One Problem - One Mission

More precisely, "One problem at a time." One problem at a time is a tactical, as well as logical concept to employ when law enforcement officers are making contact with individuals in the field. Because of the many unknowns that officers may face with suspects, it is prudent for them to minimize the problems they encounter by controlling their environment and not creating unnecessary distractions during the contact. They can do this by confronting the problems one at a time. If an officer can engage problems one at a time, he will increase his chances of being successful and safe throughout the encounter. In order for the problems or threats to be manageable, the officer will have to limit his exposure to any additional threats or problems before it is absolutely necessary. This means officers need to avoid creating problems and just letting the situation unfold without over exposing themselves so that they can confront each issue as it arises (not necessarily trying to handle everything at once).  There are times when multiple problems will present itself during a contact. However, if the officer avoids over-extending, they have a better chance of dealing with threats as they appear. Contact and Cover is a great example of this "one problem at a time" concept. The Contact and Cover tactic was solidified in law enforcement after the tragic loss of two San Diego Police Department officers.

On September 14, 1984, officers Timothy Ruopp and Kimberly Tonahill were making contact with two adult male suspects and two teenage girls at a park in San Diego, California. During the contact, officer Ruopp was writing out a misdemeanor citation while also trying to keep an eye on suspect #2. Additionally, he instructed officer Tonahill to begin a weapons pat-down on suspect #1 at the same time. This is where the "one problem at a time" concept would have been advantageous for the officers. But, since there were two problems created unnecessarily, the danger of the contact increased. Officer Ruopp's attention was focused on his citation booklet and suspect #2. That's considered “problem” number one. Problem number two enters when he instructs officer Tonahill to start the pat-down on her suspect. Unfortunately, this additional action over-exposed the officers and created multiple problems to occur at the same time. This increased the danger exponentially and could have been avoided if officer Ruopp would have chosen to do one or the other, but not both simultaneously. As a result of their attention being focused on two different problems at the same time, both officers were distracted and suspect #1 was able to overcome them during the contact. While being patted-down, suspect #1 pushed officer Tonahill to create a distraction, reached for a weapon on his person, then was able to fire a round that struck Tonahill between the panels of her vest. Immediately after that, the suspect turned and fired at officer Ruopp. Both officers went down without having a chance to return fire. Then, the suspect walked up to each officer and fired more rounds into both of their bodies’ execution style.  Both officers died.

Since officer Ruopp was the contact officer, his role should have been to conduct all the "business" during the contact. Officer Tonahill's role should only have been a cover officer observing the entire contact and providing protection by being alert to any threats that may arise. If Ruopp would have conducted the pat-down himself and let Tonahill just stand off to observe, they would have increased the chances that Tonahill could have responded when she saw suspect #1 start to resist. Even if suspect #1 was able to get the first shot off, Tonahill would have had a chance to counter and engage the suspect. Either way, an additional problem was unnecessarily introduced which caused a momentary distraction giving suspect #1 enough time to engage both officers without them having an opportunity to return fire.

In contrast, applying the "one problem at a time" concept to a positive leadership situation is laid out for us in the life and calling of a woman named Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu. She is known to the world as Mother Teresa. She knew from early childhood what she was called to do, living life as a missionary in India.  Mother Teresa left home at the age of 18 to step into her purpose.  While in India, she was serving as a teacher at a convent school in Calcutta.  However, after 20 years her life’s purpose became even more focused.  She decided she wanted to serve the poorest of the poor and formed the Missionaries of Charity.  From then on, Mother Teresa held steadfast to serving in the slums of Calcutta until her passing in 1997.

A book containing her private writings entitled “Come Be My Light” was released and highlighted lowly times of struggle and doubt during her journey of faith and service.  In some of her writings, it sounds as if she believed God did not want her and that darkness was all she knew.  Mother Teresa lived with despair, doubt and heartache.  However, despite the sorrow she did not turn to the left or to the right.  She continued to serve the people that no one else wanted to help. This type of fortitude in the midst of despair is incredible. Although Mother Teresa lived and breathed death and disease on a daily basis, she stayed the course to finish the race and accomplish the original mission.

To start her mission at such an early age and then continue to focus on the mission for the rest of her life, displays a purposeful and passionate life of significance that is certainly unmatched in the 20th century. Mother Teresa did not let the distractions in her life cripple her drive.  Her purpose was clear and she fought the good fight and finished the race she was called to complete.

If all of us could keep that kind of focus on our mission and avoid being distracted by life’s struggles, I believe we could impact the world with so much significance that major world issues would be minimized to sizes of insignificance or be totally eliminated from this world.

Continue to lead others and impacting lives for the betterment of all.  Stay focused and don’t let life and all of its distractions separate you from your mission.  Handle "One Problem at a Time" and continue to press on towards the goal and finish the race you were called to complete…

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