Within the past decade, Americans have witnessed 36 active shootings, where 72 victims of the violence died and 136 were wounded. We also witnessed shooters enter businesses to conduct the same carnage against former co-workers, management and administrators.
As expected, trainers have been tasked to employ new techniques aimed at providing citizens better protection. These new tactics must be safe; we cannot expect officers to run into a building on a suicide mission in hope of ending an active shooting. A part of this new response training involves cross-training patrol officers with SWAT tactics. Most SWAT team tactics incorporated in active shooter response include the diamond and modified V or T formations. These formations were designed for appropriately-equipped, full-core entry teams, wearing helmets and level IV body armor, carrying shields and long guns, and having extensive training in a tactical team and environment.
Wait, stop and realize what is happening: we are attempting to train patrol officers, whose entire training doctrine has been “officer survival,” to work in a tactical team environment. Unfortunately, expecting them to gel into a group formation with the same results as a SWAT team is not practical. Regardless if their active shooter training is a on-day course or an entire week of tactical response, the formation falls apart when they are shot at with Simunitions. They run for cover almost every time.
While observing fellow patrol officers go through active shooter training, I noticed that it was always the poor cop in charge of rear security that got shot with the training rounds. After thinking to myself, “Oh, right in the back of the head! That had to sting,” I realized that they had simply done what they were trained to do: “seek cover, assess, and return fire if need be.” Don’t get me wrong, after the end of training, officers were using the tactics properly. However, give them a week of regular duty and heaven forbid, in an active shooting situation, when the real bullets fly, they are going to revert to their normal training response.
Understand, officers get constant training on “seek cover, assess, and return fire if needed.” Incidents are as diverse as approaching a vehicle on a traffic stop and thinking about which way to run if the shooting starts, to knocking on a door of a domestic and thinking, “If the home owner starts shooting at me through the door, can I shoot back and from where?”
At one of my last range training courses, we were taught to move to the side of the door and then begin shooting. Even though I know the answer, I asked he range instructor the reason for this training. He explained that it was to remind us to move to cover, and then return fire. It is going to be nearly impossible to get the average patrol officer to change this mindset.
In order to circumvent problems, I propose we use techniques that patrol officers are familiar with. Let’s work in pairs and use cover. Patrol officers answer calls, receive backup or train in pairs.
On an active shooting, let’s send two, two-man teams leapfrogging to the shooter’s location. Each team can use the cover they find, and still cover each group or each other. We can move quickly and safely to the active shooter in two-man groups. If a room needs to be cleared, one two-man team can make entry and the other can continue to secure the route of travel.
There are other advantages when the two teams meet up with the shooter. Instead of one large group for the shooter to fire into, he has to decide which group he wants to fire at first, possibly confusing or distracting him. It will stress the shooter when he sees what appears to be more officers engaging him, especially if they are coming at slightly different angles. Officers can fire from angles that benefit them. Instead of just three officers firing, we would have the potential for four officers achieving target acquisition.
Active shooter response training is vita. Instead of attempting to train patrol officers in SWAT team tactics using four-man groups of two makes better sense. Because most patrol officers are accustomed to working in two-man units and employing the mindset of “seek cover, assess, and return fire if need be,” they may have a better long-term grasp of entry tactics by working in pairs. The better grasp they have of tactics, the more successful they will be when they encounter the active shooter.
About the Author
Cpl. Tom Owens of the LaPorte City Police Department is a 19-year old veteral and serves as the chief defensive tactics instructor. He has worked deep cover narcotics as well as specialized drug units with the D.E.A. He helped organize, train, and is the former commander of the LaPorte City’s SWAT team. Cpl. Owens can be reached at www.ttsto.com.