Officer Safety

Tightly Coupled


Michael Warren

April 8, 2021

April 8, 2021

Many people refer to criminal justice agencies as paramilitary organizations. And in many ways perhaps they are. There is a rank structure, a clear chain of command, and some even have general orders. So, there are similarities. And it works well – at least most of the time.

But sometimes this structure can actually have a negative impact on officer safety. Bear with me as I explain.

In tightly coupled systems there is an emphasis on efficiency. This is accomplished by those in positions of authority being provided frequent, ongoing information as to the activities and decisions their subordinates are encountering – in real-time. This ensures that each section, group, and department are all striving towards the same organizational goal.

In the business world, rigidity is one of the possible negative side effects of this type of system. Because of the frequent (constant?) intervention and input from management, people are unable or are unwilling to make decisions – even if the current situation dictates that a change is necessary.

How does this relate to law enforcement? In his autobiography, General James Mattis talked about the amazing technological advances that have occurred in the communication world. We have the ability to talk to people halfway around the world with amazing clarity. Many military commanders have taken advantage of this tool and engage with their subordinates frequently – often times when a significant event is underway and still unfolding. According to General Mattis, this creates a reluctance, or as he calls it – a timidity, to make decisions during such events.

Many law enforcement leaders behave like the ones General Mattis spoke about. Constantly micromanaging, demanding ongoing information, and making decisions that should be made by those on the ground. Here is how it is bad for officer safety.

First, when those actually in the fray are forced to make a decision, they are not willing or capable of making they often freeze. Rarely is doing nothing the correct answer. Yet this is a potential outcome from operating within a tightly coupled system that discourages decision making.

Second, tightly coupled systems decrease discretionary time. My partner, John Bostain, discussed discretionary time in an earlier blog. You can find that blog here. Discretionary time is what affords us the potential for additional resources and options when dealing with a situation. Often times whatever discretionary time has been created is used up with dealing with supervisors operating in a tightly coupled organization.

I am by no means saying that supervisors shouldn’t manage their people. We here at Command Presence are BIG into leadership. We are also into officer safety – HUGE. And managing in this fashion is bad for it. Bad for the organization and bad for our folks. Loosen the coupling.