Webinar Notes: Keeping Out of Trouble: Universal Questions & Decision Making Model for Ethical and Lawful Policing

Keeping Out of Trouble


Webinar Overview (00:51)

  • Legal and ethical decision-making process
  • Identifying biases in decision-making
  • Explain the universal question for lawful and ethical policing
  • Describe why urgency determines strategy
  • How the fourth amendment concept assists in the decision-making process


Resource Speakers (01:23)

  • Thomas Dworak

    • Instructor, Content Developer and Consultant for the Virtus Group

      • Develop and facilitates the adaptive FTO program
    • Retired sergeant from a suburban Chicago PD

      • Field training and evaluation program coordinator
      • Lead defensive tactics use of force instructor


The Justice Clearinghouse (02:19)

  • Peer-to-peer educational program/resource for justice professionals
  • Year-round virtual conference on justice related topics
  • Events are free-to-attend
  • Subscribers have 24/7 access to recorded webinars and eligible for certifications which may be used for continuing education credits.
  • Interactive webinars with quick polls, Q&A, and survey


Focus (04:07)

  • Adaptive FTO Program developed and facilitated by Thomas.

    • A program that works on the emotional intelligence skills, decision making, and critical thinking of trainees.
  • What influences decision making?
  • How emotional intelligence impact decision making?
  • Who makes good decisions?
  • What is the universal model for lawful and ethical policing?
  • Methods to gather feedback related to decision making and critical thinking


Staying Out of Trouble (05:07)

  • Decisions are examined by the impact of their outcome.
  • Components that go into decision-making

    • What is known versus the unknown
    • Personal level of dealing with ambiguity
    • How adaptable someone is
    • How stressed tolerant we are
    • Training that we received

      • If trained to be told what they do, without command or familiarity with the situation, they will freeze
  • Policies and rules

    • Guides on what to do, how to do
    • Not a cure-all
    • Written in a segmented and linear manner

      • Works in reports
      • Does not work in nonlinear world of criminal justice
      • Various variables to consider might not fit in the linear narrative
  • Overwhelming to teach and learn about numerous policies.

    • Instead, teach about adaptability
    • Focus on nonlinear real-world application
    • Practice adaptive and critical thinking
  • Decisions being made every minute every day

    • Very little time devoted to teaching critical thinking skills
    • Decisions have impact but no reason was given as to why officers arrive on the decisions they make

      • Factors affecting decision-making

        • Stress
        • Human factors
        • Organizational culture
        • Training
  • More time is spent making decisions that writing reports stressing the need for decision-making training
  • Common sense and critical thinking is lacking in the existing trainings
  • The Fourth Amendment

    • Guiding light in law enforcement decision-making
    • All decisions to detain, stop or arrest – falls under the Fourth Amendment

      • Justifying pat down search
      • Lawful arrests
      • Use of force
    • Not merely understanding what the law says but also how to use it
  • Sensemaking

    • Teaches:

      • How to connect the dots
      • Learning from mistakes
      • Situational awareness
      • Emotional awareness
      • Developing critical thinking
      • Understanding capabilities and limitations
    • Everybody’s dots connect differently

      • Allow trainees to try their own solutions

        • Builds confidence
        • Teaches lessons either if they fail or succeed
        • Deconstructs the critical-thinking process


Decision-Making? (17:04)

  • Who Makes Good Decisions?

    • Elite Professionals, Sports, Business
    • Wayne Gretzky

      • Sees the game in a different perspective
      • People who are one, two, three steps ahead
      • Works in time-compressed environment
      • Applies ‘and then, what?’ thinking
      • Failed more than he was successful
    • Tiger Woods

      • Physically imposing, described as a “linebacker playing golf”
      • Second or third-order thinker
      • Understands his ability
      • Takes risks
      • Failed more than he was successful
    • Charles Munger

      • One of the greatest thinkers of our time
      • Vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway
      • Time is on his side
      • Doesn’t decide until he knows up and down, both sides of the argument
  • What I planned vs. What happened

    • When demands exceed capabilities, you get stressed

      • D>C=S
    • Time slows us down
    • Stress impacts decision-making abilities
  • Decision Making

    • People believe they make decisions rationally
    • Two characters that we both need to arrive at decisions effectively

      • Caveman

        • Fight or Flight
        • Concerned with survival
      • Professor

        • Processes info
        • Takes time to decide


Emotional Intelligence (25:37)

  • People who have high level of emotional intelligence are superior performers and make good overall decision
  • Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence

    • Self-Awareness

      • Knowing what you’re feeling
      • What’s your hot button, what sets you off
      • Can you feel anxiety and/or anger when it builds up?
      • Do you feel apprehensive, afraid?
    • Self-Regulation

      • Calming down and not letting the emotions fully respond and go on full caveman mode
    • Empathy
    • Motivation
    • Social Skills
    • Superior Performance and Decision Making
  • EQ Core Competencies for Police Officers

    • Effective Confrontation
    • Emotional Self‐Control
    • Impulse Control
    • Interpersonally Skillful
    • Listening Generously
    • Reading Nonverbal Behavior
    • Accurate Self‐Assessment
    • Situational Awareness
    • Stress Hardy
    • Understanding Others


Models of Law Enforcement Decision Making (28:41)

  • OODA Loop

    • Used as a decision-making model, it’s really not.

      • Components

        • Observe
        • Orient
        • Decide
        • Act
  • RDP

    • Sources of Power, Gary Klein
    • Recognition Primed Decision Making
    • Limited to people with lots of experience
  • Heuristic

    • Left of Bang, Patrick Van Horne & Jason A. Riley
    • Picking out things that are visible before an incident happen that we miss
    • Mental shortcut to ease the cognitive load on decision making

      • Decision Fatigue
  • Problem Solving/Decision Making

    • Inexperienced Problem Solvers

      • Short-time examining problem
      • More time used on trial and error
    • Experienced Problem Solvers

      • More time used examining problem
      • Select course of action quickly
  • Where the magic happens is outside your comfort zone


The Illinois Model (33:22)

  • Developed by Lou Hayes, for a SWAT team he is part of
  • Components

    • Priority of Life
    • Mission/Objective
    • Strategy/Tactics
    • Team Skills
    • Individual Skills and Equipment
  • Concepts and Philosophy – Why?

    • Driven by police cultures
    • Influenced by trainers, administrators, supervisors, etc.
    • Influenced by citizens
  • Details and Techniques – How?

    • Tactics and techniques
  • Consistency through an Event

    • Law enforcement silos training, not bringing the components altogether.
    • Before

      • Policy
      • Training
      • Case Law
    • During

      • Intent
      • Decisions
      • Actions
    • After

      • Reporting
      • Testimony
      • Evaluation
  • Case Law and Universal Questions for Ethical and Lawful Police Operations

    • Priority of Life (POL)

      • Involves the situation, crime, threat or problem
      • Hierarchy

        • Citizen
        • Officer
        • Subject we’re dealing with
      • Universal Questions

        • What is the threat? What is the call?
        • How dangerous is the crime?
        • How dangerous is this person and to whom?
    • Mission – Objective

      • Involves the Fourth Amendment

        • Probable cause
        • Use of force
        • Search and seizure
        • Lawful reason for contact
      • Universal Questions

        • Do the police officers have a lawful foundation to take action?
        • Can the police search (be, stand, open or look or go) where s/he is?
        • Can the police seize (stop, arrest, detain, or restrain) the person?
    • Strategy – Tactics

      • Governmental Intrusion
      • Universal Questions

        • What threshold of governmental intrusion will be acceptable to accomplish the lawful objective
        • Act or stabilize?

On a sliding scale <->


Verbal Skills

Decisive Force


Grab n Go

  • What is the urgency?
  • Roles to play in each component

    • Defender
    • Caretaking/guardian
    • Crimefighter
  • Combined Police Search, Seizure, Force, Intrusion Workflow


Probable Cause (P.C.)

Reasonable Articulate Suspicion (R.A.S)

No P.C. or R.A.S

Mission –

Warrant / No Warrant

“Terry” Detention and/or Frisk


Search or Seizure

Limited Search or Seizure

Not a Search or Seizure

Strategy –

Necessary and Reasonable Intrusion

Necessary and Reasonable Intrusion

No Intrusion


Verbal / None


Verbal only



End Contact

End Contact

  • Problem Solving / Decision-Making used in:

    • Citizen Contact
    • Traffic Stop
    • Mentally Ill Subject
    • Domestic
    • Burglary/Prowler
    • Active Killing/MACTAC


Feedback (45:42)

  • Adaptive Feedback Model

    • Ask questions, allow self-evaluation, not just give feedback
    • What did we do?

      • Situation awareness
    • What did you do well?
    • What needs to improve?

      • Find their weaknesses
    • What will you do differently next time?

      • Make suggestions
    • How would you feel (affective) about doing it like this: or Others have performed in this manner, is this something you can consider attempting?
    • Critical Thinking/Additional Training
  • Failing Forward Philosophy

    • Failing Forward, John Maxwell


Critical Thinking (49:41)

  • Critical Thinking Questions, to be asked based on the situation.

    • How did you come to that conclusion?
    • Why did you make that decision?
    • What are the pros and cons of your decision?
    • How strong are those arguments?
    • What is the evidence behind them and how solid is it?
    • Is the information relevant here?
    • How can we interpret these facts?
    • What conclusions can we draw, if any?
    • What additional information do we need to resolve this issue, if any?
    • By what standards are priorities will you judge the quality of different solutions
    • Are there any limitations of your chosen solution?
    • What are some alternatives that we have not yet explored?
    • Can you defend it against the arguments in favor of other solutions?
    • How well does that conclusion handle the complexities of the problem?
    • Is there another viewpoint on the issue?
    • How can both these interpretations be correct if they lead to such different conclusions?
    • What are the trade-offs, implications, and consequences of each solution we've discussed?
    • By what standards and priorities will you judge the quality of different solutions?
    • Do you have a vested interest in one position or another? How honestly and impartially are you representing the other viewpoints?
    • What is the impact of your decision in future?


Poll Questions

  • Has increased attention from the media and social media affected your decision-making? (05:07)

    • Yes       68%
    • No       32%
  • How do you make a decision? (22:12)

    • Emotionally      15%
    • Rationally        85%






Sources of Power, Gary Klein

Left of Bang, Patrick Van Horne & Jason A. Riley

Failing Forward, John Maxwell


For questions and clarifications, contact:


Instructor/Content Developer

The Virtus Group





Do you see a need to adjust training based on the age of the officer or based on the generalities of a generation, or not? (55:58)

Yes. Training needs to be more interactive. Millennials, in particular, tend to not remember stuff and get bored easily. We modify certain aspects of the training, the repetitions, the concept. Emphasize real-world application, less theory, with actual physical context.



"Many times, our best decisions given the circumstances in which they were made under are gonna be examined by the impact of their outcome. When there are many components that go into that decision-making process, what is known versus the unknown, our personal level of dealing with ambiguity, how adaptable someone is, how stressed tolerant we are, and the training that we received."


"What we really need is a decision-making model that addresses our ability to decide in an ethical, moral and legal manner. It should be universal application and it addresses the how and why of what we do."


"We have to remember, we can gain or lose justification throughout that context. A lot of times what I'll do is take an incident that we've just done training, in a field training, and sit back and walk through the incident. And then I'll go and change some facts and circumstances, can they pick up? Now we've just lost our probable cause or maybe we've just lost our articulate suspicion, so now I'm in consensual mode here. What happens at that point if the offender goes, "Hey, I'm not talking to you anymore". We pretty much got it in the context, can they pick that up? So, it's being able to work through this and have a working knowledge of what's going on."


"This decision-making model gives us a solid foundation because I can not only talk about my operational philosophy, but I can also talk about what I did and put a legal context to it to support why I did what I did."


"A lot of times, failures, errors and that are generally viewed as some of the worst things we can do. As a field trainer, one of the very first thing that I did when we got into a car and started rolling around was I gave them permission to fail. You're gonna make mistakes, you go ahead and make 'em. We have stigmatized mistakes and errors as the worst things that can happen, and it really does kill creativity. We really need failure to grow. I have failed many more times than I have been successful in my life, but I learned something from it and I have been able to grow moving forward. We really need to have law enforcement start adopting that philosophy. Not only from a training standpoint but in administrative standpoint also."




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