Tactical science: Understanding the why

We discuss how to do tactics, but never why we perform them

What if I told you that there was a body of knowledge that has been available to you for your entire career that no one has ever told you about, which could have assisted you to make better decisions in every tactical situation you have ever encountered?

It’s likely that possession of this knowledge would not only have made you a better tactician, but it may also have assisted you while taking promotional exams and would certainly have aided you every time you had to explain your actions either to your peers, supervisors, the media or in court.

Well, that body of knowledge does exist and it's called tactical science.

When I arrived as a new deck officer at the Hall of Justice Jail in the summer of 1985, all I wanted to do was get through my shift without losing an inmate, losing my keys or getting into a fight and not being found by my peers until my relief arrived.

It never occurred to me that there was a body of knowledge which, in some cases, went back thousands of years providing insight and understanding for conflicts. No one ever mentioned anything like that in my eighteen week POST academy. There was a great deal on laws of arrest and how to use force and when and how to use certain weapons. There were even discussions on certain types of tactics, but as far as why we should do any of these things there was nary a word. Nor was any of this discussed in my jail orientation class or by my jail training officer. I was told what to do, but not why.  

I was almost twenty years into my career before I became aware that there was a science behind the skills that I had been trained, and by that time I was training others.

I don’t know why the existence of this body of knowledge should come as a surprise to anyone. Human conflict has been around since the first two brothers had a disagreement over the family business. Even then, roughly six thousand years before British General J.F.C. Fuller first discovered and elucidated the concept of the nine principles of war, Cain employed the principles in this concept to slay his brother Abel.

In the articles ahead, I will explain many tactical science terms like the nine principles of war, fog, friction, tempo and initiative and many others. The vast majority of these concepts come from the military, but they have application for law enforcement personnel whether they patrol city streets or the corridors of a correctional facility.

Sadly, we often do a poor job at preparing and training our personnel to handle the conflicts and trials that they may face on the job. Even in 2013, there are still agencies willing to employ on-the-job training for long stretches before sending employees through an academy. But even in our academies, most of our attention is spent on what to do, not why we do it.

Tactical science addresses the why. This body of knowledge is like any other in science. Sir Isaac Newton did not invent the law of gravity; he discovered it and explained it. Likewise, the principles of tactical science exist and can be recognized and explained in any conflict or crisis whether we know about them or not. Better to know them and purposely employ them to our advantage rather than in ignorance have them used against us.

I have an M.A. in history. One of the things I was trained to do as a historian was to cite to sources. Fortunately for me, the preeminent source on tactical science is Charles “Sid” Heal, a retired commander from my department. Sid’s list of credits and accolades, both from his time in the Marine Corps and with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, are prodigious. I was fortunate to attend the very first Tactical Science Course that Sid taught in 2004.

In addition to assembling a staff of experts to teach this material with him, Sid has written three books on the subject and scores of articles. His three primary long works on Tactical Science are: Sound Doctrine: A Tactical Primer, Lantern Books, 2000; An Illustrated Guide to Tactical Diagramming[i], Lantern Books, 2005; and Field Command, Lantern Books, 2012.[ii] I defy anyone to read any of these books quickly.

This first article is meant to introduce you to the idea tactical science. In articles to follow, I will present selected concepts and explain their importance to you as a correctional officer, correctional supervisor or command officer. There is no way that I can cover the totality of this subject; even Sid in his three books and dozens of articles only scratches the surface.

You will discover as you dig into this material for yourself that you can assemble a library on this subject, and its authors will come from all corners of the globe and, as already suggested, will stretch back to the beginning of human history. Once you begin penetrating this deep, dense, fascinating forest you will not want to emerge and you will wonder why no one ever led you to visit this vitally important domain before.

Once I first learned about this material in 2004, I immediately included many of its principles into the custody incident command school that I first wrote about in this forum in 2007. Possessing a working knowledge of tactical science principles will not only make you a safer and smarter officer, but it will give you an advantage in promotional exams, will make you as a supervisor an abler tactical commander and will move you toward becoming a true expert in your field.

I hope that I have whetted your appetite for what is to come.

[i] While the primary focus of this book is on the technique of tactical diagramming, it also includes tactical science principles.

[ii] Sid Heal and his cadre of instructors and student alumni rally around the website Field Command. If you are interested in more on this subject, please visit the Field Command website http://fieldcommand.org. The Tactical Science teaching cadre conducts courses throughout the country.

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2023 Corrections1. All rights reserved.