20 years after Waco: The lessons we learned
Part four of a four-part series
Waco gave law enforcement the opportunity to watch a human drama unfold in real time like some bizarre reality television show long before anyone had heard of the Kardashians.
At the time of Waco, I was a SWAT trainer and tactical operator. Afterward, I eventually became a team leader and commander of a SWAT Team.
The lessons of Waco never left me.
The Officer in Charge and Team Leader should identify potential problems and prepare for the expected and unexpected contingencies. The team leaders must have the authority to alter or even abort the plan in the event that conditions at the scene have changed making the original plan untenable.
My personal favorite time to use it was for what I liked to call the “Full Bladder Entry.” I scheduled the serving of the “No Knock Warrant,” pre-dawn — or “Zero Dark Thirty,” if you will — and hit the target while all suspects were asleep. We had success because it appeared suspects rarely fought if the surprise was total and the bladder was full.
Dynamic and full speed was no longer the be all and end all of SWAT operations after Waco, however. Teams trained at the three speeds; stealth (slow and deliberate) warrant (smooth is fast) and hostage rescue (as fast as one could move together as a team and still hit a suspect in a gun fight).
Often, SWAT teams merely secured the perimeters on warrants. With this done, negotiators could make contact and begin to negotiate suspects out.
A variation of this developed called the breach and hold. During this operation, the target was breached and after a “beachhead” had been established, suspects were talked out.
Every conversation about law enforcement weaponry after Waco seemed to include the word “outgunned,” and the phrase, “officers must be prepared to meet modern threats.”
Within a very short time, every officer was armed with a Glock and every squad had a Benelli M-1 semi- automatic shotgun up front in the rack. Trunks contained the old reliable Remington 870s, which was now loaded with less lethal munitions. MP-5s and M-16s were available SWAT operators.
I also believed that if negotiators were crossed-trained, they not only would better understand the need to have a tactical option at the ready, but also they would be able to supplement the tactical operators, during operations, when more bodies were needed.
This cross-training paid off often and continually.
1.) Establishing mutual aid agreements.
A Success or a Failure?
Koresh dreamed of his apocalyptic end and he succeeded in making his dream come true. The fire was started by Koresh and his adult followers.
I truly believe that for them, it is burning still.
Law enforcement has learned a great deal from this tragedy. Ultimately, however, Waco was not law enforcement’s failure, but David Koresh’s success.
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