See What? And Say It How?

December 12, 2016 in Applying The Observations

While traveling in New York City recently I noticed signs for the “See Something, Say Something” campaign around town.  For those who haven’t yet seen a sign or poster in their neighborhood, the slogan is intended to remind people that, when they see something that is out of the ordinary or suspicious, they should say something to someone of authority to raise awareness of the potential issue.  The program was originally implemented by the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2001 and is now licensed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a nationwide campaign.  You can get more info on the campaign and ways to help drive the message here.

This campaign is a crucial step for getting the public involved in the process of stopping potentially dangerous events from occurring.  It also raises awareness and reminds people of their role in keeping themselves and those around them safe. While the concept itself is broad enough in scope to serve as a great reminder, the purpose of this post will be to expand on details of the program that also align with the work that we do here at The CP Journal. Together, this campaign and the work that we do, both serve as helpful tools to help build community involvement in threat recognition and this post will expand on a prior writing that outlined the three pieces to the threat prevention puzzle.

Many of the types of suspicious activity outlined in training programs and literature for the “See Something, Say Something” campaign revolve around physical actions, like stealing information, data acquisition, and weapon discovery.  These are all obviously important suspicious activities to report that have been gathered based on the study of prior threatening events, but the truth is that they don’t tend to Continue reading »

Working Together to Prevent Threats

November 14, 2016 in Applying The Observations

Events involving people occur at every moment of every day. In just one day alone you may say hello to a neighbor, meet a friend for coffee, make small talk with the teller at the grocery store, or sit in a movie theater with people that you don’t know. Throughout all of these interactions, it is highly unlikely that any will result in a threatening event or violence of any kind. With that in mind, however, Chapman University recently released their 2016 study of American Fears, which reveals that the threat of violence is something that the public pretty actively fears.

One fear that is prevalent for the American public that stood out to us at The CP Journal is the public’s fear of terrorism and their role in thwarting it. Based on the report, 38.5% of the American public is either afraid or very afraid of being a victim of a terrorist attack.[1] While the fear of terrorism currently sits at the top of the mind for many people, it is important to note that most interactions between people do not result in terrorism or violence of any kind. By working together to observe, actively and accurately, we can improve our ability to prevent violence between people, including terrorist acts. Using a recent event from the news as a framework, I will outline the three primary parties involved in threat prevention and how we can better work together, as an engaged public, to observe and report suspicious activity.

To serve as context for this post, we will share some recent articles that reported a recent situation that took place in Canada. The situation involved a person operating outside of what was normal for the area, a local resident calling the authorities, and law enforcement responding. In this example there was Continue reading »

Training For Adaptability Means Creating More Options

August 27, 2016 in Applying The Observations


This article was originally written for and posted on

Picture yourself in a situation where you have to approach someone to ask a question while on patrol. You might need to ask them where a particular person lives or if they know anything about a particular person you are investigating. What I want you to think about is how you would react and what you would do when that person refuses to help you. What is your initial response going to be? What is going to happen if your instinctual response to their refusal still doesn’t drive the person to cooperate? While officers often learn how to adapt their approach to a situation like this by honing it throughout their career, training adaptable officers means that we have to ensure they have multiple options available to them to handle situations like this from the earliest points in the career.

In Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, where my co-author Jason Riley and I wrote about how the Combat Hunter program taught deploying service-members how to recognize threats, we talk about the four mutually exclusive ways we can assess an individual person based on their behavior. Since every single person we are observing can be categorized as either being dominant, submissive, uncomfortable or comfortable, these four categories become the four options that an officer has available to them when the person they are talking to refuses to cooperate. In this particular situation, the options are: Continue reading »

“Left of Bang” and the OODA Loop

August 23, 2016 in Applying The Observations



  • While explaining the OODA Loop, I misspeak and refer to John Boyd as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. He was a Colonel.
  • While explaining the decision tree for civilians, I say that our options are to “Control, Call, Capture,” the anomaly, when the decision tree is to “Control, Call, Contact” an anomaly that you identify.
  • Further reading: “The Tao of Body: How to Master the OODA Loop,” written by Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness.

Video Transcript

In today’s video we answer one of the most frequently asked questions that we get, how do the behaviors written about in Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life support people as they go through the OODA Loop. Continue reading »

Bridging The Experience Gap: Recognizing Threats With More Time To Prepare

August 20, 2016 in Applying The Observations

This article was originally written for and posted on

When I talk with veteran police officers about what has made them successful in their careers, many bring up the fact that with five, ten, or fifteen years on the job, they have seen so much criminal activity that they have become pretty capable of identifying people who require attention. But with the rising threat of officer ambushes today, how does an up-and-coming officer become capable of ensuring their own safety without the opportunity to gain those five, ten, or fifteen years of experience? Preventing officer ambushes begins by learning how to establish the norm that exists for the areas and situations you encounter every day.

In our book Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, my co-author, Jason Riley, and I discuss how the Marine Corps Combat Hunter program was designed to help Marines recognize the pre-event indicators to attacks so that they could deal with threats proactively instead of being forced into a reactive situation. This approach to recognizing criminals and attackers starts with an acceptance of the underlying premise that the behavioral cues that will cause a criminal to stand out from the crowd are always contextual. Even though they will be identifiable using universal and uncontrollable elements of behavior, because “threat” cues are situational, improving an officer’s ability to understand and define that context, the baseline, is the most important step in the process of ensuring officer safety. This is required before we can start to talk about pre-event indicators to violence. While recognizing anomalies is the goal, being an anomaly is a relative term. To stand out, you have to stand out from something. That something is the baseline for the areas and the situations that you encounter everyday.

One of the reasons why veteran officers are typically more capable of identifying criminals is because of the experiences they have accumulated over their years on the job. With this extensive database of scenarios encountered, they are able to intuitively size up a situation and know whether something is normal (part of the baseline) or not normal (an anomaly worth investigating.) The challenge is in passing those experiences and that understanding of events on to younger officers. Since these skills have often been developed and accumulated through countless hours on the street, it has historically been a problem to quantify and package that intuitive understanding of the baseline into a concise and mutually understood terminology so that more junior officers are able to benefit from that knowledge.

While a vocabulary to clearly define the baseline may have previously been considered unattainable, the advances Continue reading »

Training to the Decision and Trusting An Officer’s Judgment

August 13, 2016 in Applying The Observations


This article was originally written for and posted on

As a leader in law enforcement, there are likely many things that keep you up at night. With the recent increased public attention and scrutiny of police officers, questions about how well your officers are prepared to operate in the highly uncertain situations that characterize your field are likely near the top of your list. While having a high degree of trust in an officer’s judgment can minimize this anxiety, developing decision-making skills in younger officers has often been a challenge. While this is often because the ability to articulate the conditions for situations that are characterized as anything but black and white has been lacking, one of the original goals for writing Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life was to empower leaders with the ability to use a clear and common language to explain their intent to their organizations. While the terminology that comes from the four pillars of observable behavior discussed in Left of Bang can be applied to any situation that a police officer might face on the job, in this article I’ll show how a leader can explain to their officers what de-escalation is, why it is beneficial, when it should be applied, when it shouldn’t be utilized and how to plan their approach when attempting to calm a situation.

Step #1: Start With the “What”

To ensure that techniques are presented in the simplest way possible, all that de-escalation entails is taking a person who is displaying the dominant cluster of observable behavior and transitioning them into the comfortable cluster (here is an explanation about the clusters). For the situations that permit de-escalation tactics, defining what it is doesn’t require a complicated definition and there is a straightforward explanation that comes from the four types of nonverbal behavior they see every single day.

Step #2: Explain “Why” an Officer Would Want to De-Escalate a Situation

While there are big picture pros and cons to the use of de-escalation techniques, a discussion about the why de-escalation should be used should be focused on the benefits to the individual officer on the ground. For instance, Continue reading »

Three Questions to Assess the Tools Your Training Provides

August 6, 2016 in Applying The Observations

This article was originally written for and posted on

Has anyone ever told you, “Here is another tool for your toolbox.”  As a Marine, I hated hearing those words, and I still cringe when an instructor utters that phrase to our nation’s police officers during a training seminar. The phrase often implies that the key to professional competency is to pack as much information into a student’s brain as possible, regardless of its future usefulness. When it comes to developing an officer’s ability to make effective decisions, quickly making sense of a situation doesn’t come from having more information or even more “tools” to use, but instead from applying finely tuned mental models to adapt to rapidly changing situations. It’s through these mental models developed over an officer’s career that they can quickly identify present patterns and use the information they have more effectively.

As a police officer, the only person responsible for ensuring your professional development is yourself. To get the most out of your time spent in training, it requires that you have a process to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the topic being taught. To help you assess the tools that instructors and authors are trying to provide you with, here are three questions that can help you determine how important that tool is.

Question #1: Where in your model does the current class fit?

As a police officer, it’s Continue reading »

A Practice Video – A Robbery In A Mall Food Court

May 12, 2016 in Applying The Observations

This week, Chris Pendas from Staying Safe Self Defense, posted a great lessons-learned video (embedded below) for his readers about situational awareness by analyzing security footage from a mall food court. Chris was gracious enough to let us share the video so that we could expand on his debrief for our readers using the behaviors and terminology taught in Left of Bang and in our training programs.  

So first, watch the video (it is about 5 minutes long and requires sound) to take in the scene, to observe the theft of a purse and hear the teaching points that Chris highlights for ways to ensure your personal safety in public spaces.


Here is how we would work our way through the Baseline + Anomaly = Decision observation process. For an explanation about all of the assessments used below, we recommend that you download our “Cluster Cards” for more information.

The Baseline: Continue reading »

Re-engineering the Toolbox: Beyond The Cliché

March 15, 2016 in Applying The Observations

In an article that I wrote this past week for, here is the article, I open the post with a discussion about why I cringe when I hear an instructor say they are going to provide me with “another tool for my toolbox.” While often said with the best intentions, because that phrase implies that the instructor is giving their student some random fact or process that they expect the student to store away in their brain, those “tools” are rarely valuable since they could often only be applied in a very small set of circumstances. While the article provides a three-question process that helps students assess the value of a training program they are attending, our situational awareness and observation training program, the Tactical Analysis program, was built because having a higher quantity of narrowly applicable “tools” doesn’t necessarily ensure that you will be able to make better decisions in stressful situations. To make better decisions in the face of uncertainty and when solving challenging problems, it is time that we get beyond the cliché and reconsider the way we are building a protector’s toolbox.

Step One: Define the Tool’s Utility

As we look to select what type of tool to fill the metaphorical toolbox with, we first need a way to define the goal of a training program and how the program supports decision-making. While John Boyd’s OODA Loop is often taught in an overly simplified way when discussing decision-making, personally I like to use the OODA Loop as a way to consider the value a training program offers. The loop provides an explicit representation of what often occurs intuitively. The act of taking in facts and information from your surroundings (observing), making sense of those facts and Continue reading »

Processes Are For Winners: Stop Trying To “CYA”

February 2, 2016 in Applying The Observations

In an article I posted last week, I highlighted a recent presentation I attended where I found myself actually getting angry with the presenter, but what I didn’t explain was why I became so aggravated. While last week’s article was about the need for presenters to establish and exceed expectations in their audience, there was one point in the presenter’s message that has continued to grind on me. The presenter’s message was essentially that following processes and procedures was a way for people to “Cover Your Ass” (CYA) in the pursuit of career self-preservation. After the presentation was over, I found myself wondering how many other people in law enforcement or the security industry think the same way he does. While there were a number of people in the audience who were clearly turned off by the message, I did notice a few people who were nodding their heads, seemingly in agreement, as he was connecting procedural adherence with job protection. This is a problem. Processes aren’t in place so that defensively minded people can pass blame onto others; they exist so that people seeking to make the world better can succeed. Processes are for winners.

Processes exist because, every single time you go through and execute the Continue reading »

Communication Exercise: How To Use Real Life Events – Part 2

January 5, 2016 in Applying The Observations

In Part 1 of this article last week, we talked about the behaviors that a mother observed in a real life scenario that helped her get left of bang when faced by a woman attempting to kidnap her baby at a mall in Long Island, NY.  Each of the intuitive observations that the mother made in the situation allowed her to prevent herself from becoming the victim of the crime. Using our terminology, we can further explain why the would-be attacker was an anomaly to the baseline for a woman’s bathroom. But to complete the communication exercise, we also need to further explain why the kidnapper’s behavior actually made her stand out from the baseline.

To do that, we need to take a look at her intent. The kidnapper’s violent intent for being in the bathroom is different than a typical/baseline bathroom goer. To put the observed behaviors in context, let’s start by placing the would-be kidnapper’s actions into the framework of the seven-step attack cycle.  If you are unfamiliar with this cycle, it is a structure Continue reading »

Communication Exercise: How To Use Real Life Events – Part 1

December 26, 2015 in Applying The Observations

“There was just something off about the person. I couldn’t explain it but I just felt like I needed to get out of there.”

The comment above is one that I hear often while teaching or talking to people who have read, Left of Bang. As humans, we are hard-wired to predict danger. This natural ability is one of they many reasons why we need to trust our instincts that stem from the limbic system, which is the survival center of our brain. For example, in early December, there was a story reported by an ABC News affiliate in Long Island, NY, about a mother who had an instinct that another woman was trying to kidnap her baby. Because the mother was able to trust her intuition that there was something “off” about the other woman, she was able to safely get away and prevent herself and her baby from becoming the victims of a crime.

However, recognizing that there is something wrong is often only the first part of the process that people with situational awareness need to go through in order to ensure their own safety. For police officers and security professionals who are going to have to write out a report, there is still the requirement of being able to effectively communicate exactly what you observed. For civilians who need to file a police report or are looking to better understand where that original gut feeling came from, the ability to articulate what you saw and explain why it was important is a critical skill. While it is extremely gratifying that the students who come through the Tactical Analysis program note that they now have the ability to clearly and articulately explain what about a particular situation led them to make a decision, the communication of those intuitive recognitions we rely on takes practice to master.

One method that we use to hone this skill and that we recommend to our course graduates seeking to make behavior analysis a habit is to take real life events and translate the eye witness accounts into the Continue reading »

Building a Structure of Common Language

November 29, 2015 in Applying The Observations

In a prior post titled, “The Cure is a Common Language,” we outlined some of the benefits of a common language for organizations, including bringing your team together, eliminating gray areas, and improving overall communication. In the work that we do with our clients at The CP Journal, we teach the baselining process to improve situational awareness, which incorporates the four pillars of observable behavior. We do this because it offers clear terms and justification for individuals, groups, the environment, and the collective mood, which can help make more informed decisions. It is worth noting that we aren’t in favor creating and requiring formal scripts for employees, because it often takes away their ability to think critically. Instead, we favor creating a framework and vocabulary that can be applied to any environment at any time that everyone can universally implement as part of his or her operational processes. In our experience working with our client partners at The CP Journal, we have identified three basic steps that you can implement immediately to build your own internal common language.

The first step is to get everyone Continue reading »

The Cure is a Common Language   

November 5, 2015 in Applying The Observations

Have you ever been in a situation in which you and another person witnessed the exact same thing, but described it completely differently after the fact? When two people observe something and they are asked later to describe what they saw, the responses might go something like this:

Person #1: “Well, he was tall and had dark hair… his shirt was brownish black, it might have been blue, and he was standing kind of strangely, like he was waiting for something.”

Person #2: “He was 6’1” with a dark complexion. He was wearing a black shirt and it was buttoned all the way up to the top. He was very uncomfortable, which I could tell based on the the fact that his feet were bouncing continuously, he was moving his arms a lot, and he was constantly looking around.”

This is a very basic example, but the question you should ask yourself is whether your organization has a common language to describe situations and instances that occur throughout the day. This could be as simple as the best way to report something strange to the security team to as detailed as specific language that everyone should for observation, reporting, and action. There are three specific benefits that can come from building a common language for situational awareness within your team and while Continue reading »

The Candy Bowl Theory

September 30, 2015 in Applying The Observations

In my professional experience, getting to know the people you’re working with is one of the first important and productive things that you can do when starting a new job. This isn’t only important in terms of making your day-to-day enjoyable, amiable, and fun, but it will also help you be more effective in your job moving forward. Discoveries such as who on your team or in your office prefers a two-word email versus a thorough, explanatory email, who likes to take charge and lead meetings, and who would prefer to sit back during group conversations and absorb, taking notes, all add up to better efficiency and a more ideal, humming work environment.

Beginning at a new office can be intimidating and, after that welcome lunch or quick introductory walk around the office, it can be difficult to proactively meet people until the time comes when you begin working on a project with them. It’s vital, however, that you make a pointed effort to do so. Simply having knowledge about other people can help you prepare for potential responses to stressful situations, plan more effectively for the completion of tasks, enhance your situational awareness, and ultimately make you better at your job. This proactive initiative to get to know everyone on your team and in your office doesn’t have to entail any elaborate plans, logistics, or fuss. It can literally come in the form of a candy bowl.

Yes, putting out Continue reading »