Moving Faster Than Thought

The value of a tactical pause

By Antonio Zarzoza  |   Jun 15, 2018

[Publisher’s Note: A version of this article was originally published by the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association’s (ILEETA) Journal. Spring Edition 2018 Volume 8, edition 2, pgs. 14 & 15.]

It was a very hot afternoon in South Texas. I was conducting reality-based scenarios using force-on-force drills for a class I was facilitating since early in the morning, a class where the audience shared a diverse background, from local police officers to U.S. Border Patrol Agents. On one extreme was a young police officer from a neighboring agency that had just completed his Field Training program; at the opposite extreme of the spectrum was this “old dog,” a U.S. Border Patrol agent with almost 35 years of service and approaching retirement. Both students, as well as the rest of the crowd, followed attentively through class and showed a certain degree of nervousness as we were approaching to the most physically demanding phase of this training day.

It goes without saying that the young buck was the first one to volunteer to kickstart the scenario drills. According to him, for two reasons: to get it over with and to stay behind after completing his round to learn from the rest as they would go through it right after him. The drills were conducted without any problems and valuable lessons took place that day. However, the greatest lesson for this new cop happened close to the end—a flawless performance from the old dog.

This is how it all went down.

Fast vs. Smart

The young new boot approached me while I was gathering some of the equipment used and in a very casual manner said to me, “That old man was lucky, all the scenarios were crazy as hell. He should be glad that you cut him some slack.” I looked at him trying to understand while I asked him how he had managed to determine that I had cut that man some slack. He answered, “Because that old man was so slow and still made it look like piece of cake, he didn’t even get shot while everyone else did.”

I stopped what I was doing and explained to this young officer that it was because of the agent’s “slow movements” that he had not been “shot,” and in order to provide contrast, I asked him to describe to me what had transpired during his own drill.

He went on to describe that despite having followed his FTO’s advice of responding in a flash using “speed, surprise and violence of action” in his performance, he had come out with the ugliest of results from the drill. He went on to say that he had been shot on the head, torso and hands, he said to me that he had even tripped on his own feet and had a hard time finding cover once the attack had started. That’s when I took advantage of his own assessment and converted it into a teachable moment and a training opportunity.

I explained to this officer that speed kills. I took him through a review of his performance and explained to him the reasons why he had been shot so many times. Furthermore, I explained to him that by virtue of his own actions, he had negated himself the opportunity to scope the configuration of the immediate area surrounding the scene, possible locations for cover and concealment, the suspect’s location, and even possible escape routes.

I offered this officer an analogy: I asked him if he would jump in the water knowing he can’t swim. He answered with an unsurprising negative. So then I asked him why was it that he had rushed into the scene not knowing anything about it and expected to win. He sighed and said, “Damn it, I went in completely blind and moved quicker than my own ability to think.”

That was a priceless moment, because it helped him value the “slowness” of the old USBP agent, who up until now had been judged from a totally invalid perspective. This old agent never rushed his responses and he made it all look so easy because there was certainty and confidence in every  step he took while approaching the scene. He wasn’t moving any faster than the speed at which he was processing every element surrounding the scene, the location of the threat and possible escape routes if needed. All which was evidenced by the smooth performance and maneuvering he demonstrated even under fire.

Not bad at all for an old dog.

Running to the scene, regardless of the nature of the call, is a recipe for disaster as it causes us to miss those important details that matter the most during the critical moments of approach. Be it an accomplice hiding and waiting for the right moment to attack, the slippery surface, the dead corners in the room or the presence of innocent civilians—a million other little details for you to take in and consider can all be missed if you rush through the scene at a faster rate than that one of your own ability to think and process what you have in front of you.

One of the most dangerous, and often overlooked, aspects of rushing in to a scene and pushing the pace of response is the detrimental effect it can have on everyone else around us. All of us have an internal speed at which we reach the pinnacle of our optimum performance. Once we exceed that pace, our performance decreases and we become ineffective, we start losing control of everything: the scene, the threat, and ultimately, our own response.

In most cases, we will be dealing with circumstances out of own control. But the way we respond to such circumstances is not one of those uncontrollable factors. As the opening statements from the Below 100 training program state, “By addressing the areas in which we have the most control, we can dramatically reduce preventable line of duty deaths.”


We can certainly control the way we respond to threats. Never move faster than your own thoughts—especially when in a crisis situation.

Rushing into calls only works, and looks fancy, in movies. Beyond that, we need to learn to appreciate the value of a tactical pause. Stay away from the prevalent culture of speed and remember that only fools rush in!