The following is a post from The Virtus Group member Thom Dworak.

“Strive for progress, not perfection” ~Unknown

Perfection is a lofty standard. Many have tried and failed. They have failed for a number of reasons but most of all -- for being human.

Humans are fallible. What differentiates humans from all other mammals is the ability to THINK.  With thinking comes error. Expecting a person to absolutely correct 100% of the time is unreasonable.
A probationary police officer (PPO) in training with his field training officer (FTO) is fired for a mistake in judgment and violations of policy and procedures.  In his second day of training the officer used deadly force in response to a subject who had driven a vehicle through a window of a car dealership and then attacked the officer.
In the current fish bowl environment of law enforcement, the decision to fire the PPO was fairly easy.  But at what cost? The city is out $30-40K in training cost, salary, and equipment.  There will be a lawsuit with a quick settlement. The Chief can wipe his hands clean and say the incident is over and has been dealt with. Or has it?  

For all the posturing to look good, it doesn't address how the PPO was trained in decision-making.  Or the not-so-subtle message reverberating throughout the organization about the rejection of mistakes!

For many months now, I have been designing a completely new police field training model for training new recruits. It’s called The Adaptive FTO™.  This program accounts for properly addressing mistakes, errors, and failures. Molded from the John Maxwell book Failing Forward, this new FTO training model addresses how screw-ups and errors in judgment are remediated.

Early in life, small children find their way through trial-and-error.  Look at the toys small toddlers play with. One comes to mind is the Shapes Box.

The object of the game is place the correct shaped block in the box through a correspondingly shaped hole. Through multiple attempts (and failures) the toddler eventually manages to get all the blocks inside the box -- through the correct holes. Praise is given with each correct match-up of blocks through the holes.  As the child become more proficient and adept at identifying shapes, each attempt to "win" takes less time.  As a learning tool, this game is great for early child developmental learning.  The game teaches shape identification, color identification, and more importantly… success through trial-and-error.  

Fast forward to the probationary police officer. The current crop of PPOs are from the millennial generation -- the babies of “helicopter” parents and products of everyone-gets-a-trophy mindset.  These Millennials were taught to ask “Why” and to spread their little creative wings and…try.
The word “try” is important in understanding the new PPO. Encouraged from an early age to try and try again, failure is a pathway to success. For the FTO, understanding this concept is as important as providing proper feedback.
Entering the workforce in law enforcement, the new PPO brings his/her attitudes, values, and beliefs…just as every generation has before.  This infusion changes the workplace, often for the better. (For all you veteran FTOs, trainers, and supervisors issuing a collective sigh: Think back in time when you walked into your department for the first time and what your goals and ambitions were for the greatest job in the world.)
Mistakes are part of life. Deal with it and move forward.
Mistakes are part of life. Deal with it and move forward.  That is how courageous FTOs should view errors.  But sadly, more often than not, mistakes are viewed as the worst thing a PPO can make.  This leads to mental paralysis, failure to make a decision, over-analysis, delay, second-guessing, and the death of creativity.
Creativity is the lifeblood of our professional. Stifling creativity sustains the "that's the way we've always done it" attitude. For the FTO, the concept of failing forward is an important teaching and developmental tool.  Mistakes are not failure; they are an opportunity for growth!
Non-critical errors should be tolerated and addressed during post-incident feedback, with some re-training. Critical errors must be stopped immediately. Critical errors include:

•    Civil Rights violations;
•    Criminal law violations;
•    Unreasonable Use of Force;
•    Actions (whether addressed in policy or not) that effect personal and public safety;
•    Delays in medical aid or protection of human life;
•    Incidents that cause serious embarrassment to the department.

PPOs are going to make mistakes. It's the FTO's responsibility to reduce the impact of those mistakes.  The FTO must apply feedback, remediation, and review of the PPO's critical thinking/decision making skills.

PPOs need to play with the proverbial Shapes Box. And FTOs need to become more comfortable with cleaning off the slobber before putting the toys away for the night.

Thomas Dworak is a consultant/trainer for The Virtus Group, Inc., a firm devoted to developing public safety leadership. Thom can be reached on Twitter @DworakT.

Be sure to follow these ideas at @TheVirtusGroup.

The following is a post from The Virtus Group member Louis Hayes, Jr.


The Reasonable versus Necessary argument continues to poke its head out from time to time. This month is one of those times when the battle is more heated than usual. (Heck, even I’ve been interviewed by the press on this!)

I’ve been teaching police use of force for sixteen years now. As a young police officer in the 1990s, I was given a few violent street experiences that encouraged me to really delve into and study the complexities of law enforcement powers of force. My research eventually landed me some broad platforms to train and write about it.

I came into law enforcement at a time when use of force policy was undergoing a radical shift. The trend was that agencies were dropping use of force policy “continuums” and picking up the court standards of “Objective Reasonableness.”  

Much of the thinking regarding the shift revolved around this argument: Linear continuums do not account for the complexities and uniqueness of each possible street encounter. For example: an assaultive elderly lady and an assaultive professional boxer would BOTH be lumped together in “assaultive” behavior categories. Essentially, the continuum model promotes (even if unintentionally) an if-this-then-that robotic programmed response.

Progressive agencies realized this non-thinkers model was getting their officers into trouble…by NOT analyzing each situation as unique. These agencies turned to the case law opinion of the US Supreme Court in Graham versus Connor (490 US 386; 1989). In a highly condensed summary, officers would be held to a standard of “reasonableness” in response, given the “totality of circumstances” known or believed by the officer. The idea of “objectivity” was that the police response was either reasonable…or not. (Think: Pass-Fail.)

This shift in policy allowed officers to exercise discretion and creativity to match the actual situation at hand. Most every progressive police executive and research group in the nation has endorsed this case law standard. (However, even as I write this today in 2016, there are still police agencies that subscribe to the outdated linear continuum policy model and cultural mentality…some of which are very large urban police agencies!)

My view of the Objective Reasonableness standard is that it was never meant to be a gold tier of policing. It does not shape what ideal or perfect law enforcement force looks like. It is essentially a benchmark ruling as to whether or not the officer or agency Passed or Failed. In some cases, the officer’s actions pass the test…but are hardly examples of great decision-making in policing. (Think: D- grade…passing but you were almost punished.)

However, we as a nation NEED the reasonableness standard to effectively police our communities. Officers are put into situations that are emotionally-charged, tense, dynamic, confusing, and outright fearful. To expect (or demand) some sort of exacting or mechanically-applied perfection is to ignore how humans behave in times of stress. We must give our police officers some flexibility and some allowances to make split-second decisions. Basically, we evaluate the officer on the decision made and determine whether or not that decision was fair enough. Not perfect. Was it OK enough?

So where does the necessity standard come in?

Complaints against the police force often arrive in questions of, “Was that shooting (or force, or Tasering, or batoning, or K9 bite, etc) really necessary?” The questions poke at whether or not there were other options available. And why weren’t those options attempted? Could lower levels of power or shorter duration been successful? And what else could have been tried? Why didn’t you call in a crisis negotiator? Or his family? Or just wait twelve (or twenty) hours until he tired out? What the necessity standard gets at is whether or not the force used was the last possible option.

The problem with this necessity standard is that we will never know what else COULD have happened with other alternatives. (In fact, the outcome with another option could have been WORSE.) The only way we’d know for sure whether some police action was necessary or not would be through the use of a crystal ball or a time machine.  Necessary or needed is defined as an absolute requirement. That’s simply impossible to answer. There are way too many unknown and unknowable variables.

One of the buzzwords accompanying the necessary force argument is “legitimacy” – the theory that the police are seen as a legitimate and responsible authority by the community. And a very vocal segment of the community is voicing their concern that police should hold themselves to standards HIGHER than that which is “reasonable” – and be held to that which is “necessary” – by binding or punishable agency policy.

So where do we move from here?

Current case law does not require officers to exhaust other less-forceful options before employing a “reasonable” option. For example, an officer does not first have to try a Taser on a knife-wielding suspect before shooting him/her, if deadly force is lawful option. So if the officer does NOT attempt the Taser, and decides on using his/her firearm, we do not truly know if the firearm was necessary or not. The officer would have had to experience a failure with the Taser (and every other strategic, tactical, and force option!) before moving onto deadly force. We can’t call a do-over to recreate the event to see whether or not these options might have accomplished the goal.

Attempting to exhaust every other less-forceful alternative…and waiting to see if they work or not…can be a very costly experiment. US courts acknowledge this danger and humanly impossible task…and therefore do NOT require it.

But I am going to suggest something that splits this argument:

Officers should, WHEN THE SITUATION PERMITS, exhaust other less intrusive strategic, tactical, and force options.

Read that again. Let that sink in.

This approach of exhausting other less-injurious or less-forceful alternatives is about restraint, not reluctance. It maximizes the opportunities for a suspect to comply. It even proves to the officer him/herself that the options are waning. (We in LE are often our worst critics in serious uses of force, especially those that result in death, when it comes to “what if I woulda tried _______?”)

This is not for every situation. Some unfold at millisecond speed at “bad breath” distances. However, sometimes we officers are the ones who put ourselves in those compressed timelines too. When possible, we CAN hold ourselves to standards HIGHER than mere reasonableness. We can try other “stuff”…just sometimes opt not to.

I’m not exactly sure what “necessary” force looks like. It’s a crap shoot of personal opinion and conjecture. But I know this: necessary is higher than reasonable. And maybe if we in policing began exhausting some of our strategic, tactical, and force options…just maybe…our actions would be viewed at being a little closer to the invisible “necessary” line.

Necessary is an ideal, perfect, but abstract standard. To punish our officers to this abstract, clouded, emotional standard is completely off my table. We cannot hold our officers accountable to blurred parameters!

However, if purposeful, thought-out, restrained, compassionate, and last-ditch strategy, tactics, and force bring us a few steps closer to legitimacy and trust, I’ll give it a try. When I can. Not always.

But I’m also not going to promote suicidal risk of our officers who are holding the line for us tonight. That’s asking too much.

Addressing the gap between reasonable and necessary force is vital to the future of building trust. I hope you’ll consider my thoughts. Try something that's not required by law. That’s a reasonable request, isn’t it?


Louis Hayes, Jr is a system thinker and provocateur for The Virtus Group, Inc, a firm devoted to developing public safety leadership. He is a law enforcement trainer with biases in Constitutional law, crisis intervention, and tactical policing. Lou can be reached on Twitter @LouHayesJr and under #ThinkLE.

Be sure to follow these ideas at @TheVirtusGroup.