8 tactics to prevent or survive gunfire at a demonstration

Here are several considerations to help you ensure First Amendment rights of protesters while also making sure your officers are safe


How do you balance protecting the rights of citizens to peacefully assemble while protecting yourselves? I would like to share some tactics I employed as a member/commander of a very active civil unrest team.

Here are several considerations that can help you ensure the First Amendment rights of protesters while also making sure your officers are safe.

1. Pre-event reconnaissance

Police retreat through a residential neighborhood after dispersing protesters who wandered into residential neighborhoods and toward a major highway in Baton Rouge, La. on Sunday, July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
Police retreat through a residential neighborhood after dispersing protesters who wandered into residential neighborhoods and toward a major highway in Baton Rouge, La. on Sunday, July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

When you know where the demonstration will be held, send a team through the area in advance to check for construction materials, rocks, fireworks, improvised explosive devices, a sniper’s hide, etc. By policing the area in advance you can prevent everything from mischief to mayhem.

2. Control the high ground

If there is high ground in the area, assign at least one team to locate and occupy the most commanding position. It is best to use a sniper/observer team to choose the best spot to deploy and have them provide a low key protective overwatch with their optics. With this effective overwatch in place, you now own the high ground.

3. Place undercover officers in the crowd

The advantages of assigning undercover officers to infiltrate the crowd are tremendous. They would primarily be present to gather intelligence and to identify threats, leaders and provocateurs. 

4. Deploy camera teams to record and analyze

Strategically place mobile camera teams to not only record significant persons and activities but also analyze members of the crowd. They will be able to identify and report little trouble so that it can be managed before it becomes big trouble. 

5. Have SWAT on standby

A fully operational SWAT contingent should be standing by out of sight, but close, with rapid response capability. Keeping them out of sight not only prevents the “confrontational” accusation, but it gives them a tactical advantage when they have to move.

6. Use team crowd control skills for the demonstration

These shared skills should be possessed by the teams working events and demonstrations. Officers should have shared skills and tactics. They should have the ability to remain calm and task-oriented in the face of agitation. These shared skills should suffice if the demonstration remains peaceful, or even if the crowd becomes aggressive. 

7. Conduct shots fired drill

The reason for having a SWAT contingent, a sniper overwatch and practicing shots fired drills is because shots being fired at demonstrations and large disturbances have happened often in the past and will most certainly happen in the future. 

For example, they occurred in Los Angeles in 1965 and 1992. They happened again in Milwaukee and Detroit during the 1967 riots. 

St. Petersburg had two large riots in 1996. When the shooting erupted during the second of these riots one officer – who was a Viet Nam combat vet – said it sounded like a hot LZ in Vietnam. 

Then there was Dallas.

The drill should be practiced when you are training in your crowd control movements and formations. You practice the movements slowly at first and speed it up a bit with subsequent repetitions. The concept of the drill is simple. Everyone involved in a crowd control assignment must be made aware that whenever shots are fired no one needs to be told to fall out of line. They should transition to their firearm and move to cover. You just do it! 

To start the drill, the instructor should shout, “Shots fired from the bell tower,” for example. The movement should be practiced so officers are used to moving efficiently to the nearest cover available without tripping over each other. Their choice of cover should be evaluated. You can even have someone recording from the bell tower so that the trainees can be shown later the point of view the sniper had on them as they moved to and arrived at cover.

Emphasize smooth over fast to build the skill and avoid injury. During these drills emphasize that when moving through a troubled area, or working a demonstration every officer should constantly be scanning and assessing.

8. Downed officer rescues

Crowd control training should include downed officer rescues. Officers should have the capability of moving to a downed officer, stabilizing them and then using a one person or multiple officer lifts to extract downed officers from a hot zone, while others are providing cover. 

Also, emergency transports may be practiced in squads, Bearcats, vans, or whatever conveyance is available. Your everyday first responders will be very hesitant to move into a hot zone. 

Now some of you will say, “We don’t have a team.” If that is the case, you don’t need anyone else but yourself to practice the most important of these drills. That would be number seven above – the shots fired drill.

The Dallas incident

In closing, I would like to recognize the indomitable spirit exhibited by the Dallas PD and DART on July 7, 2016. When shots rained down on these officers they instantly directed demonstrators to safety while they put themselves in harm’s way. They formed teams at once and began moving to, treating and transporting fallen officers. This was done while other officers engaged, pursued, contained and then negotiated with the suspect. Finally, they ended the threat presented by the terrorist.

Dallas PD, PoliceOne would like to send to you our highest praise and most sincere prayers. God bless and keep you all.

NEXT: 5 steps of riot prep: How to do crowd control correctly

This article, originally published 07/13/2016, has been updated

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Police Training

Sponsored by

Career news from P1 in your inbox

Thanks! You've been successfully signed up for the PoliceOne Career Newsletter

Copyright © 2020 policeone.com. All rights reserved.