the street and with your boss back at the station. Acting calmly in stressful situations. Standing up for what’s right, regardless of what others might think. Accepting personal responsibility for your mistakes. Making full-bore effort towards, mission accomplishment, even in the face of obstacles and problems.
  • Bearing demonstrated by setting and maintaining high standards of professionalism.
  • Decisiveness is demonstrated by studying alternatives and carefully selecting the best course of action when time permits. Picking alternatives and making decision quickly when there is no time for careful study. Knowing when not to make a decision.
  • Dependability, demonstrated by being places on time when you’re told to be there or when you say you will. Doing those tasks that you have been told to do and those tasks that you’ve promised to do in a complete and timely manner.
  • Endurance, demonstrated by maintaining the physical and mental stamina to perform your duties under stress conditions and for extended periods of time.
  • Enthusiasm, demonstrated by consistently communicating a positive attitude. Emphasizing each others successes. Encouraging officers to take the initiative to overcome obstacles to performance.
  • Humility, demonstrated by ensuring officers receives credit due them when they perform well. Emphasizing to one another how important they are to the unit. Describing performance in terms of “what WE did” instead of “what I did.”
  • Humor, demonstrated by having fun doing your job. Joking when the going gets tough.
  • Initiative, demonstrated by taking action in situations where something must be done, even in the absence of direction from a superior. Looking for and figuring out better ways to do things. Planning ahead.
  • Integrity, demonstrated by telling the truth, to both your superiors and your fellow officers.
  • Judgment, demonstrated by closely considering a range of alternatives before you act. Thinking out the possible effects of what you’re about to do before you do it.
  • Justice, demonstrated by consistent application of rewards and punishments to all in your unit. Making decision that support mission accomplishment and that also take into account the needs of officers. Listening to all sides of an issue before making a decision that affects all.
  • Knowledge, demonstrated by making sound tactical decisions. Performing administrative and technical duties well. Recognizing and correcting inadequate performance.
  • Tact, demonstrated by speaking to others with the same kind of respect that you expect yourself.
  • Loyalty, demonstrated by passing on and carrying out the tough orders of superiors without expressing personal criticism. Defending officers against unfair treatment from outside or above. Discussing problems in your unit and the problems of your officers only with those individuals who can help solve the problems.
  • Selflessness, demonstrated by ensuring that the needs of your officers are met before attending to your own needs. Sharing hardship, danger and discomfort. Taking every action possible to provide for the welfare of one another.

The responsibility for developing our abilities and the type of organization we want rest squarely on each and every one of our shoulders. Like good leaders cops are made not born. But the making of a good cop, the making of a good law enforcement agency involves dedication, hard work, and a willingness to try out new skills and techniques, new attitudes as we grow and develop.

There is warmth in being part of a cohesive group which comforts and helps when the environment is hostile and that this comradeship means that each individual is one of the whole, bearing part of the responsibility for either success or failure. If we want to build an organization that will last, one that can grow in good times and bad, we must develop a shared feeling of accomplishment. We must continually develop strategic wins for our organizations, our communities, and not just for our own personal and private gain.

Our own band of brothers, “the brotherhood in blue” has slipped into individualism of the past few decades. It is time we begin to understand the benefits of unity and mutual trust which lubricate the OODA cycle and reduce friction and builds confidence in our abilities to execute. Let’s bring that comradeship back into the ranks of law enforcement with strength and honor.

Sun Tzu said; “you must control your soldiers with esprit de corps. You must bring them together by winning victories. You must get them to believe in you.” Hell this quote is 2500 hundred years old and I often find it humorous that we often struggle with its simple message. I believe we are more than capable of attaining this if we focus outward on our mission to protect and serve and focus outward on others verses inward and solely on ourselves. It is the positive attribute of selflessness that is the key to obtaining this. As cops we are public servants but we must also treat and serve ourselves with integrity while holding each other accountable in a candid and fair way. Trust is the cornerstone of cooperation. It is a function of awareness and respect.

I have heard it said; moral accountability is the foundation, either solid or crumbling, upon which our legacies stand. Let’s make ours a solid foundation based in unity and supported on earned trust.

Stay Oriented!


Broken Windows…A Powerful Strategy, When Applied Robustly


“Public order is a fragile thing, and if you don’t fix the first broken window, soon all the windows will be broken.”~James Q. Wilson

There is an terrific article from 1982 on the Broken Windows theory By GEORGE L. KELLING and JAMES Q. WILSON in the Atlantic Magazine. Mr Wilson who died March 2nd 2012 and Mr. Kelling had some great ideas and insights into crime and violence and on how to reduce it. The “broken windows theory”  is very familiar to cops working the street and is the catalyst to “community policing” and its evolution in law enforcement over the past 30 years. The term “broken widows” is a metaphor for all crime, crime problems and violence as well as quality of life issues people relate to a productive society. The theory is very sound most especially when translated, practiced and applied on the streets. Broken windows and community policing leverages the mutual trust factor between police and the community and builds upon it so collaborative efforts are made in solving hosts of problems within a community. The theory, has been proven in the locations that had adopted the theory and translated it robustly to their philosophy of policing and to their communities. In other words they, “community and cops” lived and breathed the strategy and implemented problem solving methods to see it through. In doing so they saw results, a reduction of crime and violence and a better quality of life.

Continue reading

Interacting Tactfully and Tactically: Is This a Strategy, Law Enforcement Can Use?


"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." ~Mark twain

Dr. Michael Asken has a great piece I read a couple of weeks back titled; “Being simultaneously tactful and tactical”  Tactics is “the art and science of winning engagements and conflicts. Tactics refers to the concepts and methods we use to accomplish a particular objective. Can you be both tactful and tactical and accomplish law enforcement objectives? Will the combination of tactful communication and tactical skill give you the edge you need to win on the street? I believe so!

The Friendliness Factor can it be deadly?

Being tactful, too many of us in law enforcement forget about. Many cops believe if they show compassion and follow the golden rule of treating others like they want to be treated; it is some form of weakness. That somehow magically because we use a tactful approach, the person we are dealing with will get the upper hand. Some of this attitude may come from what’s known as “the friendliness factor” which is well known attribute in the law enforcement community and has been studied since 1992 by the FBI in three major studies “Killed in the line of Duty (1992)”, ‘In the Line of Fire (1997)” and “Violent Encounters (2006) which list behavioral descriptors of officers killed and assaulted.

  • Friendly
  • Well liked by community and department
  • Tends to use less force than other officers felt they would use in similar circumstances
  • Hard working
  • Tends to perceive self as more public relations than law enforcement
  • Service oriented
  • Used force only as last resort (peers claimed they would use force at earlier point in similar circumstances)
  • Doesn’t follow rules, especially in regard to (arrests, confrontations with prisoners, traffic stops and waiting for back-up)
  • Feels he/she can “read” others/situations and will drop guard as result
  • Tends to look for the good in others
  • Laid back and easy going

Friendliness alone does not lead to an assault. Instead it is the deadly combination of all or some of these traits including a naïve form of friendliness. Friendliness can be a powerful tactic when used appropriately in combination with superior situational awareness. Friendliness and tact, the ability to show respect, empathy and concern for another, even as a false front has a powerful effect and can wear down an adversary, even dangerous individuals. Tactful communication is as powerful a tactic as in other tactical concept we have in our moral, mental and physical tactical bag of tricks. Tactical communication combined with awareness and tactical ability to position ourselves to a more advantageous position, of strength through persuasion and understanding there may be a need to escalate. 

Tactful and tactical approaches should be a central part of our strategy when dealing with emotionally charged people or people in circumstances where an anxiety and stress are high. a great method, when constant adaptation to shifting conditions and circumstances in a world where chance, uncertainty and ambiguity dominate. The essence of winning and losing is in learning how to shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic towards our success. Continue reading

Preparing for Crisis with Tactical Decision Games, After Action Reviews and Critical Question Mapping

This is a cross-post from my own site:

Followers of this blog and those I have worked with know the workshops I run utilize tactical decision games, in the form of pen and paper exercises, tabletops and force on force free play exercises involving the use of Simmunitions. Also in these workshops we stress the importance of identifying lessons learned utilizing the after action review process. These training methods all stem from creating and nurturing both the individual and organizational cognitive and physical skills necessary to observe, orient, decide and act while according with an adversary(s). In short these types of exercises build strategic and tactical thinking skills and tactical physical skills. These types of exercises build strength of character and hence confidence in our individual tactical decisions in accord with the overall strategic intent of the organization.

10-25-11 Tabletop Exercise 004

“Autonomy, mastery and purpose” as Daniel Pink states, are the pillars to opening up insights, innovative thinking, and creative solutions to problems to effectively run organizations. These individual abilities are developed through robust interaction with others, others from your field or profession, as well as others from a vast array of disciplines. The cross disciplinary effect and insight gained form stepping outside your current way of thinking is very powerful. The problems we seek to solve and the rate at which they are solved increases by creating and nurturing individual thinkers and doers who are willing to collaborate with others while seeking solutions. This, all in an effort to learn, unlearn and relearn, hone and adapt our procedures and methods so we tackle problems in the most adaptive and effective ways. Continue reading

Brain plasticity: A whole new idea for cops



Recent brain research has tremendous impact in the way officers can now train and increase the power of their brains. ~John Demand

Great article I highly recommend over at PoliceOne on training to develop more aware and more effective decision makers by my good friend John Demand from Observation on Demand.

Handling people and problems cops do is about much more than the gun or your physical skills. It is about awareness, decision making and taking appropriate action on the street which means you must possess not only the physical skills but  also the cognitive ability to think and decide under pressure. This ability must be conditioned like the physical skills you possess. If you don’t use it, you lose it! This applies to both body and mind. Continue reading


This article is published in the current addition of the California Association of Tactical Officers official publication CATO NEWS.  I look forward to your feedback.


“In tactics, the most important thing is not whether you go left or right, but why you go left or right.” ~A. M. Gray

Tactics is the art and science of winning engagements and conflicts. Tactics refers to the concepts and methods we use to accomplish a particular objective. The essence of conflict has been defined as a struggle between two hostile, independent, and irreconcilable wills, each trying to impose itself on the other, or a “clash” between two complex adaptive systems! This “complex adaptive system” is a, walking, talking, submitting or confronting, interacting and isolating, persuading and forcing, running and gunning, thinking and acting, disrupting adversary(s). Continue reading