Officer Safety

Discretionary Time


John Bostain

December 17, 2020

December 17, 2020

In my last blog, Communication: It’s About Time to Remove the Reactionary Gap from Training, we talked about what we consider the number one rule for effective communication, which is “always communicate for a position of advantage”. We discussed the concept of the reactionary gap and why teaching officers to just “create distance” isn’t always practical, because officers don’t generally operate in a world of distance. Most of our encounters occur up close and personal, and creating a gap just isn’t possible.

Instead of using the term “reactionary gap”, we’ve replaced it with “create discretionary time”. The concept of creating discretionary time applies in all aspects of officer safety. If we can create time, we generally have more options available and we can get more resources to the scene. We agree, there are incidents where we cannot create time; things are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. This is known as non-discretionary time, which generally requires immediate, decisive action. But what I’m talking about is creating discretionary time whenever possible.

There are two primary means of creating discretionary time. The first is through the use of physical barriers. Placing a physical barrier between you and the person you’re interacting with, will force them to go up, over, around, or through that barrier to be able to engage in an assault, and that will take time. A barrier can be almost anything…as long as it gets in the way of the subject who may attempt to assault you. When you arrive on any scene, actively look for physical barriers you can use to place between you and a subject, especially one who may be in crisis.

Our second method of creating discretionary time is through the use of movement. Simply changing our position may allow us a little extra time to make better decisions. In our classes, we refer to this as getting off the “X”, a phrase most of you are pretty familiar with. If you’re not, X refers to your current position, get off the X means don’t be in that position anymore. MOVE! Move left, right, front, back…it doesn’t matter. All that matters is you need to move.

I realize most people reading this probably consider this “basic” information. If you already use these principles, them keep using them. They will keep you safer. Some of you may wonder why I even took time to write about it. Here’s the short answer. Because overall many officers suck at it. One of the things that bothers me most as I watch body-camera and in-car camera footage is how often officers who have discretionary time on their side give it away! Instead of holding cover (behind a barrier), they walk right into the open to make contact with a person. We tend to rush into situations, and when we do, we voluntary give away our discretionary time and put ourselves in a non-discretionary time position! That's less safe for you and it’s less safe for the public. If you have time…use it to your advantage…don’t give it away. Remember, if you want to be safer, create time whenever possible.