A response to “Defining The Human Terrain – Revealing Core Patterns.”

What the military is only now beginning to utilize in regards to reading human terrain has been a prerequisite for successful urban law enforcers for decades. As Patrick stated in his article, the need for our nation’s military to become more capable of separating the enemy from the crowd he hides amongst becomes an increasingly relevant skill-set.  This skill set is what has defined and set apart the successful, street-smart urban law enforcement professional from all others. Though the collection and subsequent analysis of data concerning political, social and economic factors can and should be used by a higher level in the chain of command for strategic planning and decision-making purposes, such information does little to provide the domestic law enforcer or Marine the ability to spot the criminal element before a criminal act is executed.  Herein lies an important component to understanding the difference between strategic decision-making and tactical decision-making.  Tactical decision-making is necessary to keep the boots on the ground “left of bang” and free from the pitfall of “paralysis by analysis,” when there is little time and/or little information to work with.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled for years to find the right balance in regards to the amount of time an officer remains on a particular beat or district.  Often the concern is allowing enough time for the officer to “know his beat” (establish a baseline for the area and hone his skills at spotting anomalies) versus preventing an officer from becoming too comfortable, which can lead to boredom, complacency, or worse, varying levels of corruption.  In any event, just as current rotation schedules impact military personnel, unlimited time on target, whether for the beat cop or Marine, is nonexistent.  As a result, both need tools that allow for an expedited establishment of the baseline and an expedited recognition of the anomalies.  Urban warriors, whether they be domestically situated or occupying foreign soil, must be able to make quick, tactical decisions.  They need to be able to address the “here and now” that keeps them left of bang.  The ability to do such results from understanding real time group and individual behaviors that are indicative of a threat.  This threat could be anything from the next gas station robbery, home burglary or the IED implanter or suicide bomber.

One of the most common complaints lodged against young, inexperienced police officers are the allegations of improper and unnecessary, stops, searches, and other contacts.  The second most common complaint may well be the internal complaint from superiors and peers for lack of initiative, not being proactive, sub-par numbers, and general incompetence in effectively addressing crime and disorder.  This often results from the inexperienced officer not recognizing benign, normal behavior for the area compared with truly criminal behavior.  When you don’t know what you are looking for, or looking at, everything and everybody will either look completely innocuous or of criminal intent.  Both of these inaccurate assumptions can have dire consequences.  Failing to recognize a threat on the street corner or battlefield can be worse than mistakenly detaining an innocent party.  Such actions, or lack there of, by police officers, do little to build public trust, and can hamper efforts at empowering residents to change an area plagued by crime and violence.  The same can be said for counter-insurgency efforts fostered by military personnel.  Good people want to know that we can discern the good from the bad quickly and deal with the bad efficiently and effectively.  When we can’t do that, public trust erodes and the true criminal element becomes empowered to operate.

For the law enforcer, knowing ones beat means far more than knowing the geopolitical boundaries, major streets and intersections, the quickest ways to traverse an area, where the chronic complainers and crazies live, or which establishments offer the beloved half priced “cop deals” on everything from tires to torpedo sandwiches.  Knowing your beat means first establishing the collective “norm” (the baseline) of the area of responsibility by viewing the surroundings with an understanding of not only the “what” associated with habitual areasanchor points and natural lines of drift, but the “how” as well.  Knowing how to use the personal knowledge of those geographic features to secure an area, identify threats, and collect intelligence for future operations can make the difference between furthering the mission objective or furthering the ability of the criminal element to thrive.

A basic tenant of being street savvy means being able to read and understand Iconography, and knowing how to use it to ones advantage.    Proxemic pushes and pulls in an area can and do, tell a police officer a lot about how the police are perceived and the level of trust, respect, admiration, fear, or reverence a neighborhood may have for a particular officer or the force in general.  Reading body language or Kinesic cues have saved many officers lives during that car stop, pat down, or simply a bar patrol.  Baseline establishment, or “knowing your beat,” as established through these lenses, is as fundamental a tool for the police officer as is a sidearm, radio or field notebook, and so it must be for military personnel charged with a similar mission.

The successful warrior (Marine or cop) does not view each of these domains in a singular or isolated fashion.  Rather each domain must be viewed collectively and/or simultaneously.  There is an interdependent relationship that each domain has upon the dynamics of the other.  Just as looking through a pair of NVG’s, binoculars or an RCO enhances the ability to see geographic terrain, allowing for the safe ingress or egress of an area, or bringing our target into better focus; viewing people and the utilization of their surroundings through the proper lenses allows us to bring the target of criminal and insurgent behavior into better focus.

This article has become part of an e-book that can be downloaded here