Good Old Condition Yellow

We do control ourselves, and like all who must go into danger to serve and protect, we should take stock of our assets to counter the greater risks to our safety.

Dave Smith Headshot

Illustration: Sequoia BlankenshipIllustration: Sequoia Blankenship

No doubt about it, the number of officers killed in assaults is on the rise, and we won't see much pressure on society to seriously condemn anti-police rhetoric and actions until the powers that be understand two things: you can't shape people to match politically correct training and policies, and you must match training and policies to the actual human mind. Unfortunately, you and I don't control those elements; but we do control ourselves, and like all who must go into danger to serve and protect, we should take stock of our assets to counter the greater risks to our safety.

First, we have excellent training available, and every one of you should seek out the best training you can. Weapons, tactics, skills, and mindset must be honed to the best edge we can place on them, and if you find yourself sitting around complaining that your agency doesn't get you good training, look in a mirror and see the one person who is truly responsible for your performance; and don't snidely tell me you can see your sergeant in the background.

Today's weapons and ammunition choices are unparalleled, and it is incumbent upon you to do your training repetitions with your equipment, and maintain that equipment in good working order. Not long ago I was standing in a crowd and saw an officer who had obviously spent the day in the wind and dust, and I chuckled to myself how he had a couple of hours of cleaning up to do on everything from cuffs to magazines; been there, done that. But then it hit me … I wasn't wondering whether he would prep his gear or not; just looking at his demeanor and carriage told me there was no doubt about it; I was just in sympathy mode. This dedication to maintain our gear must be ingrained in us all.

Next, when in doubt, take your time. We have tons of manpower issues, and often we have a greatly reduced number of officers on the street on any given call. We have communications resources greater than ever before, so never hesitate to have a complainant recontacted, or stand off and use good old fashioned binoculars to gather intelligence before going directly to a scene. Remember, squealing tires and intense accelerations only announce your approach.

Use all your mental skills, such as crisis rehearsal (visualization), to refresh yourself daily on procedures and tactics. Reinforce your understanding about when to confront and when to disengage – a word we don't like to use, but a tactic that can save our lives when used properly. Practice tactical breathing regularly. In fact, download the free Tactical Breather app and then use it in critical situations like pursuits (it prevents tunnel vision) and building searches.

Make sure you are full of good habits and have mitigated your bad ones. Do you use your light effectively? Do you practice sound control when you need to, maintain reactionary gaps, and "watch the hands" at all times? How is your positioning on interviews and vehicles stops and searches, both objects and people? Do you search expecting to find something, then add one to that expectation when you do (the Rule of Plus One), or do you just search lackadaisically?

How about your frisking and cuffing techniques? Do you maintain control of a subject both verbally and physically, or are you expecting everyone to be a "yes" person? Are you mentally and physically able to respond in the event of sudden resistance or assault?

Please ask yourself these questions, then reflect on your mindset when you are on duty. The great Col. Cooper's Color Code has been taught for decades and still has the power to be a sticky idea after all these years. Condition Yellow is a broad external awareness of the world around you; an active mind processing all relevant cues that need to be attended to. It is the hunter's eye, seeing proper threats or actions and recognizing their meaning and how to deal with them. Unless we are aware and able to observe, we cannot start any process of control; whether you use Col. Boyd's OODA loop or Klein's Recognition Primed Decision Making as your mental model for action and control, the key is always perception, and today it is more important than ever that you stay mentally in the game.

Stress, fatigue, worry, fear, can all diminish our ability to maintain Condition Yellow, and sometimes you need to just sit back and "reboot your brain" before you proceed. So do it when you need to do it. Stay in that hunter's mindset: constantly seeing, not just looking; constantly hearing, not just listening; constantly ready to win.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

About the Author
Dave Smith Headshot
Officer (Ret.)
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