Last Thursday Chris Bellavita and T.M. Moody, Assistant Sheriff for Law Enforcement Operations with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, offered a provocative post. The comments generated the most substantive conversation HLSWatch has hosted in a very long time.
The original post is worth reading again. But the key insight and proposition, it seems to me, is:
Urban police forces must train their patrol personnel—who comprise the most critical and vulnerable front line in a major incident—to recognize the signs of a terrorist attack, and to act immediately to deploy safely and effectively in small teams rather than as individuals. Team leaders must fully grasp their role and mission, and must understand how their actions serve to support other elements of a self-executing all-agency plan, especially in the absence of effective communications.
This reminded some commentator’s of the Marine Corps’ concept of the strategic corporal, which reminded me of how this concept is explained in the current Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual, to whit:
Mission Command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution… Successful mission command results from subordinate leaders at all echelons exercising disciplined initiative with the commander’s intent to accomplish missions. It requires an environment of trust and mutual understanding. It is the Army’s and the Marine Corps’ preferred method for commanding and controlling forces during all types of operations. (COIN Manual, pages 46-47)
Pause for a moment to consider the import of that last sentence. The Army and Marine Corps prefers the “disciplined initiative” of subordinate leaders “during all types of operations.” Last week Sheriff Moody noted, “To train large police forces to remain dependent on hierarchical command and control paradigms to the exclusion of other alternatives is to train for failure.” Roger that.
The COIN Field Manual goes on to explain, “Young leaders — so called ‘strategic corporals’ — often make decisions at the tactical level that have strategic consequences.” You can’t pick and choose if and when a young leader is given this power. It is a power that emerges when tactical operations suddenly stumble into a — usually unexpected — strategic inflexion point. Decisions or non-decisions will be made. There will be strategic consequences, intended or not.
To take advantage of these occasions — rather than being taken advantage of — Army and Marine Corps doctrine pushes the development of tactical leaders who have a sufficient understanding of mission and purpose to make choices that advance strategy.
This is not simply done and it cannot be fully explained in a typical blog post. But following is a key paragraph from the COIN Field Manual:
Commanders exercise initiative as leaders and fighters. Learning and adapting, with appropriate decision-making authority, are critical… Effective senior leaders establish a climate that promotes decentralized modes of command and control — what the Army calls mission command and the Marine Corps calls mission command and control. Under mission command commanders create the conditions for subordinates’ success. These leaders provide general guidance and the commander’s intent and assign small-unit leaders authority commensurate with their responsibilities. Commanders establish control measures to monitor subsordinates’ actions and keep them within the bounds established by commander’s intent without micromanaging… The operation’s purpose and commander’s intent must be clearly understood throughout the force. (pages 242-243)
Consistent with these principles, at its best the military communicates, communicates, communicates and trains, trains, trains and exercises, exercises, exercises. Through communication, training, and exercising the military can transform a 19-year-old who was uncertain about pizza preferences into an informed, insightful, and decisive warrior or, even more remarkably, an effective peacemaker.
Compare and contrast the investment of time and money in military training, education, and exercising to what is undertaken by the civilian public safety sector. In too many jurisdictions — and certainly within DHS — it is like comparing apples and orange seeds (and seedless varieties are popular).
We increasingly turn to the military for solutions because we have invested so much in building their capacity. There are military lessons-learned that can and should be adapted to civilian organizations. But to do so will require a similar investment of time and money.