Dick Marcinko, in his book called “Rogue Warrior” describes an incident where he was on a combat patrol and for an unknown reason he dropped to the ground just as enemy fire opened up on his position. As he describes the experience it’s very clear that he was not at the time, and to the date of that writing, still not aware of why he dropped at that moment. But doing so saved his life. 

I’ve had conversation with another warrior who describes an experience where he was standing on a front porch enjoying a sunrise when someone snuck up behind him. He clearly states that the person never made any sound but for some reason – in some way – the warrior knew that he was being approached. He even went so far as to address the individual without even turning around to confirm his “feeling”. He knew – for sure and certain – that the person was there; he knew who it was; and knew that the person was approaching him in a sneaky fashion. I withhold the name of that warrior only because I don’t have his permission to use it here.

As a police officer I’ve been on the scene of many incidents where something “just didn’t seem quite right.” As a contemporary warrior, I’m sure you’re familiar with the feeling: you see certain things, and you get told certain things, and everything you’re told matches what you see, but something still seems out of whack. You can’t articulate why you feel that way, but you’re certain you’ve missed something.

I personally have seen a police officer be selective in his traffic enforcement. While running radar he’d let some cars go by but pull others over. I could see no reason why – no significant difference between the car types or the drivers / occupants – but that officer had an uncanny knack for pulling over cars that had drugs in them. On one occasion he and I were working together and he told me to let a car go (the car was going better than 70mph in a 35mph zone), and he said, “Because the car behind it is the one we want.” The next car was only going 55mph in that 35mph zone, but the driver turned out to be drunk and he had several thousand dollars’ worth of crack-cocaine in his glove compartment. When I asked that officer why we let the first one go and pulled over the second, he couldn’t give me a good answer. “I just felt like this one was a better stop for us,” was the best he could do.

Keep those incidents in mind as we discuss a couple of things, the first being human intuition. We’ve all heard of it; we all know what it is; even if we can’t give a scientific explanation or description of it. Intuition is knowing something but not consciously: perceiving something but not through our normal five senses. Often when we’ve figured something out “through intuition” we can’t explain how we did it. When asked we most often say, “I don’t know; it just felt that way.”

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines intuition as: “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” In repeated conversations with contemporary warriors (cops and soldiers) regarding training experiences they’d had, I’ve found that quite often those warriors complete actions based on decisions that they made without being consciously aware of why. One warrior relates the story of entering a darkened room, noting, “something out of the corner of my eye… something not right behind the sofa.” The “something not right” was an armed assailant just peaking over the arm of the sofa that the warrior engaged with a single paintball shot in the face (that was all of the “bad guy” that was available and thank goodness for protective training gear).  Further conversation with that warrior (who also happens to be a police psychologist) revealed that the five human senses can often take in data that our conscious mind never becomes aware of, but that our subconscious mind perceives, processes and makes decisions on faster than we can blink.

Previous research has shown that the conscious mind can only process data in a linear fashion, and in that manner, only handle between five to seven pieces of information. So, if the bits of data all slam the conscious mind at once, only five to seven bits are going to be caught. That five to seven are going to be processed one after the other and if they are processed in the wrong order the end conclusion may in fact be irrational or unsupported.

Let’s compare that to the subconscious mind: not only does the subconscious mind process information in parallel, it can handle hundreds of pieces of information at a time. Obviously this is a much more efficient method of processing incoming data. So, what’s the down side? There are a couple that I can think of.

1) The conscious mind never becomes aware of what the subconscious mind does or is doing. Therefore, if the subconscious information processing and decision-making results in a use of force, the conscious mind can’t articulate why.

2) Because contemporary warriors are consistently required to articulate why they took any action where a use of force was involved, we tend to doubt anything we can’t fully explain. “Because it felt right,” isn’t acceptable in a court of law or standing before your commanding officer.

3) The subconscious mind can only make rational and applicable decisions if it has previously experienced similar data in the same relative context. That gets a bit tricky.

How does a cop trust his subconscious mind – his intuition if you will – to make lightning fast correct decisions? He has to allow it to gain experience under similar circumstances, similar stressors, with similar data feed going in.

For example: if a police officer is going to train proper Use of Force judgment while performing building searches at night, he needs to train in force-on-force scenarios using Simunitions or Paintball equipment to perform building searches at night. His subconscious mind needs to see, hear, feel, smell and taste what occurs in this specific context. With that information tucked away, then when the officer has to perform a real building search at night, his subconscious mind has an adequate foundation upon which to process all of the incoming data and spit out decisions.

Now I can hear some of you thinking, “Why is this even necessary?” Because in every conflict situation; in every set of circumstances where you are at odds against another individual; in every specific context, you have to make your decision and act rationally before your opponent. Whoever acts correctly (rationally) first will win the conflict. We want that to always be us, right? To help that happen, we need to properly train for it, and that training must include force-on-force training under the same circumstances as those we are training to operate in.

So, if we train properly and sufficiently, our subconscious mind can be a fantastic asset in conflict situations. What’s the next step? The next step is the hardest part: surrendering control of your actions to your subconscious mind – acting without hesitation or pause on your intuition in that context. Doing this is referred to as “contextual intuition”. As odd as it may sound, if you train properly and enough you can get to a point where you enter force-on-force scenarios with Simunitions or Paintball, and with a couple of breaths you can set your mind and body to act on decisions your subconscious mind feeds you.

The absolute funniest thing is seeing the look on the faces of other officers when they watch you do things that you can’t possibly do without being magic. Because they are unfamiliar with subconscious empowerment; because they’ve never thought about the strengths of contextual intuition (or ever heard of it?); because it scares them to take actions that they can’t completely consciously articulate, they will balk at what you’ve done. And when they ask you how you knew to do it and you’re best answer is, “Because it felt right,” then you’ve really lost them: but the look on their face is irreplaceable.

This begs a question though: if you do train enough and become comfortable enough and let yourself go to contextual intuition in an operational situation, how do you articulate / explain your actions afterward? To do so you have to use specific training aids and develop detailed associations between graphic images and attached anticipated actions. For example, your Use of Force Continuum should be studied and you should envision using the myriad types of force that would match each option. You have to study that continuum and envision subject behavior that matches the described “bad guy” actions in your continuum and match them together. In doing so, you can create in your mind links between the continuum and images. When you experience such actions in an operational setting, even after you act based on contextual intuition, you can articulate why afterward by using the continuum graphic to prompt your subconscious mind. In this way, you prompt your subconscious mind to release the images that were processed faster than you realized. Those images are then translated into words and you can articulate why you did what you did.

Images are obviously very important. Our brains process images much faster than they do words whether they are spoken, heard, written or read. Think about this example briefly:

[[Picture in your mind a man standing in front of you, with no objects between the two of you; that man has a handgun pointed at you and you can see the white coming out on his knuckle as his trigger finger begins to squeeze.]]

Seeing that would be quick and your reaction (hopefully) instantaneous. That would obviously be much faster than anyone saying that to you. Just consider how long it took you to read those forty-five words that described the situation. What your eye would see in a blink your brain would take a few seconds to perceive through words.

So, we come to understand that we humans are certainly capable of making decisions much faster than we sometimes do, and that we can make them based on information we are not consciously aware of. To those who watch this being done it might seem unexplainable. To the uneducated it might seem magic; it might seem supernatural; but it’s really just us allowing our minds to work most efficiently under the circumstances.

Whether or not there is such a thing as the “supernatural” is a matter of what you believe. From this point forward recognize that I’m a Christian and because of my faith I believe in things that have no explanation beyond being spiritual. Now, anytime I’m going to talk about things of a spiritual nature, I tend to consult someone who I believe is much closer to the spiritual plane than myself. In this case I consulted a sworn police officer who is also a Police Chaplain: Chaplain Staton of the Virginia Beach Police Department.

Chaplain Staton was kind enough to provide this explanation of difference between was is or isn’t supernatural:

“That knowledge and skill which can be learned by training the human senses is not supernatural. That knowledge which cannot be gained by training the human senses and cannot be proven by the human senses is knowledge by faith and is supernatural.”

As the good Chaplain explained to me, God will not do for me what I can do for myself, but he will do everything for me that I cannot do for myself. Learning the difference between the two and how to use both is His goal for us.

So, to me anyway, this means I have to learn not just two lines of thinking but at least three:

First, I have to learn what conscious decisions I’m capable of that will lead me to actions. Those actions (because of my faith) should always be legal and moral. They should always be just. Again, because of my faith, if they are legal, moral and just, then I believe they are in alignment with God’s will.

Second, I have to learn what subconscious rational decisions I’m capable of that will lead me to appropriate actions. Again, I must train my subconscious properly so that those actions are still legal, moral and just. If I consciously condition my subconscious mind, I’m equally responsible for my actions as they are dictated by both.

Third, I have to recognize that there are decisions I won’t make for myself. Those decisions will be made by a power, force and personality we call God as his will guides me, providing me direction of action without any conscious or subconscious decisions on my part. To do that I need to at least be able to recognize how it feels when God is acting through me. Faith must become the way to those decisions and actions. Those actions will still be legal, moral and just – because of my faith in a power, force personality in whom there is no confusion, immorality or injustice.

Wait a minute: brain lock. Consider this: a peace keeper (cop or soldier) who trains diligently; learns to trust his conscious and subconscious; in doing so he learns to trust his feelings; and because he recognizes that there are some feelings he’ll have that there is no explanation for beyond his faith, he trusts all of his feelings. Forgive me if this sounds hokey but that sounds suspiciously like George Lucas’ Jedi Knights.

Yeah, it’s funny, but think about it.

I’ll tell you up front: I grew up a Trekkie – not a Star Wars fan. Still, “May the force be with you,” is a statement that we’ve all heard thanks to the most financially successful movie franchise in history. The idea of Jedi Knights is idealistic and wonderful all at the same time. Consider the following:

In our society we have various ways of pursuing citizen compliance with our laws, rules and regulations. Laws, as most of us know them, started several thousand years ago with these things called the Ten Commandments. Law has evolved a long way since then (though it can be debated whether it was for the better or worse) but compliance is still pursued. Largely, there are two kinds of people who support the enforcement of moral and legal laws: Those who encourage others to be obedient, and those who apprehend the others who aren’t obedient.

“Obedient” and “compliant” can be dangerous words to use when you’re discussing human beings and personal freedom. Such words stimulate societal memories of slavery and servitude. It’s not meant that way in this context. If you are a licensed driver and you obey speed limits, you’re obedient to that law. In this context, “obedient” means no more and no less than simple recognition of and compliance with laws as they exist.

For our purposes here, it doesn’t matter if we’re discussing the Ten Commandments or conventional laws as created by our legislatures. What matters is that we identify the two groups of people: those who encourage obedience / compliance and those who take enforcement action if the laws are violated.

So, who is in the first group? While it may include teachers, parents, siblings, grandparents, and more, those who make a profession of moral guidance are “members of the cloth”: priests, reverends, ministers, rabbis, imams, etc. Religious leaders, through their teachings, as drawn from the historical documents their faith provides, encourage behavior that is in compliance with those documents and the morality taught therein. In this manner, those religious teachers encourage obedience based on respect for the will of whatever deity their faith specifies.

Most of the time I believe that first group (religious leaders) is quite successful. The large majority of religious followers are obedient to their faith and make a sincere effort to live their lives in a positive manner, observing the guidelines provided by their faith as interpreted by their respective religious leader(s). Usually, the obedience of their religious teachings includes respect for and observance of existing man-made laws. This is accomplished by a full-time effort on the part of the religious leader. I know of priests in at least three different Christian religions who spend every waking moment dedicated to the service of their church. They do this out of a dedication to the God they serve and the community of their Church – those souls who they attempt to save and preserve every day through the services they provide.

Sometimes those religious leaders are not successful. Sometimes one of their followers – or an individual who doesn’t have any religious faith or any respect for the law at all – fails to obey those commandments / rules / laws. Bear in mind that just because the individual doesn’t claim a faith doesn’t mean there isn’t someone trying to save his/her soul anyway. People may not pray for themselves – but someone is praying for them. It’s one of the greatest ironies of those who don’t believe: they don’t have to if God listens to others who care about them.

That said, who deals with these people who fail to comply with or obey the moral and legislative laws? Well, we call them law enforcement: deputy sheriffs, police officers, constables, etc. Oh, and let us not forget, when the violations are committed by the leaders of nation-states using the military might of that entity, usually it is the “peace keepers” (can you say troops?) of other nations sent to establish peace and some level of justice.

You see, compared to contemporary soldiers, police officers have a relatively easy job. They go to work; patrol; answer calls; take reports; mediate disputes; make arrests as necessary. The force they are permitted to use is delineated by departmental policy which is usually based on Constitutional and State laws. Weighed against that is the soldier who has to live at work; often times fight simply to stay alive; respond to incidents; report intelligence as necessary / required; and enforce the law as it exists in that combat zone. Those soldiers have to do that within the guidelines of their Rules of Engagement which may change from day to day with very little notice. While police officers face the examination of our court systems, soldiers face the scrutiny of not only their command, but also of the media and world perception. These soldiers very much are enforcing the laws of man while being held to the standard of world morality.

So, in some ways, it could be said that if the first group of encouragers fail, the second group of enforcers step in. If that’s true, then aren’t both doing the same work? Just in a different way? And while the police officer’s / soldier’s first mission isn’t saving a soul, might their actions accomplish that indirectly at times? (Interesting note from Chaplain Staton here: The Apostle Paul actually stated that the peace keepers – enforcers of peace – were ministers of rightness, there to enforce God’s wrath upon the wrongdoer, and that they did not bear and wear their weapons for no reason, but to use them in the service of keeping peace.)

What if the two were combined? What if you actually had peacekeepers who dedicated themselves to mastering the skills, knowledge and judgment required to be compassionate warriors? What if our world enjoyed peacekeepers who trained so thoroughly that they were fully capable of acting immediately upon all decisions (conscious, subconscious and supernatural) in a legal, moral and just fashion? These are the fictional Jedi: men and women dedicated to a “priesthood”: the faith of the Living Force. They operate under that faith to always focus on positive thoughts; positive feelings; release worldly concerns; minimize personal belongings; form no personal attachments; keep the peace; insure justice.

I submit to you that if our law enforcement officers (often called a police force) and soldiers (commonly referred to as Armed Forces) were trained to such a level, their abilities would sometimes seem unexplainable. Certainly, to the “uninitiated”, their actions would seem just short of miraculous. “Why did you do that?” “How did you act so fast?” would be common questions. I can see the most common answer, “Because it felt right.”

Can you say, “Use the force, Luke”? I do think that there are some good ideas we might, ah, borrow from Mr. Lucas’ fictional knights. Is it odd to think that our modern day peace keepers should be compared to science-fictional knights? I don’t think so. LtCol. Dave Grossman (ret) calls law enforcement officers the modern-day equivalent of the knights of old. We put a shield on our chest symbolizing who we represent. We put on our armor. We strap a weapon on our side. All of this we do in preparation for any conflict that may occur as we perform our duties. Why, then, would it be wrong to compare our peace keepers to fictional future knights as well? But I digress. Back to those ideas we could borrow from Mr. Lucas.

I think the idea of a Master and an Apprentice is fantastic. This pattern of training “on the job” has been used in many other professions for centuries. The apprentices stayed with the master until they could perform at least as well as the master could. Sure, I hear a few of you say, we have that. It’s called the FTO (Field Training Officer) program. How long does that last? Here in Maryland, after about six months’ worth of academy training (six months not years) the “rookie” is given to an FTO for anywhere from a couple of weeks to as much as six months depending on the agency.

Now I recognize that most agencies have a hard time affording that much training time due to staffing restrictions and service demands. But those issues set aside, I ask you this: In an occupation where decisions measure life and death; survival or destruction: is six months of training and six months of apprenticeship appropriate?

Again, here in Maryland, officers are required to attend about three days of in-service training each year. In addition to that they are required to qualify once each year with their firearms. ONCE. Is once enough to maintain a level of competence that is sufficient to allow quick application of subconscious / supernatural decisions?

Another idea I’d like to steal (did I say that?) from Mr. Lucas’ Jedi is the concept of assignments being given based on strengths instead of geography. I know that’s exceedingly difficult in today’s society, but imagine how much more efficient our peace keeping services would be if we could match an officer’s talents to the needed enforcement. I think this might be at least possible in some of the smaller jurisdictions, but those (most likely) are the ones with the fewest resources, and capable of providing the least amount of training / apprenticeship.

So where does that leave us? With a couple of conclusions that are entirely logical and at least one that is entirely dependent on faith:

1) We must increase the amount and type of our training to insure that our skills are sufficient.

2) We must increase the amount and type of our training to insure that a proper foundation is built for our subconscious mind to make decisions upon (contextual intuition).

3) We must open ourselves (as your faith dictates) to the possibility that some decisions we make will be guided by a higher power and we’ll never be able to articulate why we did them. We must not neglect the spiritual aspect of our being. It too must be trained. There is much value to be gained here.

Above all, if we’re going to be peacekeepers who act in a legal, moral and just manner, we must insure that all of our training is designed to shape our decision making in that direction. We must recognize the distractions and stressors in our lives that inhibit our ability to make appropriate decisions, because inappropriate decisions lead to inappropriate (irrational) actions. We must familiarize ourselves with the human decision-making process and what the differences / strengths / weaknesses are in the conscious, subconscious and supernatural decision making processes. Finally, we in the police community must develop a training system that requires more than three days each year and one day on the range. We have to develop a training system that continues to support our professional growth throughout our career and provides guidance for the new officers for more than just their first six months.

As a final note, I’d suggest that “retiring” doesn’t really change who you are: it simply changes what you do each day. Perhaps we need to find a way to keep interested experienced retired officers “in the loop”. They may prove to be the best mentors for new officers and they certainly have plenty to offer in the way of experience that can be used to develop more efficient training techniques and scenarios. Further, it would stop that awful drain of talent that happens every time we have a retirement ceremony.

Usually I end my messages with “Be safe,” because I feel that to be of ultimate importance to peacekeepers. Due to the topic and tone of this article, I think I’ll end this one differently: Use the force: Use and cooperate with the Force as you use whatever force is necessary to keep the peace.


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