Critical Thinking / Conflict Management Model

Introducing the Conflict Management Model – Critical Thinking chart for use during crisis situations and critical incidents.

A systemized approach for preparing for situations from patrol work, warrant service, vehicle stops to tactical operations such as high risk warrant service, armed besieged criminals and hostage rescue.

It provides a consistent model for logical and progressive decision making, relevant to planned and initial incidents and it can be used individually or by groups/team.

Provides guidance to supervisors regarding appropriate procedures, resources and responses and identifies Risk and Threat levels outlining preventative measures which should be taken in advance.

Ensures that accurate and appropriate information about the incident is conveyed to appropriate resources.

There are several aspects of the Critical Thinking chart, which I will explain, in further detail over the coming pages.

Fast Track Response

Using the Critical Thinking chart you can prepare for any situation whether it is spontaneous (happening right now) or planned such as a warrant service or operation.

During spontaneous situations we must ensure that the first responders are informed of all appropriate intelligence as soon as practical.

During the initial stages of an incident ‘Fast Track Response’ must be considered – usually with the minimum of information and intelligence.

A very quick review of the Critical Thinking chart will allow you to weigh up the risks and dangers to the public, your officers, emergency responders and the subjects in question.

Information and Intelligence

The facts upon which the risks and threat are defined, which informs the working strategy:

  • Informs choices made
  • Defends decisions made
  • What is known?
  • How can it be verified?
  • How can it be developed?
  • How can it be tested?
  • What is FACT?
  • What is OPINION?
  • How old is the intelligence?
  • Is it still appropriate?

Facts support opinions and decisions and provide the knowledge to choose Tactical Options and approaches to safely resolve a given situation.

Pay close attention to the source of information and the resulting intelligence:

  • It is the Operational Commander’s (scene commander) job to manage the intelligence, Strategic Commander’s (Chief) role to ‘intrude’ and challenge the findings of the Operational Commander.
  • It is the key to conducting an accurate threat assessment, which will dictate which tactical options / approaches to the situation should be considered.
  • Specific roles can assist (e.g. Intelligence. Manager, Tactical Advisor, Team Leader)
  • The flow of information will be dynamic and a continuing process and must be regularly reviewed and options reconsidered.
  • Where time and circumstances permit, and without causing an increased risk to others, an assessment of the situation should take account of the physical capacity; emotional or mental state of the subject; cultural, religious and ethnic related considerations relevant, or the locality in which the incident is taking place.

 Risk Assessment and Threat Analysis

Following the gathering of the latest information and the resulting intelligence the Operational Commander (and all officers involved in the incident) should carry out a Risk Assessment and Threat Analysis of the situation and decide:

  • Who and/or what is in danger;
  • Risks Associated with the Threat?
    • What is the likelihood of the threat being carried out?
    • What would the severity be if the threat continued?
    • What would the threat level be if your officers AND the public were exposed to the threat?
  • What is the Threat?
  • Who is Vulnerable – Public, Police, Emergency Responders and Subject(s)?
  • Control Measures (namely tactical options and/or approaches) in Place?
  • Threat Posed:
    • Capability
    • Intent
    • Identification of Subject

A threat analysis refers to the assessment of potential or actual harm to people, the probability of it occurring and the consequences or impact should it occur.

It is based on fact, information and intelligence and will vary over time.

A threat analysis ultimately forms the basis on which the proportionality of the police response will be judged.

It should be based on:

  • Information known at the time;
  • May be supported by historic information;
  • Should take account of the nature of any threat anticipated and its proximity;
  • Should identify to whom and under what circumstances the threat may occur;
  • Should describe any consequences or impacts;
  • Should take account of the impact of change (intelligence update);
  • The more accurate and specific the analysis, the greater the likelihood of being able to reduce or mitigate the threat.

A threat assessment is only as effective as the information and intelligence that is available to base it on and the capability and competency of staff to analyse it in an accurate and timely manner.

It is based on the interaction of the known or suspected capability and intent of an individual subject or group.

It is the role of the Operational Commander to undertake the Risk Assessment and Threat Analysis though it is the responsibility of every officer involved in the situation to constantly assess their individual risk and exposure to threat.

It is necessary to breakdown (as far as possible) each element of the threat and it is not sufficient to assess the threat in general terms. Every group or individual whom may be affected by the threat should be identified and the relevant threat levels assessed. If you find that your officers are top of that list with regards to exposure to the threat then you have chosen the wrong tactical option.


Entry into a room where the subject is armed BUT alone causes a confrontation with your officers that may result in lethal force being used by your officers or by the subject. Other tactical options are available to reduce the risk to your officers therefore reducing the threat of lethal force.

The more accurate and specific the threat assessment, the greater the likelihood of being able to mitigate the threats through a proportionate tactical plan

Time affects the ability to achieve this but a suitable plan can be developed in a short space of time when you utilize a system like Critical Thinking.

Working Strategy

Is the setting of prioritized objectives, defined by an assessment of the risk, threat & vulnerability, which directs tactical activity to reduce such dangers?

  • Commanders must, at the earliest opportunity, develop an effective working strategy to direct first responders and specialist teams.
  • A working strategy may start to be developed, by the operational Commander, once information is received.
  • It can be formalized once a threat assessment has taken place and it may contain a number of objectives.
  • It must remain dynamic and capable of being reviewed as and when information and intelligence changes.
  • Public safety should always be the priority and at times this may require immediate action to protect life.
  • It is the Operational Commander’s responsibility to form a working strategy until the Strategic Commander has agreed or amended it.

It is the Strategic Commander’s responsibility to SET and REVIEW the Working Strategy

The Strategy should be in priority order, achievable and dynamic e.g.

  • Minimise risks to the public
  • Maximise the safety of police & emergency responders and provide the necessary medical assistance Develop intelligence to assist in identifying and locating
  • Arrest of the subject(s) by safest means possible.
  • Secure and preserve evidence with a view to achieving a successful conviction within the criminal justice system
  • Bring back normality to the area as soon as possible.

Powers and Policies

Are your current policies, SOP’s and contingency plans up to date? Have they been reviewed recently? Do your officers know the content of these documents and have they practiced their application in exercises prior to using them for real?

Policies and Plans are prepared in advance of situations so that we are in a position to identify any problems and issues prior to them occurring during a live event.

We have a positive duty to act. When the public is exposed to danger we must intervene by the safest means possible. This may still mean exposing your officers to extreme danger. Hence the need for a thorough risk and threat assessment and the selection of suitable tactical option(s).

  • What legal powers are available to deal with this situation?
  • Has an offence been committed?
  • What are the grounds for arrest / power / means to arrest
  • Consider local, State & Federal laws and policies
  • Has the test of ‘Absolute Necessity’ been met? Are there any safer, less risky tactical options or approaches available to resolve this situation.
  • Are Command Protocols required?
  • What are the implications under Civil Rights  – P.L.A.N.N.E.D.?
    • Proportionate – Is the Action you are about to carry out or order in proportion to the threat that is faced?
    • Lawful – Have you taken into account local, State and Federal laws? Are you complying with your departments SOP’s, Guides and Contingencies? Are you considering Civil and Human Right implications?
    • Authorized – Has a senior commander from your department or the agency responsible for this situation agreed to the ‘preferred tactical option’ AND have you been given verbal and/or written approval?
    • Necessary to act now – Is this situation ‘Time Critical’ with action being required immediately OR are you able to assess the situation and consider all options based on the information and intelligence?
    • No Alternative – Has every viable tactical option and approach been considered and why are they not appropriate to deal with this situation?
    • Explained – Can you justify your role or choice of the preferred tactical option in a court of law?
    • Documented – ensure that all of your decisions and thought processes based on real time information and intelligence which shapes your risk assessment and threat analysis is documented. You WILL rely on this if criminal and/or civil actions occur as a result of your actions.

Tactical Option(s)

It is the responsibility of the Operational Commander (scene command) to select appropriate tactical options, based on their risk assessment and threat analysis of the intelligence.

Ideally the commander will receive assistance from tactical experts and advisors while formulating a tactical plan, which includes the preferred tactical option or options.

Tactics can be described as a method of working using agreed processes to meet specific objectives. Tactical options set out the different ways in which a particular objective can be undertaken in a manner, which minimizes risk and harm.

In considering the tactical options, the expert / advisor and the Commander should consider whether:

  • Do the tactics achieve the strategic aim?
  • Are the Tactics within the tactical parameters set by Strategic Command?
  • Are the Tactics proportionate to the threat?
  • Have we the Resources / Training / Timescales to prepare the plan?
  • Are there any vulnerable persons considerations – emotionally or mentally disturbed persons involved?
  • What are the contingencies / what ifs?
  • What are the Risks and Threats and which groups / individuals are in danger as a direct result of our tactical options?
  • When considering there may be operational constraints (eg. Resources, equipment, training, etc)
  • Less lethal considerations
  • A risk assessment should be carried out for each tactical option (Time depending!)

Both Strategic and Operational Commanders should consider each option having regard to:

  • Feasibility of success measured against the strategy, given the skills and resources available;
  • Acceptability of consequences;
  • Risks involved in taking forward a specific option or taking alternative action.


Any approach or tactical option must be approved by a senior commander to ensure the full support of your department for the actions you are about to carry out or authorize.

The authorities may include:

  • Deployment of specialist personnel – tactical officers?
  • Use of specialist munitions – chemicals, distractions, armor piercing bullets?
  • Is lethal force an option?
  • Where the officer authorizing the deployment has reason to suppose that officers may have to protect themselves or others from a person who:
    • Is in possession of, or has immediate access to, a firearm or other potentially lethal weapon, or
    • Is otherwise so dangerous that the deployment of specialist officers is considered to be appropriate; or
    • As an operational contingency in a specific operation based on the threat assessment, or
    • For the destruction of animals which are dangerous or are suffering unnecessarily.


So far we have received information and intelligence from which we have carried out a risk assessment and threat analysis on the likely groups and individuals whom may be in danger. From these assessments we have considered a number of appropriate tactical options and devised a tactical plan, which includes the preferred tactical option to safely resolve the situation.

Now we must consider the resources and equipment available and put the tactical plan in place.

When a course of action is decided, Commanders should direct resources and ensure those involved are appropriately briefed:

  • Organization
  • Resources
  • Ensure the Briefing accurately reflects the threat assessment
  • Activation – Timing
  • Containment & Arrest
  • To include contingencies / what ifs?
  • Consideration of post deployment issues
  • Officers need to be clear on ‘which tactical option’ and the tactical objective
  • Briefing / de-briefing
  • Consider emergency medical aid
  • Community Impact Assessment
  • Documentation
  • Debrief
  • Welfare
  • Post incident procedures


Keith Suddes MBA, CertEd

Former Tactical Officer and qualified Operational Commander

Director of Training for iLEESE

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