Original post can be found here: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/part-1-of-3-fostering-reflective-practice-in-public-safety-designing-law-enforcement-8cb45380d5e5
This is part of a working draft chapter for a major design book project and a collaboration between the following authors: Anders Westberg (Swedish Army, Police), Brett Bourne (retired Marine Special Operations), Joakim Sturup (Swedish Police), James Wetzel (former Police Chief & Marine Special Operations), and Ben Zweibelson (design theorist, retired Army Infantry). These authors have worked extensively in teaching, theorizing and practically applying systemic design toward complex security challenges to include real-world law enforcement, security and governmental challenges in international contexts. This chapter will be presented in three parts on Medium as the authors continue to shape and edit it for the final publication.
Organizations including governmental policy-making entities and bodies are charged with providing for the safety and security of populations. This is nicely captured in the title sequence of the popular television show, ‘Law & Order’ where the narrator explains that the show addresses “two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.” Both groups are professions, in that they involve special skilled individuals following a particular trade/craft that is unique and requires extensive training. Law enforcement and public safety groups (fire, emergency medical) differ from organizations and professions in other areas such as trade and commerce, business and finance, medicine or education, or the arts and entertainment industries. Professionally and organizationally, law enforcement and domestic security are, if anything, closer to how military forces professionalize, form and function. Together, they collectively represent the profession of arms that must employ violence (or the capacity therein) toward defined threats of the society, although this is but one of many skills they must professionalize.
Today, modern societies experience an increased complexity that is beyond that of any prior societal experience in human history. Technological advancements coupled with information expansion and social development have fostered a new world that moves faster, interacts more broadly, and generates more sophisticated developments in the expression of human life than ever before. Even the limitations of natural domains such as land, air and sea are now shattered, with societies extending activities (to include those requiring extensive security and policing) into cyberspace, the quantum realm, and beyond the gravity of Earth into space itself. With all of this growth and expansion, human societies now face risks and security challenges in many new and profoundly different ways that were previously unimaginable. These in turn place enormous demands for change, transformation, and experimentation upon security organizations as they too struggle with how to think and act so that their public safety, security, and protection missions remain relevant, capable, and of value to the communities they serve and protect. Yet, all organizations struggle with transforming toward an alien, unfamiliar future, and flounder with how to contend with manifesting system tensions and contradictions. These same organizations battle as well with critically self-examining what institutional things they carry and cling to from the past, which perhaps, in light of all the emergent complexities, must be relinquished or discarded.
In this design chapter (3x part series version on Medium), readers will learn about how security organizations (specifically those in the public safety space) across the globe are starting to confront this transformational challenge by designing new ways to perform their duties. Law enforcement organizations must now self-reflect within these high-risk and critical contexts where public safety and security demand novel ways to organize, think and act so that the concepts that worked yesterday but will fail tomorrow are deeply assessed and evaluated today. This requires change, experimentation, divergent thinking and a willingness to break from past ways. Organizational change requires critical and creative thinking, coupled with experimentation and a willingness to view failure not just in terms of traditional avoidance, but as the essential foundation for innovation, opportunity, and advantage. Readers should consider other chapters where the military design as well as overlapping commercial design disciplines come from, why military forces began using them so that the recent interest by law enforcement organizations is put into a useful broader context.
As other chapters for this project address a wide range of pure military design concepts, theory and practice, this chapter will focus upon the parallel need for law enforcement and related domestic agencies to change and perpetually innovate. The authors present several case studies from para-military organizations including firefighters, urban and national police forces, as well as the overlap between military and law enforcement education, theory and practice in designing differently toward increasingly complex, dynamic security challenges. Collectively, these examples are the first to be published on law enforcement design using security/military design theory, methods and models first introduced in the Israeli Defense Forces in the mid-1990s. Yet these organizations have perpetually innovated over time, well before any formal or recognized ‘design style’ or school. In fact, this first case study provides an excellent example of innovation, creativity and institutional resistance to change from a catastrophic fire-fighting episode in the western state of Montana in 1949.
Drop Your Tools, Or Die Trying To Extend Yesterday into Tomorrow:
In 1949, the Mann Gulch wildfire in western Montana killed 12 elite US Forest Service smokejumpers plus one regular firefighter in what was originally expected to be a quick and easy firefighting mission. The tragedy was a wakeup call to the Forest Service, forcing the organization to reconsider past practices and strategies. This tragedy ultimately drove organizational change and gave birth to modern fire science, along with creating a striking example of institutional rigidness and ritualized behaviors that security organizations unfortunately demonstrate an enduring pattern of maintaining.  Mann Gulch, despite occurring over seven decades ago, is valuable in showing a primary challenge for many security organizations: those of “dropping tools”, confronting institutional resistance to change, and innovation under complex crisis conditions.
It all started with a lightning strike, triggering a small fire that grew overnight in remote mountainous terrain. Fifteen smokejumpers deployed from Missoula, Montana, to combat the fire now burning in a terrain feature known as Mann Gulch; their organization specialized in these activities and had completed thousands of prior missions without major incident or mass casualties. Once the team parachuted in and secured their air dropped equipment bundles, the team linked up with a fireman (also a former smokejumper) on the ground assessing the fire, and together embarked to battle the blaze. They believed this fire to be no different than any other past fire they had successfully fought and contained. Sadly, this fire at Mann Gulch would emerge to be a very different one that would, with the terrain and context shatter their institutionalized training and past experiences. The fire would erupt into a never-before-encountered inferno and create a new and novel context where previous training and experience would fail spectacularly. The firefighters that wanted to outrun the blaze had to race up a 76% slope to crest a ridgeline in hopes of escaping and surviving a surging wall of “30-foot high flames… moving toward them at 610 feet per minute.”  Physically, such a feat is near impossible… particularly when they decided not to drop any equipment either.
In the chaos of the firefighters realizing they were in a deadly scenario that presented an immediate and terrifying threat to all of them, innovation occurred. The crew foreman, Wagner Dodge departed from the institutionally safe and accepted practices to experiment with a sudden flash of inspiration. Recognizing the urgent need for the team to outpace the rapidly encroaching fire, he first ordered the jumpers to drop all their heavy gear and equipment in order that they might lighten their load and reach the ridgetop. Most ignored the order or perhaps could not hear him in the confusion and roar of the approaching blaze. Besides, their training stipulated one does not abandon equipment. The firefighters were an extension of their institution, and the institution itself was expressed in what they thought and did, as well as what they ignored and refused to consider during those tragic final minutes.
Once he assessed the fire was moving too fast for them to safely get up the incline, Dodge produced a new life-saving technique that went against the institutional ‘grain’/culture that had been sufficient in all previous missions. Dodge stopped and pulled matches from his pocket to start a fire where he stood, as the wall of flames rushed toward his position. He created what would later be termed an ‘escape fire’ as a means to protect himself from being consumed by the onrushing flames. By burning the immediate brush and then lying down in the still smoldering debris, he hoped for the fire wall to rush over and around his position, sparing him from deadly fire. In the moment of innovation, the experimenter is indistinguishable from a madman and the experiment itself has a historic age of ‘zero’- meaning the institutional resistance to such things only increases as the stakes climb. For these smokejumpers, there could not be any higher possible stakes. That the organization bounced around foremen so that the teams never bonded meant that trust was missing as well- a deadly institutional combination in this tragic setting.
As Dodge lay down in his escape fire location, he again directed the men to utilize the technique, but was once again ignored, seen as suicidal, or perhaps some could not hear him. Yet the experiment worked, despite nearly all of the witnesses perishing soon afterwards. As the fire rushed over him, Dodge was pulled up off the ground by the force of the wind and fire, with the air sucked out of his lungs and the heat searing his protective gear. Yet Dodge survived, as did two lucky (and institutionalized) others who managed to reach the ridgetop by running. The remaining thirteen died after being overtaken by the fire. In the aftermath and recovery, most were still found burdened by their heavy gear — despite Dodge’s attempts to have them ‘drop their tools’ and utilize his escape fire technique. Each man’s exact time of death would be permanently recorded by their wrist watches melting in place. The failure of the men to relinquish their tools was shocking enough; however, Dodge’s actions were also unprecedented. An escape fire had never been employed — the idea was considered ‘crazy’ and ran counter to institutional norms. Yet it worked… and created the context for institutional introspection on why the team could not adapt what they needed in the moment when their existing training would no longer suffice.
Today, security organizations are learning from the institutional failures in order to consider how and why institutions fail even when the very thing they need is available under their noses in plain sight. Centralized hierarchical organizations still benefit greatly from convergent practices that establish indoctrinated beliefs surrounding efficacious ‘best practices’, which are buoyed by ‘tried and true’ historical proof and reinforced through rigorous drill and standardization policies. However, these practices alone are insufficient in complex security contexts where security organizations must be able to reflect upon institutional norms, realize novelty, encourage experimentation, and embrace divergent thinking and iterative failures. It is only through such imperative action that deliberate and purposeful organizational transformation is possible. Many organizationally derived practices follow a pattern of shifting from great benefit to deeply engrained ritualization, which then give rise to tense institutional battles where an organization becomes belligerently unwilling to let go of concepts and practices even despite the emergent risks those patterns and behaviors now generate. Law enforcement and other public safety communities of practice are para-military both in form and function, and thus often fall victim to similar institutional biases and frustrations that modern militaries are facing in dynamic security contexts.
Innovation Demands within a Public Safety and Security Context:
A main theme and point of discussion within ‘military design’ praxis (the fusion of novel theory and experimental, reflective practice) is the dominant aspect of military/defense organizations’ weddedness to formal, deeply institutionalized doctrinal planning constructs, often framed in military terminology of specific Western military decision-making and planning processes (such as the Joint Planning Process, or the Marine Corps Planning Process). Amongst the other non-military security communities of practice, to include public safety, law enforcement, Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), and most other governmental policy-making bodies, these heavy doctrinal and institution-defining planning applications are largely lost on non-military organizations and do not hold sway/primacy the way they do in military circles. Even the cultures, structures, and approaches can be distinct and vary significantly across public safety and law enforcement models.
US law enforcement, for example, is comprised of over 18,000 different local police departments (ranging from small rural towns to large metropolitan municipalities), sheriff’s offices, and state and federal agencies; all of which, operate largely independently of one another. Each organization is free to construct and establish their own policy and procedure manuals, and organize (recruit, train, and equip) and operate as they see fit. They are bound and standardized only by a range of established (and evolving) case law from the State and Federal courts, and what are often minimum training and certification standards legislated by their respective States and jurisdictions. Most non-US, European models organize under national umbrellas, wherein there is more centralized control and standardization across a country’s police services.
The nature of policing and law enforcement provides for a predominantly reactive institutional approach- in that philosophically, security organizations must respond in order to serve and protect. Unlike science fiction, there is no such thing as ‘pre-crime’ and most legal systems worldwide prevent proactive law enforcement by stipulating extensive legal barriers to action. Typically, a crime is committed or an incident threatening public safety unfolds and the organization responds to it at the tactical level under established operational guidelines. The incident is investigated, seeking to determine what happened, how and the context in which it occurred, and who is responsible and to be held accountable where in violation of law. This creates a distinct mode of organizing and operating, and that while paramilitary in form and function, is still distinct from military roles and organizational patterns.
The majority of police service capacity is found at local level police departments, sheriff’s offices, and/or equivalent; centralized hierarchies all share a similar organizational ‘population shape.’ Most officers in a modern police organization enter the profession at the lowest line level; attend an initial ‘police academy’ to achieve basic proficiency and certification; and then upon completion of training, work immediately in a patrolling capacity as a police officer in the community. From their earliest moments in the organization, they are indoctrinated into a ‘way of operating’ that is standardized for consistency and uniformity. A ‘call for service’ is received and they react, responding to the call (sometimes in emergency response mode with lights and siren) as they receive relayed information over the radio. The information is often only rudimentarily processed and travels through at least 2–3 layers before they receive it — caller to call taker, call taker to dispatcher, dispatcher to officer. The centralized hierarchy is clear, stable and reliable in a wide range of emergency responses. Decision-making tends to move programmatically (follow the rule, step by step) and analytically (identify goal/objective, isolate problem and apply solution) from top to bottom. Individual officers are tactically and locally able to respond and act, yet much of their ‘on the scene’ decision-making is highly regulated, managed and directed from the steep institutional hierarchy.
The officers arrive on scene, acting and making discretionary decisions equipped only with often raw, initial information coupled with what they’re able discern through initial observation on arrival. The officers and the organization by extension (and ritual) become comfortable at operating in this environment as they gain experience. One might say they become masters at ‘flying by the seat of their pants’; they do it dozens and dozens of times a day. As these officers move up in the organization or into other areas of policing (Investigations, command positions, etc.) they largely persist in approaching everything in this ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ manner. Yet the seemingly free-form aspect of localized law enforcement is just at the very bottom of a large, centralized hierarchical form that increasingly seeks to standardize, control, predict and gain increased efficiencies while reducing operational risks. Regardless of what instincts an officer on the scene or a firefighter dropped into a blaze might point toward, they must check the rules, policy and do things ‘by the book’ relying on extensive training and rote memorization, just as military professionals do in war zones.
Where does this position a law enforcement organization or an emergency medical response and firefighting organization with respect to innovation? Sadly, it demonstrates a shared institutional overinvestment in simplifying the organization to a point where it becomes incapable of change, as well as crippling in preventing any critical reflection on the institutional norms and established behaviors themselves. Police quickly can become trapped in racing up their own hillsides, clinging to institutionally established tools and belief systems… unable to realize or accept the innovation being presented in front of them because it does not look like anything they have been trained on or conditioned to believe is possible. If these organizations cannot introduce innovation in the field where it matters most, might they be able to foster professionals willing to drop their tools and innovate through alternative education? This is where design thinking comes into play, and how various organizations in the last few years have been quietly experimenting with military-styled design thinking.
Introducing Design Thinking into Public Security and Safety:
Over the past decade of radical change and disruption in local, regional, and national security, US law enforcement agencies have struggled to make sense of an increasingly complex, chaotic and unpredictable landscape. Police are engulfed in an environment that defies and challenges traditional approaches for deterrence, enforcement, and prosecution at a scope and scale never-before encountered in the profession. High-profile police use of force incidents that in decades past might have remained localized in impact and effect collide with an ever-expanding technology-enhanced information environment. All aspects of policing practices are now challenged under a microscope in the spotlight of national, even regional or global attention. Against this backdrop, networked criminals, terror organizations and lone actors (domestic and international), along with wildly polarized political factions and social groups increasingly collaborate and play off one another to manipulate instruments of economic, information, and even political power that rival what historically only governments could produce.
Simultaneously, the sum of this activity is instantly broadcast in organizationally tailored narratives across populations, where facts become increasingly irrelevant to the plotlines of influential narratives. The world is creating new social, political, economic and technological orders that challenge all traditional and institutional policing norms. Nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century, police organizations seeking ways to think critically and creatively, make difficult decisions, and solve complex problems require new ways of thinking, acting, and transforming their organizations.
As a relevant example, the last two years of pandemic response of the COVID virus has, in part due to many of the aforementioned developments, created a fast-moving, chaotic and demanding public safety and security crisis worldwide. To paraphrase former San Diego Harbor Police Chief Mark Stainbrook at the height of the pandemic, “we are in dire need of new thinking and design approaches.” Two months prior, Chief Stainbrook had attended a military design and innovation workshop provided for special operations forces (SOF) across the U.S. Department of Defense. For Stainbrook, now Chief of Police of the Beverly Hills Police Department (California), the pandemic, as well as the many tangential and/or other emerging consequential issues erupting in societies around the globe, highlights deficiencies in traditional and legacy approaches for novel, dynamic, and complex scenarios. To jolt new self-reflective understanding and modes of thinking in his organization, Chief Stainbrook employed simple, yet profoundly illuminating design exercises and discussions with his officers and staff. This helped the organization to better recognize and appreciate the complexity of their environment and the limits of their institutionalized legacy thinking.
Yet, while recognition is occurring within US public safety circles that legacy models and approaches to policing are insufficient and requiring new ways of thinking and acting, these organizations are only in the nascent stages of discovering the utility of security design applications as a means to addressing the insufficiencies and achieving much-needed transformation. Increasingly, the same can be said for larger national security-focused organizations, such as the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and other national policy-making institutions. Notwithstanding, however, other nations around the world are discovering (and arguably further along in) security design praxis and its promising application toward transforming how organizations think and act. While there are pockets of design praxis in American law enforcement as of 2022, we shall turn instead to Northern Europe to find some significant and extensive design integration into a Federal Police Force after initial exposure through their military’s experimentation with it at their defense university.
Interested in more on this topic? Stay tuned for Parts II and III of this chapter treatment posted here. Follow Ben Zweibelson on Medium as well as LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benzweibelson
And on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BZweibelson @BZweibelson
 Alexandersson, as quoted by permission at the Swedish National Defense University on the use of design in correlation to Covid-19 and Swedish Strategy in October 2021. Alexandersson was the Deputy Head (acting Head in 2022) of Crisis Management at the Government agency of the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden. She completed the basic military design course at the Swedish National Defense University in October 2019.
 Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, 47.
 Ackoff, Redesigning the Future, 8.
 “Law & Order.”
 In this grouping, military and law enforcement as well as federal agencies with para-military abilities are considered. Fire and EMS groups also share in these professional frameworks despite their roles not directly being aligned with the legal application of some organized violence for security and safety.
 Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, 45–52.
 Chia, “Organization Theory as a Postmodern Science”; Jay, “Navigating Paradox as a Mechanism of Change and Innovation in Hybrid Organizations”; Maitlis and Sonenshein, “Sensemaking in Crisis and Change: Inspiration and Insights from Weick (1988).”
 Graicer, “Beware of the Power of the Dark Side: The Inevitable Coupling of Doctrine and Design”; Zweibelson, “Designing through Complexity and Human Conflict: Acknowledging the 21st Century Military Design Movement.”
 Smokejumpers are trained and skilled at parachuting into remote mountainous locations to combat wildland fires.
 (Smith, 2012), p. 16.; (Icates-Carney, 2019)
 Weick, “The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster,” 629.
 Weick, “The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster”; Weick, “Drop Your Tools: An Allegory for Organizational Studies.”
 A firefighter survival technique of last resort used in wildland fires where a fire is purposefully started to consume and burn away ground fuel, creating an area void of consumable fuel which the firefighter can safely occupy as the onrushing main fire burns around it.
 Weick, “The Role of Imagination in the Organizing of Knowledge”; Weick and Roberts, “Collective Mind in Organizations: Heedful Interrelating on Flight Decks.” Weick explored both of the NASA space shuttle disasters by considering NASA culture, decision-making, power structures and how they socially constructed meaning in situations. Weick and Roberts study military aircraft carriers and how they approach risk management in complex, even chaotic circumstances as a military institution.
 Policy & Procedure Manuals are US law enforcement’s equivalent of ‘doctrine’ in that like military doctrine, they are standardizations and checklists of programmatic behaviors each officer must master.
 Arguably, specialized law enforcement such as counter-drug, organized crime, and human-trafficking teams appear to operate proactively and even offensively, yet their actions predicate on an existing history of earlier criminal initiatives, patterns and behaviors that themselves stimulate subsequent law enforcement.
 Cameron, “An Introduction to the Competing Values Framework”; Paparone, The Sociology of Military Science: Prospects for Postinstitutional Military Design.
 Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation, paperback edition (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1990); Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry, On Narrative, 7, no. 1 (Autumn 1980): 5–27; Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1978).
 Personal correspondence and discussion between Chief Stainbrook and authors.
 There are various military design courses and programs available. Part of the author team worked in the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)’s university where design was offered.