In all the years I’ve been writing for the tactical community, this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to issue a warning before engaging readers in my musings. To avoid unnecessary pain and suffering, however, persons afflicted with a bleeding heart, sensitive feelings or have had a precognitive revelation, even once, should proceed at their own risk. Likewise, anyone who has ever been abducted by aliens, had an out of body experience or awakened in Nirvana should also exercise caution. In drafting this article, no attempt has been made to assuage personal sensitivities or seek political correctness. An unprotected exposure to the concepts expressed in this article may result in a sudden loss of equilibrium and terrifying visions of reality.

Having spent all my adult life involved in tactical operations of one kind or another, I’ve had no end of opportunities to observe the incongruities between what some people choose to believe and what actually happens. To be sure, much of the problem lies in the naiveté of the observer, but in many cases even the most casual reflection should result in at least some grasp of reality no matter how remote. Sadly, this has not always been the case and for that I will offer my personal insight to never try to change opinions with facts. The truth is not enough; you must also believe it.

In point of fact, some of the more opinionated have a worldview based upon an alternative reality of their own choosing. I have never heard it put more eloquently than during an international conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, when a college professor described his beguiling and grandiose worldview regarding the use of force. At the conclusion the audience remained quiet (stunned would not be too strong a word from my perspective) when Colonel George Fenton from the U.S. Marine Corps stood and declared, “Professor, I hope the world that you envision one day exists, but in the history of mankind it has never existed on this planet!” Lamentably, many of the more vocal disparagers of tactical operations are fully convinced that their worldview is the only genuine interpretation and that any others are heresy. For what it’s worth then, the following represents a short list of some of the more “egregious heresies” that, by and large, make up the world we live in rather than the one they fancy. For those with muddy boots, they’ll seem self-evident, but for those with their feet on the desk in comfort and safety they will border on the blasphemous.

Human life is not equally valuable—If it were so, any application of lethal force would be impossible since no one’s life, including an innocent victim’s, could justify the death of another. When arguing with activists, it has proven effective to provide a hypothetical scenario in which they are being attacked by an assailant intent on killing them and flight is not an option. It is an exceptionally rare person who would not use lethal force to defend themselves, and by extension, their loved ones. By definition then, they have placed the value of their lives over that of their assailant. Further arguments are then simply an extension of the same logic. For example, in a hostage recovery operation it would require nearly inconceivable circumstances before any of us would consider the life of a hostage taker as important as the life of a hostage. Moreover, we’d also choose the lives of innocent bystanders over the life of the hostage taker, not to mention our own and those of our fellow officers. And so a “priority of life” begins to emerge which clearly places more value on the lives of innocent victims than those who try and harm them. By any understanding then, human life is not equally valuable.

There is no “right” way—In the paisley patterned worlds of absolute rationality, everything can be explained from its cause. In reality, suspects are not always rational and each situation requiring an intervention is a unique and temporary combination of circumstances. What worked previously can be a recipe for disaster if blindly reapplied. Furthermore, in any given situation, there may be a number of alternative approaches (courses of action) more than one of which will ultimately achieve the desired end state. Accordingly, there is no “right” way to do any of these things. This is particularly aggravating to self-proclaimed experts who seem to specialize in providing “insight and commentary” after the fact. From the unassailable clarity of hindsight, the correct solution is both conspicuous and self-evident. Nevertheless, reality is always contemporary.

What has happened is unchangeable and what may happen is uncertain. Planners and decision makers in this world have no clairvoyance and must react to events as they unfold replete with all the accompanying uncertainty, doubt and ambiguity. The fact that the chosen reaction was not as successful as was hoped is, in and of itself, no guarantee that any others would have proved to be better.

And so a “priority of life” begins to emerge which clearly places more value on the lives of innocent victims than those who try and harm them.

Sadly, recognizing that there is more than one viable tactical approach provides a haven for some tacticians who seek to justify poor planning and decision making because an extension of the logic is that if there is no “right” answer there can also be no “wrong” answer. For those who understand the supporting science, however, many tactical failures can be directly attributed to ignoring factors and influences that have long been known to impact successful tactical resolutions.

Violence occurs because we expect it—The first time I was confronted with this belief was from a UCLA student doing a mandatory ride-a-long in south central Los Angeles for a sociology course. It was her firmly held opinion that the violence we seemed to encounter so often was our fault because we prepared for and expected it. The fact that we all wore protective vests and carried batons and guns was provocative in and of itself. From her point of view, this resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy. The malevolent acts of evil people could be completely avoided if the authorities would show more compassion and understanding. Others have used the same rationale to disparage armed American law enforcement in general by comparing them with our unarmed British counterparts. What is always missed, however, is that the British populace is largely unarmed. Not so in America. Moreover, the vast majority of our “interventions” are as a result of a “call for service;” that is another citizen has called for help. By definition then, the violence started without our presence.

This perception is largely the result of a sheltered existence resulting in a distorted belief that the entire world is similarly safe and protected. Even exposure to violence in television and movies fails to raise the possibility that some malicious and spiteful people exploit the weak and unprotected. Unfortunately, no logical argument has proven consistently effective in rebutting this sentiment. The good news is it has not proven to be terminal. As the person matures they are increasingly likely to be exposed to an act of violence that does not fit this paradigm—the so-called black swan is a term that describes an event that refutes all current understanding.

It ain’t the technology—It is easy to blame problems on equipment, tools, technology, weapons, and the like. For example, some pseudo-scientists are quick to point out that shootings are because of the number of guns, that TASERs can be used as instruments of torture and that nonlethal weapons encourage unnecessary force. The apparent solution to all these problems then is to eliminate or restrict the particular device in question. The logic falls short for one simple reason; how do you attribute intent to an inanimate object? For example, blaming guns for shooting attacks is the functional equivalent of blaming silverware for obesity. Likewise, why would anyone spend $800 for a TASER as a torture device when a $10 pair of pliers will do just fine? The point is that how a device is used is directly and exclusively attributed to the person using it. By itself it is completely benign.

Refuting this heresy is usually a two-step process. The first step is to acknowledge that some technologies do indeed fall short of our desires. For example, batons have been used as a less-than-lethal option by law enforcement officers for hundreds of years even though they always cause injury. Likewise, the stun bags in use today are similarly flawed, as is every other less-than-lethal option. No exceptions! When better options become available we’ll jump at the opportunity to use them, but until then we are forced to handle situations with the tools we have and not the ones we want. A perfect solution requires an infinite wait.

People who are thieves, robbers, rapists, terrorists, or just plain mean could also carry signs.

The second step is to separate human intent from the inanimate object since they are mutually incompatible. Notwithstanding the transparent logic, this is harder than it sounds. It is easier to teach a homeboy how to spell check graffiti on a chain link fence than to get some people to sensibly view these emotionally laden contradictions. After all, from their orientation the logic is equally irrefutable. How can you have gun violence without guns? How can someone be tortured with a TASER if one isn’t available? Forbidding the use of a technology, especially some type of less-lethal weapon, is a common, and overly simplistic solution suggested by some of these folks because it carries the inherent presumption that other suitable options are available. As a matter of fact, if such a solution were available why wouldn’t we use it? Perfection is a goal not a standard. The best tactic here is usually to “refuse battle.” Like one of those old wise men once noted, “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty but the pig likes it.”

No dispensation for acting stupid—It’s just a job. There is a strongly and widely held belief that law enforcement has some greater responsibility for people who are not crooks by nature but, for one reason or another, are just acting up because of a temporary lack of judgment. In street parlance this is often referred to as “acting the fool.” The belief is based on the apparent indifference of law enforcement officers when someone who is emotionally disturbed, under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or is otherwise a nice person is arbitrarily harassed, embarrassed, beaten or killed. The fact that they were engaging in violent, often life threatening behaviors, is only relevant because of their temporary mental instability or inebriation. Only afterwards is it discovered that the person was a pillar of the community, champion of the poor, supporter of the underdog and promising young football player. Perhaps they should be required to carry a sign. (If you’ve heard the song “Here’s Your Sign by Bill Engvall and Travis Tritt, you know what I mean.) In point of fact, most law enforcement officers would not only welcome such a solution but the natural extension as well. People who are thieves, robbers, rapists, terrorists, or just plain mean could also carry signs. Many of us would see another solution to this problem by just reframing the problem as a scheduling error. For example, simply scheduling these periods of muddled thinking and diminished mental capacity so that innocent people remained unaffected would avoid the unwanted attention of any mean spirited police officer. But we have to live in the real world.

We have no means of doing a medical diagnosis and interviews with mental patients have proven tough, especially when they are aggressive and often armed with some type of weapon. Likewise, inebriates tend not to very cooperative either. In short, we have no means of identifying whether the behavior they are exhibiting is merely a temporary condition as a result of their proclivity to ingest recreational drugs or they are more permanently disadvantaged. Moreover, it doesn’t matter anyway since law enforcement is expected to handle a situation to conclusion and no allowance is made for time to achieve sobriety, continual risk to potential victims or even the suspect. In a completely rational world where consequences are the logical derivatives of their causes, however, a question arises to some of us using the same logic as to why should there be any objection to being treated like a fool when you act like one?

Law enforcement officers do not care—Like the other heresies, this opinion is nearly entirely based upon a different perspective. Nothing more. It just happens to be the one that hurts the most. In actuality, what seems to be indifference is nearly always a stoic persona necessary to function through some of the most gut-wrenching situations imaginable. For most people such an event might occur only once in a lifetime, if even then, but not so for police officers. Another manifestation of this heresy is in limited context; that is an isolated incident taken in its most narrow confines and applied universally and forever after.

Thus, a single, isolated incident is sufficient as conclusive that police officers are uncaring, rude, officious, indifferent, ill-mannered, and ad infinitum. The fact that police officers are also human with the same foibles and feelings as everyone else never occurs to them.

Some years ago I handled a citizen’s complaint for rudeness during a traffic stop. After listening to the woman rant for some time I called in the deputy who readily admitted everything. This was completely out of character for this guy and I could see that something was troubling him and so I simply asked, “Why?” Haltingly, and with great effort, he choked on his words and filled with unshed tears as he struggled to tell me the story of the death notification he had been assigned less than 60 minutes previous to the traffic stop. He had been sent to the workplace of a young mother to notify her that her infant child had died of sudden infant death syndrome. He described her heartbreaking screams as she collapsed and began sobbing so convulsively that she gasped for breath as he tried to console her. After returning to patrol he had cited the complainant for not strapping her toddler into a car seat. He said that the one mother would have given anything she had to have her baby back and this one was too lazy to strap her baby in.
Handling situations that are inherently emotional, dangerous and complex coupled with an absolute need to remain objective requires a temporary emotional detachment. It is temporary, however, and if the price could only be paid in nightmares and tears it would be a far better trade than the alcoholism, divorce and suicide with which the law enforcement community continually struggles. One of the more effective repudiations to this heresy is to ask the antagonist to imagine they were seriously injured and the surgeon was their father. Would they be comfortable having him work on them while weeping in grief? There are many situations in law enforcement in which an ability to focus through distractions is every bit as critical.

And so there it is; a short list of heresies that are sure to be condemned, scorned, ridiculed, spurned or just dismissed entirely by people who are quite comfortable living in a reality of their own creation and completely convinced that their view of reality is the only possibility. It is harder to get them to accept alternative explanations than it is to make water wetter. They would be the first to admit, however, that they wouldn’t trade places for all the cocaine in Columbia. There is an old Danish proverb which states, “The sky is not less blue because the blind man does not see it.” To be sure, we’d welcome the world they envision if it ever exists, but until that happens this one is all we’ve got.



is a retired commander with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and a veteran law enforcement officer of 30-plus years. Nearly half of those years were devoted to special operations. He served as an operations officer, watch commander, unit commander, incident commander, consultant and trainer of tactical operations. Heal is also a court-recognized expert in law enforcement special operations and emergency management.


By CHARLES “SID” HEAL WARNING! In all the years I’ve been writing for the tactical community, this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to issue a warning before...

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