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Five Essentials of Tactical Leadership by Officer Eric Edson

A Publication of the Junior Police Academy. Photography by Strukel Photography

This publication is dedicated to Warriors, past and present, who accept virtue and honor as a way of life, committed to defending the innocent; ever vigilant and always prepared, these men and women are determined to administer justice and confront evil in selfless service to their fellow mankind. Eric Edson December 2012

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be here, eighty are nothing but targets, nine are the real fighters – we are lucky to have them for they the battle make. Ah, but the one…one is a WARRIOR, and he will bring the others back.” ― Heraclitus, 500 BC 1

Officer Eric Edson with the Sheboygan Police Department’s Emergency Response Team (SWAT). 2

INTRODUCTION In any profession, proper leadership is vital to the successful achievement of the organization’s goals. Because law enforcement, particularly in the area of tactical operations, is a “life-saving” organization, tactical leaders must be even sharper. I will define tactical leadership as: THE ABILITY TO INFLUENCE OTHERS TO ACCOMPLISH A GIVEN MISSION UNDER STRESSFUL, UNCERTAIN, AND RAPIDLY EVOLVING CIRCUMSTANCES. Here are my five essential components to tactical leadership. Officer Eric Edson


1. Situational Awareness Situational awareness refers to a leader’s ability to effectively and correctly assess the relationship of the elements of a given situation and make sound, logical decisions which are decisive and create the desired outcome. Since adversarial tactical operations are both time sensitive and time competitive, developed situational awareness allows a leader to be better prepared to address problems that may arise by staying ahead of a suspect’s planning process, or “OODA loop”.   This is essential because making correct tactical decisions that disrupt a suspect’s “OODA loop” ultimately protects innocent citizens, officers, and even suspects during tactical operations.

**Observe, Orient, Decide, Act - a simplified decision-making model derived from USAF Colonel John Boyd.


2. Discipline Lead by example with character, ability, confidence and loyalty. Set the example by being both technically and tactically proficient.   Don’t ask your operators to do something that you are not willing to do – this will only foster animosity and decrease effectiveness.   If an operator loses respect for his leadership the success of SWAT operations may result in failure.


Range exercises

Training for SWAT team members can be grueling. No SWAT unit ever really "finishes" training -- they must maintain constant fitness and the ability to respond to situations automatically.

3. Adaptability There is no such thing as a perfect plan - Murphy’s Law makes sure of that. Batteries die, weapons malfunction, chemical munitions may not always have the desired effect, and criminal offenders do not care about your timeline.   Highly trained and disciplined SWAT teams are predicable…your average offender is not.  The ability to adapt allows a tactical team to identify and exploit “opportunities” rather than adhering to regimented, predetermined plans.   When combined with critical thinking and technical competence, adaptability creates confidence in the chaos and uncertainty of a tactical environment.


SWAT teams have specialized equipment including heavy body armor, ballistic shields, entry tools, armored vehicles, advanced night vision optics, and motion detectors for covertly determining the positions of hostages or hostage takers inside enclosed structures.

4. Delegation In other words, successful tactical leaders don’t tell their operators how to do their jobs – instead, a leader will present the task to be completed, establish the parameters in which to operate, and then will allow the operator to achieve his own success, knowing that their personnel have already been well trained in how to do their job. Delegating promotes initiative and develops a sense of responsibility within the team.  When this occurs, the success of the operator results in success for the leader and the team.


SWAT officers are selected from volunteers within their law enforcement organization.

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” - Theodore Roosevelt

5. Teamwork In order for a team to be eective, a leader must create an environment for the members to excel.  In addition to soliciting input from their operators, tactical leaders should empower SWAT team members with tasks and objectives that require collaboration, allowing operators to demonstrate their creativity and problem solving abilities.   By providing direction and support for the team, operators will develop confidence in their abilities and trust in their leader.



SWAT duties include: • • • • • • • • • • • •

Hostage rescue Riot control Perimeter security against snipers for visiting dignitaries Providing superior assault firepower in certain situations, e.g. barricaded suspects Rescuing officers or citizens endangered by gunfire Counter-terrorist operations Resolving high-risk situations with a minimum loss of life, injury, or property damage Resolving situations involving barricaded subjects (specifically covered by a hostage barricade team) Stabilizing situations involving high-risk suicidal subjects Providing assistance on arrest warrants and search warrants Providing additional security at special events Special stealth operations with silenced or suppressed weapons


About the Author Officer Eric Edson is a 19-year veteran of the Sheboygan Police Department. Officer Edson currently serves as one of the Department’s School Resource Officers.  In this role, he has planned and implemented the Department’s Junior Police Academy, as well as several other youth-oriented projects. In addition, Officer Edson has served on the Department’s Emergency Response Team (SWAT) since 1995, and has been the Team Leader for the past seven years.  In 2004, Officer Edson was named SWAT Officer of the Year by the Wisconsin Association of SWAT Personnel.  From 2000-2006, Officer Edson served as the Department’s K9 Handler, and was named Wisconsin’s Rookie Canine Handler of the Year by W.L.E.C.H.A. in 2001. Officer Edson has also participated in the Department’s Strategic Planning Committee for Gang Interdiction and was selected as one of the first officers for the Gang Suppression Unit. During his career, Officer Edson has received over a dozen letters of commendation from his Department for exemplary performance, meritorious investigation, and courage.  In 2004, as a result of his involvement in a critical shooting incident, Officer Edson was presented with the Meritorious Award for Exceptional Ability, Courage, Fidelity and Devotion to Duty by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

Officer Eric Edson with the Sheboygan Police Department’s Emergency Response Team (SWAT).


OďŹƒcer Eric Edson with members of the Junior Police Academy, a youth program he implemented locally.


Junior Police Academy inspires young people to contribute to the life of their community and their country in ways that enhance public safety and solve problems.


Cadets get hands on experience with rapid response unit.

Everett Police Department engages cadets in the serious mission – and heavy equipment of its Rapid Response Unit.


Five Essentials of Tactical Leadership  

Officer Eric Edson offers his insights into the essentials of effective leadership under extreme conditions.