Social Norms and Learning to be Unpredictable

Unjust criminal aggressors have no problem using social norms (folkways, mores, taboos, and even laws), to gain tactical advantages in positioning, timing, and over the will of their innocent victims. Unjust criminal aggressors understand the advantages of being unpredictable, and the gift of being underestimated. They understand the value of sandbagging or hiding their true intentions, skills, and weapons until there is nothing much you can do about it. The world today seems to be accommodating to criminals. In this post I’m going to talk about my introduction to rejecting the urge to comply with social norms.

I like simple definitions. In searching for what is a folkway, I strive to find the root meaning of words. In an article by Shanell Sanchez titled Social Norms: Folkways, Mores, Taboo, and Laws, I found what I was searching for. Folkways are normally perceived as rude. Mores are normally perceived as offensive. Taboos are normally perceived as something that will upset people.1 There are tactical advantages which can be gained in dealing with sketchy folks of the ambush predator type in being a bit rude, offensive, and upsetting. Primarily in ways that limit or remove opportunities for those sketchy folks to gain advantages in positioning, timing, or over our ‘will.’

In terms of law – think traffic laws. In Law Enforcement there are exemptions for emergency vehicles regarding traffic laws. We most certainly used those exemptions to our advantages. Now that I’m a retired LEO, am I willing to break a traffic law to keep my family safe from an unjust criminal predator? Yes! Officers have discretion and I’d be happy to explain why breaking a traffic law was necessary and the right thing to do. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll explain it to the judge. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll pay the ticket. Is a fine and mark against my driving record worth the rare instance where breaking a traffic law will protect my family or myself from an ambush predator? Yes, absolutely! In Law Enforcement when we broke traffic laws it was still with regard for the safety of other motorists and pedestrians. At O’ dark thirty in any big city USA, there may be no other motorists on the road as far as we can see. However, there might be a male 15-50 tactically staged for a street robbery or vehicular hijacking at the next blind corner. There may be a male 15-50 compressing / closing in direct alignment or a near pass with my vehicle which is a common ruse to gain point blank range where you can be threatened and dominated. If disobeying a traffic law can be done with regard for the safety of other motorists and pedestrians, then it may well be the right thing to do.

In July of 1991, at 24 years old I was offered and accepted a job with the Springfield Police Department in Springfield, Illinois. I was sent to the Illinois State Police Academy, class 400-34. Our class motto was Honor, Pride, Esprit de Corps. Following graduation our class began the Field Training Program. Part of my experience included a brief opportunity with a Field Training Officer assigned to the Neighborhood Team Policing Unit (NTP). NTP was a small specialized unit. In 1991, NTP exclusively served the citizens of the John Hay Homes (public housing). NTP would later branch out to include working other violent hot spots in areas such as Evergreen Terrace and Brandon (public housing). NTP was the direct precursor to Springfield’s Gang Enforcement Mobile Unit (GEM). GEM was the precursor to Springfield’s modern day Street Crimes Unit (SCU).

Former John Hay Homes – YouTube grab

My introduction to tactically rejecting social norms came when a NTP-FTO said to me;

We’re going to get out with a suspect standing on the corner who has an active warrant for his arrest. I need you to grab hold of his arm, before you say anything. No talking. Do not say one word to him. If you say anything to him he will break, and he will run. Do you understand?

I acknowledged I understood. But did I? No. No, I did not! So guess what happened? As I approached the suspect, I said something authoritative like:

Put your hands on the car!

The suspect broke, and he ran. Thankfully, in those days I was fit enough to run him down, tackle him, and forcibly subdue him.

It did not feel right to grab hold of someone without saying something. Isn’t that rude, offensive, and perhaps upsetting? Because those authoritative words meant nothing to this young man, in reality, all I did was gift wrap initiative for him. The initiative to break, and run. The NTP-FTO was trying to teach me the difference between how a civilian thinks and how a police officer thinks. He was trying to teach me about a paradigm shift that I’d need to make if I desired to be competent as a police officer. At that time I had much to learn about social norms and initiative.

Had I listened, I would have gained an advantageous position (having hold of one of his arms). So long as I could hold on to that arm for a second or two, then the NTP-FTO could bring his intentions, skills, and weapons to bear. The deck would have been stacked against this wanted person with two innocents against one. Bad guys and galls have no problem using multiples to forcibly subdue innocent victims so why do we have a problem using multiple innocents to subdue an unjust criminal aggressor? Does it seem a bit unfair to our love for competition? I think the NTP-FTO was trying to teach me the difference between a competitive mindset and a winning mindset.

Why did I fail so horribly at such a simple task? Why couldn’t I just do what the NTP-FTO asked me to do? I still had a civilian mindset. The act of just grabbing a hold of this guys arm before saying anything felt odd, awkward, and outside all social norms – rude, offensive, and upsetting! When you grow up in tactics, as it were, you set aside the competitive mindset and adopt a winning mindset.

I still had a good amount of ‘buy in’ regarding a competitive mindset. The whole idea of tactics is to gain an advantage in positioning, timing, or over the will of an adversary. So why would I desire to intermix competition with winning? Part of the answer is ego. The good ego puts out in the service and sacrifice for others. The bad part of our ego is self-serving and the ugly part of our ego is how we feel due to the lies our ego’s tell us.

For my part, I couldn’t give what I did not have. There’s an awesome old Latin saying: Nemo dat quod non habet ~ No man gives what he does not have. Today I explain these things in a principle I call Throttle Control. There is absolute tactical gold in learning how to be odd, awkward, and unpredictable, and in doing that which is the least expected.

Ironically, several months later this same FTO was instrumental in bringing me into the NTP unit. At the conclusion of NTP, in 1994, he had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, and went on to found and lead the Gang Enforcement Mobile Unit. Neighborhood Team Policing was where I cut my teeth, as it were. The experiences gained in this small six man unit taught me to be comfortable being odd, awkward, and unpredictable. NTP substantially served as my formation in Law Enforcement.

Me in the Neighborhood Team Policing Office – back in the day…

NTP targeted the most dangerous members of the community. Unit focus was on gang members, drug dealers, shooters, stolen firearms, firearms offenses, and drug interdiction. Our unit made hundreds of arrests. In the early 1990’s The Springfield Police Department published an annual top ten list for officers making the most arrests. In 1993, I had the second highest arrests on the department with a total of 246 (#1 top slot had 262). I had 196 misdemeanor, and 50 felony arrests. Two NTP teammates held the third (243), and fifth (214) top ten spots respectively. Both of these men had been hired on with me and we’re graduates of class 400-34. During our tenure team efforts resulted in the seizures of an abundance of crack cocaine, numerous firearms, and asset forfeitures of thousands of dollars in assets regarding both money and vehicles.

Former John Hay Homes – YouTube grab

What does all of this have to do with you the citizen just looking to protect your family and yourself? There are substantial advantages to be gained in learning how to become unpredictable. For instance stopping short at an intersection in a bad part of town, at night, when a male 15-50 is preparing to cross perpendicular to your vehicle, at the crosswalk. Stopping 70 feet short is odd, awkward, and least expected. That’s just one example.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add some context. This doesn’t mean being odd, awkward, and unpredictable in every circumstance, all the time. That would be really bad for both our social life and our relationships. Context matters. If we use Jeff Cooper’s color codes of situational awareness, we live and move, in condition yellow (aware). Depending on the environment we live and move in, it might be a very long time before we see a specific potential threat (color code orange). Some men make a statement to those around them through how they dress, adorn themselves, speak, and act that they’re a dangerous man not to be trifled with. So for that guy is it reasonable for me to maintain a six foot reactionary gap? Yes, that is reasonable. Maintaining a six foot reactionary gap could be deemed to be rude, offensive, and upsetting to some people. And I care why? If you choose to hold yourself out as a dangerous man why wouldn’t I believe you? Why wouldn’t I give you the respect and wide berth your demanding?

Political correctness (PC) is a curse and a pox upon the land – reject it in all of it’s various forms. PC may be deemed rude, offensive, and upsetting. Do you want to win or not? Winning can be as simple as avoiding dangerous men, dangerous places, at dangerous times, and by limiting time spent in areas of vulnerability.

Let’s imagine that I handled the arrest of the wanted man correctly, what might that have looked like? It would have looked a lot like a common ruse unjust ambush predators use. A disinterested near pass with a 90° cut at the critical apex point. Without a word spoken, I’d have grabbed hold of his arm and we’d go from there, based upon whatever he did next.

In general the same tactics and tools of violence can all be used for good or for evil. It comes down to the disposition and status of the one wielding the tactic or tool. What is the intention of the man or woman using the tactic or tool? Is the intention legitimate defense of self or others? Is the intention to rob, rape, or murder an innocent? Is the intention revenge or vengeance? Is the intention for a street reputation or gang initiation? Is the intention over some slight or offense given in response to entertaining the bad and ugly parts of a mans ego or is that man in actual jeopardy? Is the status of the person a mutual combatant, or are they an innocent man or woman justly using legitimate defense? These questions are a matter of spiritual life or death on the moral battlefield. As soon as the combat is finished (physical battlefield) presuming you win or survive, these questions are a matter of freedom or incarceration on that next legal battlefield. These questions may be a matter of financial stability or bankruptcy on the civil battlefield. And these questions may be a matter of gainful employment or beginning anew on the social battlefield. Choose – wisely.

Think about these things.

1Shanell Sanchez titled Social Norms: Folkways, Mores, Taboo, and Laws