How to Be An Autocrat

Over the last several months, one of the tasks I acquired is to instruct supervisory, command, and crisis management people in what are hopefully some effective ways to improve their abilities to manage a critical incident. It's not a particularly easy task, as it makes people cringe to realize that they may have to actually become involved in managing an incident that falls way outside of the scope of their knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, in these days of bombs, possible pandemics, terrorist threats, and just plain old whack jobs with bizarre agendas, coupled with the relative ease of acquiring weapons and materials, it has become a real possibility that it is a matter of "when," not "if" you may have to deal with it.

Several deficiencies exist in our efforts to improve these efforts. First of all, we are doing nowhere near the amount of planning, training, and then exercising these efforts to make them truly effective. If we do not start to improve theses efforts soon, it is only going to lead to further tragic events with results that will be difficult for us to explain away, as we have some of the means available to try and combat these issues. Out of this will come the inevitable hue and cry from political and special interest groups, as well as the analysis of every talking head and self-proclaimed expert about what coulda, shoulda and woulda needed to be done by the incompetents who responded to or led the effort to deal with the issues that arose. One of the more painful things that will come out of this--and you can see it in many ways--is that when politics (politics: from the Greek words poly meaning "many" and ticks, "small blood-sucking insects," but I digress) raises its ugly head, individuals will start to propose concepts that are based on emotion, and with little or no research, propose some truly outrageous solutions that just don't work and take the control away from the people who actually will be called upon to deal with similar events in the future. We can avoid this trap now by planning, training and exercising these plans to find the gaps and issues and correct them.

One of the most glaring deficiencies I have found during the process is that we have absolutely forgotten how give direct orders in an autocratic manner. It was amazing to me how many times, while I was running some fairly challenging tabletops and simulation exercises, that most the supervisory, command, and crisis management people either do not want or don't know how to just flat out say DO IT AND DO IT NOW. We have become so mired in the inclusive, participatory, developing-a-consensus style of doing things that it positively hinders our responses to critical incidents. It also hamstrings our daily operations and mires them in minutiae, but again, I digress, and that is a different story. If we do not find a solution to this, it is going to cost us again and again, both in lives of our officers and community members, as well as significant infrastructure damage.

So what is the solution to this problem? It is both simple and difficult. First of all, it begins for the police side early on. While I have never been a huge fan of a strict military-style academy for entry level officers, I have had my epiphany here, and based on the threats we face, it will be the correct path to follow. When our new officers hit the street, I want them to be drilled in the fact that while they do have problem-solving abilities, when the fecal matter hits the air distribution system and a supervisor gives a DO IT NOW order, they will execute the order. Secondly, our supervisors and command staff people must all be trained from the get-go to give these types of orders, and do it in a timely manner. In a critical incident, decisions made early on by the first responding supervisors often determine and shape the way the rest of the incident evolves and is eventually stabilized and resolved. Often now, our training for these groups becomes an exercise in how to fill out forms, try and develop consensus policies, human relations issues, and in general navigate an increasing politically correct environment. All these issues have a place and are important, but when it goes bad I think we have all learned harsh lessons, and realize that singing Kumbaya just does not cut it. I would submit that it is time to develop training again based on a military model, that requires these officers to be exposed to small unit tactics and the reasons and risks that come with operating in hostile environments. Some will say this is unnecessary, that critical incidents are high-intensity/low-occurrence events that you just cannot plan for. That stance, as a high ranking military officer once said, is Bovine Scatology. I have become an active proponent of the "train like you will fight, and you will fight like you train" group of thinking.

Last of all comes our counterpoints in the crisis management and emergency management roles, and what they need to be successful. Not long ago, I would have said they just need to stay out of our way. Well, that is not going to happen, so it is up to us to develop our partnerships with them, educate them on the type of decisions they may be called to make, and more importantly, the way these decisions need to be made. In one of the events we review, the person leading the response to a disaster states frankly that she was called on to make decisions way outside the scope of her training and education. She stated that because of this, she was forced to make decisions quickly, based on the information given by professionals in the field. While this went against the normal operational policies of her environment, which was to develop consensus after consultation and debate, it became, due to the pressures of the critical incident, absolutely essential to operate in an autocratic manner for the safety of the community. Our crisis management people need to be exposed to this and educated how to do it. They must learn that communication is not the same as consultation, and that again their quick and knowledgeable decisions will go a long way toward resolving issues and returning to whatever the new normalcy will be. A long time ago, when I got out of the academy, a crusty old sergeant celebrating our graduation with us cursed us with an old mystical proverb about "living in interesting times." I have been fortunate and unfortunate enough to do so, and when I stand at that old sergeant's grave now on special days, it gives me pause.