Bomb robots: An explosive change in threat neutralization

Dallas Police added an explosive threat neutralization tactic that doesn’t expose a single cop and is almost guaranteed to end the siege


A barricaded gunman who has already shot and killed several of officers is armed and barricaded in a brick room with no windows and only a door. He taunts the negotiators to come and get him so that he can kill more cops. If you’re the SWAT commander in this situation what is your plan to neutralize this threat? You might consider negotiating until the gunman can no longer stay awake or perhaps even deploying a counter sniper, if the opportunity presents itself. However, what if the gunman is acting like he is about to assault your officers again? Would you send in an entry team to neutralize the threat? 

The Dallas Police Department recently added an explosive threat neutralization tactic to the arsenal of tactical options available to SWAT teams that doesn’t expose a single cop and is almost guaranteed to end the siege. 

The Dallas Bomb Squad formulated a plan to use explosives to neutralize Micah Xavier Johnson, a 25-year-old military veteran from Mesquite, Texas, after he unleashed an ambush that killed five Dallas Police officers. This tactic was born out of necessity and may set the standard for future stand-offs.

The use of explosives by bomb squads to counter charge suspected bombs isn’t new. Bomb squads have used this tactic since bombs were introduced as weapons against law enforcement. However, using explosives to neutralize a human threat is a different story. 

SWAT teams have used explosives to gain entry into buildings since the mid-1990s. Some teams used the tactic even earlier, but wide use of specialized explosive entry and handler’s courses became popular by the late-1990s. The explosive entry option is taught as a nonlethal force option to SWAT teams so that they can quickly breach the stronghold of their objective. 

I have used this tactic dozens of times as an explosive breacher and as a tactical commander. The biggest advantage in my mind is that the tactic is often safer than utilizing a mechanical breacher. However, the threat threshold must be significant and the explosive option should be the last tactical option after considering and eliminating all other tactics as too dangerous for officers making the entry. 

In my experience, if the person is known to be armed and a danger to officers on scene, the explosive entry was used most often. In all the years that my teams have used explosive entries not one person was injured during training or deployments on SWAT calls. 

The use of explosive entries is a fantastic tactical option and has well proven its worth in the tactical arena. However, utilizing explosives as a lethal option is a significant change in its usage. After a 45-minute shoot-out with the Dallas SWAT team and a failed two-hour negotiation, Police Chief David Brown tasked his SWAT commanders with developing a creative plan to neutralize the suspect without placing another Dallas officer in danger. Within short order (20 minutes) the team developed the plan to use C-4 to put an end to the man who vowed to kill even more officers. The team used a bomb squad robot and ended the siege with no more police officer deaths. 

This tactic is sure to gain attention once the anti-militarization groups start vocalizing their displeasure. It’s my opinion that this deadly force use of explosives will hold up in court, in the manner it was utilized and under the circumstances of facing an extreme threat. 

That being said I wouldn’t use this tactic unless facing a similar threat which indicates that other officers will be injured if forced to confront the gunman. If you’re on the fence about using explosives as a tactical option to end a significant deadly force threat, try and look at it this way: If there had been a window in that room in Dallas that night and a police counter-sniper could have taken an instantaneous non-reflex kill shot, most tactical commanders would have green lighted that option. In that case it’s successful threat elimination by a police marksman. 

There are important considerations before your agency uses this option. Start by developing policies that will set the guidelines for the usage of explosives as a threat neutralizer. The next important factor is training in the use of explosives as a deadly force option. Explosive breachers and Bomb Squad Techs understand that over pressure and shrapnel from objects stressed by the explosion can harm and kill anybody in the vicinity. Therefore, the development of sound policy and training should be conducted before its use, unless you face a pressing threat such as in Dallas. Bomb techs and explosive breachers must train and document the effects of various amounts of explosives in various environments. 

Time will tell how this tactical option is received. But with policies and extensive training, this option may provide a safer use of deadly force under the most dangerous and deadly threat conditions.

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