Countering terrorist teams, part 1: A different threat requires a different response

Editor's note: Two weeks after the attacks in Mumbai, India—in which fewer than a dozen militants held at bay some 800 police for 60 hours—PoliceOne presented a special report consisting of articles from P1 SWAT Columnists Lt. Dan Marcou and Sgt. Glenn French, as well as analysis and opinion from Stratfor and P1 members. Today we present the first in a three-part series from PoliceOne Firearms columnist Dick Fairburn on the important subject of police readiness and training for a Mumbai-style attack. Be sure to watch for parts two and three in coming weeks.

The November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India by teams of active shooter terrorists illustrates several shortcomings in U.S. police response tactics. In my opinion, our response shortcomings are mostly a misuse of available resources, which we can correct through training. Assuming, of course, we can move past the denial stage of believing such an event could never happen here.

Terror groups launching such attacks have a penchant of going for the biggest “bang” possible, so an attack like the one at Mumbai would likely be directed toward one of our larger cities, providing them with a target-rich environment. A further analysis of active shooting incidents strongly suggests the attackers will select a venue where they are likely to face minimal resistance.

India was an exploitable target due to a disarmed populace and the relatively low level of training of their police, particularly the low level of firearms training. In the Mumbai attacks, military forces ultimately sorted out the situation on days two and three. I suspect we would not receive military assistance here a whole lot faster. The first 12- to 24-hours will be up to local police agencies.

“Gun Free” zones, such as a school campus, have commonly been selected by our home-grown active shooters. Terrorists would be inclined to choose a state where they are unlikely to face an armed populace who could complicate their plan in its earliest stages. The populations of states like Texas and Florida are well armed via concealed weapon permits. So, though it pains me to say it, my home state of Illinois and neighboring state of Wisconsin become likely targets, being the last two states that refuse to issue concealed permits to their citizens. The City of Chicago has even more severe gun controls, combined with a police department not yet issuing patrol rifles, making them especially vulnerable. I hope this analysis is wrong.

One big advantage we have is the training level of our officers. Reportedly, many of the rank-and-file Indian police officers had not fired their weapons since basic training, and some did not even attempt to engage the terrorists. We’ve seen footage of Indian police officers watching numbly as the terrorists killed with impunity. I am confident that properly-equipped and led teams of U.S. police officers will quickly and aggressively confront the terrorists, but the price may be high. The terrorists in Mumbai were well-trained, well-equipped and well-motivated.. We would likely loose many officers during such attacks, but as a whole, U.S. police officers have never wilted in the face of danger.

Some training experts have questioned whether we should be wasting training time on a type of incident few agencies could ever face. American law enforcement has always trained for rare occurrences when the specter of those events would carry a heavy price for failure. Percentage-wise, very few officers will ever square off in a gunfight with an armed felon. But, winning such an event is so important that we train regularly and heavily for the possibility. Under that rationale, I feel Active Shooter/Rapid Deployment training is essential. Stopping even one such killer could save many, many lives.

Since most agencies have already conducted Active Shooter training, we have laid the foundation for dealing with multiple teams of active shooters—what the terrorists implemented for three days in Mumbai. I consider Active Shooter Response training to be so essential because it is the first major step we have taken as a profession to change a haphazard emergency response into an organized, team-based response. That concept of changing from a “lone wolf” to a “pack” response, increases the effectiveness of our reaction to armed threats by an order of magnitude. In the long run, we are likely to see many benefits from Active Shooter training, most of which will have little to do with our original mission of neutralizing scared little boys who choose to take innocent lives with them as they die in their “blaze of glory.”

In 2001, I conducted a comprehensive study and analysis of 44 Active Shooter incidents as a prelude to developing an agency Rapid Deployment training program. The research was published nationally in 2003 and I eventually delivered the results and recommendations at some national training conferences. We discovered through the research that more than one-third of the “real world” active shooter incidents occurred outdoors or in a large, open indoor environment (like a gymnasium). The realization gained from the research is that conventional Rapid Deployment tactics, centered around a self-contained team of officers moving with their own 360 degree security (diamond, “T” or other like formation), would be suicidal against a prepared adversary in an open environment. Like my old Drill Sergeant liked to scream at us at Fort Benning, “Spread out, one grenade would git y’all!”

Most U.S. patrol officers work in solo units. I can quote you several incidents where an “Officer Down” call has resulted in subsequent officers being killed as they responded in our traditional one-at-a-time arrival configuration If a large U.S. agency, under attack from ten trained terrorists like those sent into Mumbai, allows its officers to respond in the typical one-at-a-time fashion, they will be slaughtered piecemeal.

The proper response for large, open areas, which many Illinois agencies have now embraced, is to split the contact team and move with infantry-style tactics. Fire & Maneuver tactics for a small team are Infantry 101-level military doctrine, but few police officers have been exposed to the techniques. Not even many SWAT teams train this way.

Police officers MUST learn to slow their “rush to the scene” tendency long enough to “recon” the scene, which may require assembling teams of officers who can then move into a Hot Zone as a cohesive unit with vastly magnified capabilities. We already have the framework to build these teams ... Active Shooter Response training. We simply need to add on another layer of training so half the team can move while being covered by the other half of the team, who is observing or engaging the enemy from positions of cover. When the moving team has reached cover and is prepared to lay down fire, the roles shift and the covering team now leapfrogs ahead to new positions. Noted Police trainer Sergeant “Big Ed” Mohn from the Libertyville, Illinois Police Department recommends these tactics to accomplish the “four “F”s: Find ‘em, Fix ‘em, Flank ‘em, and “bleep” ‘em.

A Mumbai-level attack is certainly possible in the U.S. The logistics of preparing and moving such teams to our shores would be daunting, but not without precedent. We have already seen some home-grown terrorist teams taken down by the FBI, such as the “pizza delivery guys” who were planning an active shooter attack on unarmed soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey. My proposed solution is not to assign military reaction teams to all major cities, or to double or triple the numbers in our SWAT teams. The quickest and least expensive way to face this threat is to train up regular beat officers armed with rifles to confront the attackers, at least until more heavily armed and trained teams can arrive.

We have learned the basics of how to turn single sheepdogs into “fire teams” with Rapid Deployment tactics. Now, we must move on to Rapid Deployment version 2.0, and teach those officers to fight like soldiers. We’ve started the process here in Illinois. In the next two installments of this series, I’ll outline the steps we need to take in terms of training, equipment and planning.


Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved.