Understanding the Concept of WIN

Below 100 has five core tenets: 1) Wear your belt. 2) Wear your vest. 3) Watch your speed. 4) WIN-What’s Important Now? 5) Remember: Complacency Kills!

It is the fourth tenet, the concept of WIN, that is the most subjective and perhaps the most powerful of the tenets. It is also the one that requires a bit of reflection to fully understand. WIN is not unique to law enforcement. Legendary football coach Lou Holtz used the WIN concept with his players, telling them to repeatedly ask themselves, “What’s Important Now?” Holtz knew this simple phrase would help ensure players were making good decisions when it came to nutrition, physical fitness, on-field actions, and even recreational activities.

At its core, WIN is about being in the present, about being situationally aware, but at the same time keeping an eye to the future as an incident evolves. A great way to understand WIN is to break down the elements of a fundamental law enforcement task—a traffic stop. (Is it of sufficient importance?).

This is based on a number of factors, including the severity of the violation, other demands for your time (such as a pending call), and variables like the area, surrounding traffic, and perhaps the potential to determine what else might be going on with the subject(s) in the vehicle.

If a decision is made to initiate a stop, a new WIN filter comes into play: What factors concerning the vehicle and occupant(s) might provide relevant information that could affect the stop and your safety? Is the driver making furtive movements? Is a backseat passenger continually turning around? Is the plate partially concealed?

As these observations are being made, you are deciding when and where to initiate the stop so it can be done safely and simultaneously checking the plate to determine the wanted status. Once the emergency lights come on, there is additional consideration as to the driver’s reaction and what that may indicate. Assuming the vehicle pulls over properly, a primary thought (WIN) should be other traffic. An oncoming car often presents more of a hazard than the occupant(s) of the stopped vehicle.

As you approach, are you using a passenger side approach? Are you keeping your gun hand clear? Are you scanning the car for indicators that the occupant(s) may be trying to hide something or access a weapon? Are you ignoring that cell phone call? The point of walking through the elements of a traffic stop is to underscore that WIN is not a static concept. It evolves and requires the officer to continually reassess the situation.

The beauty of WIN is that it can be used just as effectively in complex and infrequent tasks, even ones that you have never previously experienced. Remember the old saying: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s really the secret sauce behind WIN. The most stressful incident can be worked through systematically and methodically because WIN causes you to quickly prioritize, even when faced with overwhelming sensory input.

WIN is every bit as powerful and beneficial in your personal life. It helps to ensure balance and many officers find that family members readily embrace the concept. I know of law enforcement couples who regularly use the phrase, “What’s Important Now?” when they’re making decisions together.

The more you use WIN, the more you will find that situational prioritization becomes quite natural. The mind can be trained to work through complex tasks very quickly as long as previous consideration has been given to the process. Regular use of WIN is like practicing an action that improves from muscle memory, such as effectively using a safety retention holster. The more you do it, the quicker and more smoothly you can accomplish the process.


Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, Calif. He is the executive director of the Below 100 program (www.Below100.org). He may be reached at dalestockton@gmail.com


Published in Law and Order, Oct 2016

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