According to the FBI LEOKA 2012 Report, we lost 43 officers from 2002-2012 while entering structures.
Out of those 43 officers, 29 were killed in the last five years. That’s more than double the number of officers killed in the preceding five years. Based on those statistics we have to ask ourselves, how are we doing? Has society become more violent in recent years, or are our training and tactics failing us?
Perhaps it is a combination of the two. We need to reassess how we are entering and clearing structures. One size does not fit all, and there is no magic pill. Just because we start with one course of action does not mean that we continue on that course when the situation dictates the application of another tactic or technique.
By fusing dynamic tactics, when necessary and appropriate, with deliberate tactics, when the opportunity presents itself, we will still be able to move fluidly through the structure with a better ability to process and assess information as we flow through.
Training and Mindset
It has been my experience that many officers conduct building-search training in sterile environments. That is to say, the rooms we’re clearing are often void of furniture or obstacles. This stands in stark contrast to what we experience in real-world encounters: homes and businesses are not empty vessels, but rather contain many objects that create dead space and angles.
It is from these angles that we are exposed to hostile fire that cannot be covered by supporting officers. As officers separate from one another to “clear” their areas of responsibility and continue to move deeper into a space, they are subjected to angles from multiple directions within that space created by those obstacles.
Therefore, in order to assess the validity of our tactics, we must create training environments that resemble those we encounter.
The other issue in our training is our mindset. Because we have used certain tactics and have been successful doesn’t necessarily validate the method in which the search was conducted. It may have simply been that there was no one at the location who was willing to shoot it out with the police.
In his book On Killing, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman stated that approximately two percent of society are sociopaths who are capable of killing without conscience.
It is reasonably safe to speculate that another three to five percent of society for one reason or another feel they have nothing to lose and will engage the police in a lethal confrontation. At any rate, the number of persons willing to risk death, or life behind bars, is very few. The majority of suspects we encounter are of the escape-and-evade variety.
Often our current tactics will safeguard us against the 95 percent of the population more interested in avoidance than engagement. However, we must train and use tactics that will address the five percent who are willing to kill a police officer, and in doing so increase our chances of survival 100% of the time. There is not a single tactic that will guarantee survival each and every time, and we cannot fully eliminate casualties. But through situational awareness, we can make rapid and proper assessments and adapt our tactics accordingly.
Dynamic and Deliberate
Hostage rescue techniques, rapid deployment and dynamic entries/clearings should be reserved for those incidents in which imminent loss of life or serious bodily injury is present. The two dominant reasons for that are officer safety and legal justification.
From an officer safety perspective, once we breach an entry point and dynamically enter into the unknown unnecessarily, we subject ourselves to ambush. Also, as we rush through the structure, it is difficult to process information effectively and still get an opportunity to perceive, analyze, formulate and react.
From a legal perspective, courts are scrutinizing our “shock and awe” tactics as excessive force when executing search warrants that contain no justification for such action.
This isn’t to say that dynamic tactics are to be abandoned all together. Certainly, there are circumstances during the clearing process that leave us vulnerable to attack and we must move quickly (dynamically) through those areas to minimize our exposure. Hallways, stairwells and open areas are just a few examples. However, once we have vacated the hazard and entered a less vulnerable position, we should then transition to a slower and more deliberate form of clearing.
Any time we have control of an area — whether that is at the point of entry or the initial foothold (room/area), or when the space that we occupy is void of an immediate threat — we should transition to deliberate thought and action.
Upon entering a room/area, don’t continue to run the walls — you cannot search and maintain security as a single element. Execute a limited penetration into the area, observe, orientate, decide who will move and who should hold, and then initiate the action (OODA) as a unified force rather than a group of individuals acting independently.
• Conduct a search utilizing pairs of officers moving together, one performing the search and the other protecting their back as they move through the area (cover/search teams).
• Start where the threat is the closest (danger close) and work your way through the area/room.
• Deal with one problem at a time when possible (divide/conquer).
Once you’ve secured an area, make a quick assessment to determine where you will clear next. It may require you to move dynamically through a danger zone, only then to transition to a deliberate clearing once you arrive.
Heeding Sun Tzu
Of course this may seem an oversimplification of a sometimes complex set of circumstances. Again, this is not a perfect world and each situation is unique. In the end, you must apply the best course of action based on the totality of circumstances.
The lesson to take away from all of this is to be flexible, remain fluid and do not to hold to a course of action that may not be prudent for every tactical encounter. By fusing dynamic with deliberate, you will remain fluid throughout the clearing process and at the same time maximize your resources while minimizing your risks.
As Sun Tzu once said, “Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows. The soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning may be called a heaven-born captain.”