Is Time on Your Side?

by Scott Savage

According to a 1964 hit song by the Rolling Stones, "Time is on my side, yes it is." How true is that statement for law enforcement officers? Is time always on our side? We have all heard the assertion that it is repeated over and over but is it really? In this article we'll briefly explore the concept of time and how it relates to decision making both during critical incidents and during routine calls for service. My hope is that you'll walk away with more than just a ‘Stones hit in your head. I'd also like you to walk away with a different way of considering time.

 

Time cannot always be on our side because of the simple fact that time is neutral. Whether it is "on our side" or not depends on a specific set of circumstances. As law enforcement professionals we constantly have to choose what to do next. One of the paramount decisions we make is choosing between action and inaction, and if we are going to act when to do it. One way of determining time's constraint on that decision is to ask ourselves, "Is there a need to act immediately?" An easy to digest example of this would be an active shooter incident where we must act immediately to neutralize the threat. In a case where we have decided there is not a pressing need to act immediately, ask yourself the equally important follow-up question of, "Will my delay in taking action increase the risk of a negative consequence?"

In those situations where the tempo of the incident is causing you to hurriedly make decisions, ask yourself, "Am I suffering from a false sense of urgency?" or "Who or what is causing me to rush and is that reason for rushing valid?" Just because a sense of urgency has been injected into the incident by the victim, colleagues, dispatchers, etc. that doesn't mean we should always join in the race. False urgency may compel action but does so without the benefit of planning, amassing resources, and insuring safety procedures are in place. The results can be a response that is inadequate, unsafe or unnecessarily rushed.

Consider the following scenario. A murder suspect has holed up in his home and is threatening to shoot any officers who try to enter. You have the suspect contained alone in his home and he cannot access any other persons.  You have the choice of sending in officers to go get him or waiting outside and trying to negotiate him out. The potential for negative consequence if you were to insert officers in to the home is high as it will result in a close quarter's confrontation with an armed suspect. On the other hand, there are no immediate consequences if you wait the suspect out and negotiate. The suspect has no immediate ability to harm anyone but himself and negotiators can be employed without placing officers into harm's way.

Now consider how the same decision making theory can apply to solo patrol officers responding to routine radio calls. While there are certainly times when officers must rush in, the great majority of calls don't require immediate action. Taking a few minutes to wait for a fill unit or to gather some intelligence about the suspect can give the officer the advantage. Solo officers and incident commanders alike often have to make split second decisions but when an opportunity to exploit time exists that opportunity should be seized.

So even though time really isn't always on our side there are a few helpful questions that are. Those questions are:

 "Is there a need to act immediately?"

"Will my delay in taking some type of action increase the risk of a negative consequence?"

"Am I suffering from a false sense of urgency?"

"Who or what is causing me to rush and is that reason for rushing valid?"

Simple questions like these can act as a self- assessment tool for law enforcement officers as they try to choose what to do next. Exploiting time and decision making is discussed in greater detail during the Third Degree Communications training seminar "Response Tactics for Critical Incidents and In-Progress Crimes."