When it comes to cops, everyone knows that if they want to sell us something, all they have to do is paint it black and call it tactical. We cannot get enough of stuff like that. Tactical pens, tactical knives, tactical firearms, hell, even tactical pants. So why is it when we hear the words “tactical mindset” we want nothing to do with it? That simply doesn’t make any sense. Pens break, we lose knives, we sell guns and we’ll either rip our pants or “grow out of them.” Our mind is something that is going to be with us for our entire career.
You don’t have to be a SWAT operator or MARSOC Marine to have a tactical mindset. It is simply taking things you learn, or hopefully learn, in the academy or field training and putting them into use in everyday life. Some agencies only train tactics once per year with a mock school shooting scenario, and other agencies train even less than that. If that is the only time you are practicing thinking tactically, when the day comes — and it will come — you will fail. We do not rise to the occasion; we fall back on our training.
Having a tactical mindset is putting training to use each and every day and thinking about all possible outcomes. There are more than a few different ways to make entry into a corner-fed room. However, that same room is always going to have that one deep corner. If the room is a right corner-fed room, meaning the door is along the right wall, the left corner would be the deep corner. Checking that deep corner immediately upon crossing the threshold, that’s having a tactical mindset. I check the deep corner of every room I go into on and off duty.
Another simple concept most cops have heard of is “cutting the pie.” On a corner-fed room, 90% of that room can be cleared before entry is even made. Once the pie has been cut, the only remaining unknown is that deep corner. I don’t cut the pie around rooms off duty, people would look at me funny. I do cut the pie on burglar alarms with or without forced entry. Tactics, like everything else in policing, is a perishable skill. Why wouldn’t we practice every chance we get?
Something I tell new cops in FTO is to play the “what if game.” This simply means to be constantly thinking “what if.” For example, what if we pulled up at the gas station and there were an armed robbery in progress? Where would you park the squad? What would you say on the radio? Where would you position yourself? How would you manage traffic in the parking lot? If the offender had a gun pointed at the clerk, would you take a shot? That is a pretty extreme example, but asking yourself all of those questions will help prepare for when that gas station does get robbed. Maybe your answer to “Would you take the shot?” is “no.” Then you get to thinking and realize if you would have positioned yourself here instead of there, you would take the shot. These are decisions that you have already made. You are exercising your mind just like you are hopefully exercising the rest of your body.
When evaluating your decisions, either in police work, life or even the “what if game,” there are two important questions that must be asked — “What do I gain?” and “What do I lose?” By simply asking those two questions, it is easy to see what decision is tactically sound. Start looking at every decision this way for about a week and see what happens. You will realize that where you park in the grocery store parking lot, where you stand when picking up your lunch, where you sit at the bar, hell, even where you sit at the kitchen table at home all have tactical advantages and disadvantages.
Trying to pause to see tactical advantages and disadvantages and checking deep corners may seem like a lot to do, especially off duty. There are cops who are going to talk about being tired, busy, having kids and all the other excuses. Those are all valid. It is a big change, and it does take a little work. But after about a week of simply thinking tactically and forming good tactical habits, it will become second nature to you. You will even start to incorporate more of your training into everyday life. You are going to start walking down hallways different, getting into your personal car different and wondering why you never did before.
For those of you reading this and thinking it is entirely too much, I have one question for you. You do these things at work, for the people you have sworn to serve and protect, what makes those people so much more important than the loved ones you are with when you are off duty? I care very deeply for the people I have taken an oath to serve and protect, but I also care very deeply for those I call my family. So ask yourself a “what if.” What if you tried this and it actually worked? It could potentially save your life or the life of another. What if you tried it and it simply didn’t work for you? It is a simple decision; you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.