L3R – 8.4 Introduction to the Critical Decision-Making Model

Introduction to the Critical Decision-Making Model

Traditional training has taught security officers to respond immediately, give commands, take charge of the situation, hold your ground, and end the situation quickly to be able to move on to any potential next issue. This is a culture of speed.

This approach often gave the appearance of working in the past. However, security officers today are working harder to:

  • de-escalate situations with defiant, non-compliant, and sometimes disrespectful public;
  • build a greater awareness of the sizable number of people who are suffering from mental illness or behavioral crisis—people who do not respond to commands; and
  • interact effectively with bystanders recording the actions that are taken.

These ideas mainly impact peace officers, though they still apply to those in the security officer profession.

I     Critical Decision-Making Model

For decades, specialized law enforcement tactical units, such as SWAT, have employed critical thinking and decision-making processes to guide their unique, often dangerous work. Prior to taking action, these teams typically take the time to collect and analyze information, assess risks and threats, consider contingencies, and then act and review. Most experienced SWAT members would consider it reckless to approach an assignment without first taking these steps.

If this type of critical thinking process works for specialized tactical units, it can also be used by security officers. If security officers have a structured, easy-to-use decision-making process to follow, and can

combine that with tactical concepts such as distances, cover, and time, they will be able to more effectively and safely resolve many types of critical incidents.

The Critical Decision-Making Model (CDM) (Figure 8.1) is based largely on the United Kingdom’s National Decision Model (NDM) and concepts from other models such as the Scanning Analysis Response Assessment (SARA) model. Like the NDM and SARA models, the CDM is a logical, straightforward, and ethically based thought process that is intended to help officers manage a range of incidents effectively and safely. The CDM provides security officers with an organized way of making decisions about how they will act in any situation, including situations that may involve uses of force.

Figure 8.1: Critical Decision-Making Model © 2019 Police Executive Research Forum

Note: For the purposes of security officers, the step above that references “Consider police powers and agency policy” would be “Consider security officer company policy and procedures.”

I     Key Principles

At the center of the CDM is an ethical core that provides grounding and guidance for the entire process. The four key principles of the CDM are as follows:

• Ethics
• Values of the company
• Proportionality
• Sanctity of human life

Each principle informs and guides security officers throughout the five steps. Everything you do within the CDM must support the ideals in the center, and no action can contradict those standards.

II     Five Steps of the CDM

The key principles inform the steps of the CDM. The steps are as follows:

  1. Collect information
  2. Assess the situation, threats, and risks
  3. Consider security officer powers and company policy and procedures
  4. Identify options and determine the best course of action
  5. Act, review, and re-assess

a.   Step 1—Collect Information

The logical first step in the process is for you to gather information and intelligence, a process that begins as security officers are heading toward the incident. During this step, you must ask yourself and others a series of key questions. It is important to remember that while the collection of information represents the beginning of the process, it is not a one-time activity in the CDM. Information gathering is ongoing, and new information is collected continuously to help inform the other steps in the process.

Security officers should ask themselves the following:

Security officers should ask themselves the following:

• What do I know so far about this incident?
• What else do I need to know?
• What does my training and experience tell me about this type of incident?

Security officers should ask others (fellow security officers, supervisors, computer networks) the following:

  • What more can you tell me about this incident?
    • Circumstances that prompted the call
    • Individuals on the scene/the physical environment
    • Presence of weapons
    • Presence of bystanders, including children
    • Mental health/substance abuse issues
  • What more can you tell me about previous incidents involving this location or the person(s) who are involved?

b.    Step 2—Assess the Situation, Threat, and Risks

This step typically begins as you are responding to the incident and are evaluating what you are being told by others. That is the time when you will begin considering “what if” scenarios in your mind. The assessment step shifts into high gear as you arrive on scene and can visually begin to gauge threats and risks.

During this step security officers should ask themselves:

  • Do I need to take immediate action?
  • What is the threat/risk, if any?
  • What additional information do I need?
  • What could go wrong, and how serious would the harm be?
  • Am I trained and equipped to handle this situation by myself?
  • Does this situation require a law enforcement response to provide additional planning and coordination?
  • Would law enforcement need additional resources (e.g., other less-lethal weaponry, specialized equipment, other units, security officers specially trained in mental health issues)?

Security officers should also request that others:

  • Provide additional information, as needed.
  • Respond to the scene, as needed.
  • Provide the additional equipment or resources needed.

The first question in this step is noteworthy: “Do I need to take immediate action?” The CDM does not prevent or restrict security officers from taking immediate action if that is what the circumstances dictate. In these situations, security officers would “spin” through the rest of the model in a matter of seconds, determine the best course of action, and then act immediately. If the answer to this question is, “No, I do not need to take immediate action,” then you can go through the CDM at a more deliberate pace. The CDM can be “spun” as quickly or as deliberately as circumstance dictate and security officers can always take immediate action if that is appropriate.

c.   Step 3—Consider Security Officer Powers and Company Policy and Procedures

This step represents an important self-check of security officers’ knowledge and understanding of statutes and risks involved to respond accordingly. In addition to considering your options to act, you must think about what your company’s policies say about the situation. For example, a security company’s policy may place restrictions, beyond what is allowed by law, engaging in vehicle or foot pursuits, or using less-lethal options in certain situations. These internal policies must be considered at this stage before specific options are identified and actions taken.

During this step, security officers should ask themselves:

  • What company policies control my response?
  • Are there other issues I should think about?
  • Am I justified to take action here?
  • Is a citizen’s arrest appropriate and allowed by company policy?

d.   Step 4—Identify Options and Determine the Best Course of Action

Using the information and assessment from earlier steps, security officers now begin to narrow their options and determine the best course of action. Again, part of this step is to determine if you have enough information and resources, as well as a compelling interest, to act immediately or if you should hold off, possibly to gather more information and resources.

During this step, security officers should ask themselves:

  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What options are open to me?
  • What contingencies must I consider if I choose a particular option?
  • How might the subject respond if I choose a particular option?
  • Is there a compelling reason to act now, or can I wait?
  • Do I have the information and resources I need to act now?

Then, security officers should select the best course of action keeping in mind:

  • The greatest likelihood of success and the least potential for harm.
  • How proportional the response will be, given the risk/threats posed by the subject and the totality of the circumstances.
  • The safety of the public, security officer safety, and the sanctity of all life.

Note: (Remember the DRM and Use of Force Model referenced in Module 7)

e.   Step 5—Act, Review, and Re-assess

In this step, security officers execute the plan, evaluate the impact, and determine what more, if anything, they need to do. You should execute the plan, then ask yourself:

  • Did I achieve the desired outcome?
  • Is there anything more I need to consider?
  • What lessons did I learn?

If the incident is not resolved, then you should begin the Critical Decision-Making Model again, starting with the collection of additional information and intelligence.