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Looking at decision making in a structured fashion

March 19, 2020  By Isabelle Sauve and Bruno Seguin

Photo: Olaser /E+/Getty Images
“Decision making is a cognitive process that helps you map out the consequences of your actions.”
– Adam Sicinski

Humans make countless decisions daily, many of which are undertaken with little to seemingly no thought: what to eat, who to interact with, what to do with one’s day, etc. Life can be viewed as a compilation of microscopic and significant decisions. What we do — as well as what we opt not to do — is the result of decisions taken. Some decisions are minor in nature while others are substantial and life changing.

Law enforcement officers, like many other professionals with specific skill sets, are trained to make sound decisions as well as demonstrate appropriate judgement while dealing with a wide variety of challenging situations and persons. As a result of professional training and peer support, police decision making becomes fluid and dynamic. It evolves and unfolds over the course of time, based on recognized variables.

Through repeated exposure and experience, these skills can be strengthened and enhanced. Training, in conjunction with policies and procedures, also provides a solid framework to guide and assist officers in making timely and sound on-the-job decisions. R. v. McNeil (2009) is Canadian case law that allows the disclosure of records of discipline and misconduct of officers involved in criminal proceedings and is an example of the importance of proper decision making both on and off duty.

Police officers are entrusted a significant amount of discretion and power where their decisions can have serious consequences. Aside from an ethical responsibility to do a stellar job, the increasing pressures in accountability threaten the likelihood officers may continue in the profession if they are unskilled or “poor” decision makers.


Every decision has a consequence. Deciding requires taking a stance and can also involve risk taking. It also frequently exposes the decision maker to a certain degree of vulnerability. The impact of a decision can be positive, negative, or result in status quo. It can lead to success but there is a possibility of failure.

Decision making opens the door to criticism. One’s need to preserve an “image” or the fear of failure can become debilitating, rendering the individual incapable of deciding. Some officers “hide” behind other factors and excuses to avoid facing the truth or making important life decisions.

Overall, planning for decision making is key to success. First, identifying and ratifying a decision is in order ensures proper attention is given to a particular issue. As a second step, collecting information and fully processing the circumstances related to the decision to make is critical. There are values attached to tough decisions, such as financial value, social value, emotional value, to name a few.

Next, based on information collected, pertinent options can be developed. From this point, the various options can be examined and critically analyzed. Then comes time to decide and take action. Owning one’s decision is important regardless of outcome. Being true to ourselves and our values is key. Although it may be difficult, it is important to avoid excuses that prevent the needed decision making. In fact, not deciding is a decision in itself. Many are afraid of failing but in actuality or hindsight may not necessarily regret a “failure.”

Despite being provided with all tools and support to make decisions at work, some continue to struggle in making them on a personal and real-life level. The question remains how someone able to make prompt and assertive life or death decisions without skipping a beat can agonize and find it nearly impossible to make personal decisions. Proficiency in making professional decisions does not directly transfer to the personal life. We all know someone who is a great law enforcement officer but repeatedly makes iffy life decisions.

Discrepancy between professional and private life is largely based on the verity that the governance of rules and policies, along with support of colleagues and regular training, provides a structure to ease decision making, while such a framework does not exist within the private sphere. Furthermore, many individuals have not been shown personal decision making in a structured fashion. With minimal or no boundaries, they find themselves at a loss. Asking for help becomes increasingly difficult as they carry the image of a law enforcement officer who is expected to have the answers and make decisions. Being skilled on a professional level does not guarantee they are a “skilled” friend, spouse or parent. When required, it is important to lean on others for a little extra support.

No one will have a perfect decision-making record and we all make mistakes. Learning and growth comes from all decisions.


Bruno Seguin is a senior executive manager and international business consultant with experience in global operations, international business development, strategic planning, leadership and corporate governance. He is also an ultra-runner, 9th place finisher at the Racing the Planet/4 Deserts 2018 Series and fellow Guinness World record holder.

Isabelle Sauve is a 13-year veteran with the OPP, currently with the Lanark County Detachment. She has a MA in psychology and is a
PhD candidate. She is also an ultramarathon/ endurance athlete and the Racing the Planet/4 Deserts 2018 Series winner as well as a Guinness World record holder. She can be contacted at:

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