Human Performance Improvement for Tactical Teams

By Hathaway, D. J. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Human Performance Improvement for Tactical Teams


Hathaway, D. J., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


The law enforcement community faces more challenges today than ever before. Such phrases as weapons of mass destruction, terrorist cell, and homeland security have become common vernacular. Moreover, agencies must deal with the ever-increasing public scrutiny that comes with the availability of 24-hour news coverage. To protect officers, safeguard the financial solvency of the agency, and provide better service for citizens, law enforcement organizations need comprehensive strategies. Tactical teams, as well as police departments, must show that they appropriately select, properly train, and responsibly manage their officers.

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Human performance technology (HPT), which originated in general systems theory (mankind and machines are applied together against an objective) (1) and behaviorism (manipulation of the human performer is conducted to enhance overall production or performance), increases profitability in businesses by either reducing operating costs or increasing profit streams. In law enforcement systems, HPT brings together the performance of the officer, benefits of technology, and complexities of the legal system to tackle challenging situations and provide outstanding public service.

A Team's Capabilities

Most law enforcement agencies no longer rigidly adhere to tactical standard operating procedures (SOPs). Rather, they use them as guidelines or rely on them when standard situations occur. Departments can face legal ramifications if they deviate from detailed SOPs. Further, problems can arise when SOPs are too ambiguous, do not provide any real guidance, or are not based on the reality of the department's capabilities and resources. Tactical unit SOPs should reflect the abilities, staffing, and jurisdiction of the team. Situations seldom unfold as predicted, so agencies should properly plan for contingencies.

The law enforcement community employs specialized tactical teams to deal with extraordinary situations, typically protracted in nature, that require the use of uniquely trained personnel. A candid self-analysis of a tactical team's capabilities can define appropriate situations to train for and maximize the resources available to do so. HPT can specifically enhance the development of a department's tactical team by providing not only clarity but also systematic tools that analyze the organizational context, determine the current performance levels, and render direction and evaluation to ensure the team functions at its highest potential. But, common to any systematic approach, when initial assumptions are inaccurate, skewed results most likely occur.

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Business Analysis

A business usually either makes a product or provides a service; the tactical team furnishes a specialized service for the department and the public. "A business analysis is the process of identifying and clarifying primary organizational goals, targets, or needs." (2) Such an analysis defines what is important to the department and the tactical team. Team goals and capabilities vary between agencies, which should consider such factors as team size, physical standards, psychological stability, amount of dedicated training time, funding, and even frequency of using the team. In a post-September 11 and school-shooting era, how neighboring jurisdictions select, train, and equip teams proves significant. Leaders should develop a memorandum of understanding with other agencies that identifies the frequency of joint training and crisis response duties and capabilities. In these matters, a business analysis can provide clarity and proves important for two basic reasons. First, goals drive an organization, and the business analysis defines the goals. The analysis points out what is and what is not important. Second, identifying the goals and what is important allows the department to focus on significant performance issues and the allocation of resources to support them. …

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