Why Rapid Deployment is not the answer to every problem
Following the terrorist attack in Orlando, it is appropriate to rehash the limitations of Rapid Deployment tactics
There was a three-hour pause during the Orlando terrorist attack, when Orlando PD stepped back from Rapid Deployment tactics and negotiated with the shooter. There has been criticism of this tactic from both the media and other law enforcement agencies.
As in all events of this type, the truth and final analysis of the timeline are currently speculation and will remain so for many months to come. However, it is appropriate to rehash the limitations of Rapid Deployment (RD) tactics in general.
Disclaimer: I am not judging Orlando PD’s tactics that morning — I am merely reminding everyone of the guidelines built into active shooter response tactics.
The "Safety Stop"
RD tactics, which were explosively adopted and trained after the 1999 Columbine attack, were never intended as an all-inclusive replacement for the then-standard "contain, isolate, negotiate" protocol. Columbine did highlight a shortcoming in the standard protocol — if an attacker(s) is actively killing people in a target-rich environment, we can’t wait to assemble a SWAT team or conduct a deliberate, methodical search and clearing routine.
The original four-officer RD team response has been proven too slow to save lives, active shooter events are almost always over before a four-officer team can assemble, make entry and hope to find the killer(s). In most locales, an "instant deployment" by the first arriving officer is becoming the norm.
The fly in this ointment is the reluctance of some solo officers to go boldly into harm's way by themselves. We have seen hesitation at some incidents. I’m not judging, I’ve never been that solo officer crouched by the door and I understand the level of courage needed to go alone.
All the versions of RD training I’ve seen include limitations on its use. In our training, the term "Safety Stop" defines situations where the solo officer or RD team should pause, take a deep breath, and decide whether to continue the hunt for the attacker(s).
The two universal Safety Stops occur when an attacker is either communicating and/or making demands, or when the attacker has stopped shooting and has barricaded in a defensible location. Either of these developments dictates a pause in the hunt, transitioning the situation to a more conventional SWAT operation, including negotiation.
Tactics Change with Circumstances
There are other developments which should cause a team leader to pause a RD response, most obviously a situation where further advance could be suicidal. Explosives/booby traps and weapons-of-mass-destruction/HAZMAT threats are beyond the capability of a team of patrol officers attacking with little more protective gear than they wear on the street. Advancing your team into the face of near certain destruction is foolhardy — not brave. The slaughter of a RD team will not make the situation better — only worse.
During a pause, maintain an inside containment presence to restrict the attackers' movements, unless the threats mentioned above dictate evacuation. If you must evacuate, take along as many injured as possible and back out only as far as needed to mitigate the threat.
During a pause, develop an emergency assault plan to move forward without hesitation should the attacker resume killing. Rotate in fresh officers, especially SWAT officers when they become available, to enhance the team’s capabilities.
During a pause, keep tactical decision making at the lowest possible level. A decision to resume RD movement should come from the team leader closest to the action, NOT from a senior commander "outside" the venue. Remember the lesson of the San Ysidro incident where a sniper was stopped from solving the problem when a distant commander remotely issued orders in a situation he could not possibly understand. The incident commander certainly has oversight responsibility, but must allow split-second tactical decisions to be made by the commander who has eyes on the problem.
Remember the two universal Safety Stops I mentioned above — when an attacker is communicating and/or making demands and when the attacker has stopped shooting and has barricaded in a defensible location. Both of those situations — plus the threat of explosives — occurred in Orlando.
Many experts predict a long, hot summer for 2016, with more Orlando-style attacks likely. Refresh your RD training. Review your SOPs, particularly as relates to on-scene chain of command. Get ready because your day "in the box" may come