A tactical team demonstrates the brake and rake technique. Note: This photo is for illustrative purposes only. Officers should wear protective gear at all times when executing the technique.Photo courtesy Steve Ijames
Bath Room Window Bedroom Living Room/Kitchen Front Door
FEATURED IN TRAINING
In June 1992, I ran the Springfield (Mo.) Police Department s full-time tactical team, which primarily focused on serving drug-related search warrants and resolving barricades. I received a call concerning a mid-level methamphetamine dealer, who also happened to traffic in short-barreled shotguns. The case agent told me that both search and arrest warrants had been issued, and we set in motion a pre-raid planning process to facilitate their service.
Drive-by and undercover intelligence revealed the Scott Street target residence consisted of three small rooms: a living room/kitchen, bedroom and bath. Because the square footage was minimal, it appeared we could quickly and easily dominate the area. But the suspect was known to carry one of his sawed-off shotguns on his person at all times. The inherent risk this created caused us to consider alternatives to a forced entry.
We initiated covert surveillance to determine if an open-air intervention was viable; e.g., while the suspect got the mail, walked the dog or took out the trash. However, the suspect didn t exit a single time during the three days of observation. The undercover case agent then telephoned the suspect and tried to lure him out using a ruse. This also met with negative results. Considering the totality of the circumstances, higher authority ultimately decided we would use a dynamic entry to resolve the situation.
The Plan & Practice Runs
Our team re-initiated the high-risk search warrant planning process, and we began laying the foundation for a safe and effective entry. We gave special attention to planning how we would make a covert approach, ensure certainty of the breach and use a distraction device on a bang stick to draw attention away from the entry point. Every member of the team was also a noise-flash diversionary device (NFDD) instructor, and had deployed NFDDs operationally on many occasions. In our experience, the NFDDs also called flash bangs generally worked well. The loud noise, bright light and elevated atmospheric pressure combine to temporarily distract suspects, which aids in overcoming their resistance.
Our plan initially involved four primary components (see The Residence on p. 31 for target positions):
1. Primary distraction/noise flash diversionary team: This three-man element was assigned to position 1, the living room/kitchen window opposite the front door. This team consisted of a grenadier carrying a bang stick (an L-shaped metal pole with a flash bang attached to the short leg), a bunker officer and a deadly force cover officer.
2. Secondary entry team: This seven-man element was also assigned to position 1, and consisted of a ladder man and six entry officers.
3. Breaching team: This two-man element was assigned to position 2, the door leading into the living room/kitchen. The Team consisted of a secondary breacher, who was assigned to address the opening-out screen door, and the primary breacher, who was assigned to open the entry door itself.
4. Primary entry team: This six-man element was assigned to stage behind and cover the breaching team, and then enter and clear the residence.
Our plan: At the designated time, the NFDD team takes their position at the window (position 1). The bunker officer sets up on the left side of the opening to provide ballistic protection for the grenadier, cover officer and the secondary entry team. Upon receiving the execute command, the grenadier places the NFDD through the top of the window, thrusts it to the ceiling, then command-activates it using a wire-rope lanyard. The grenadier then uses the bang stick to remove the remaining window glass from the frame. The secondary entry team stands at position 1 ready to move should the primary entry team fail to access the premises through the front door.
While the other teams set up near the window, the breaching and primary entry teams covertly take positions near the front door. Upon report of the NFDD, the breaching team opens the door, followed by the primary entry team, which clears the house. Should the primary breacher fail to clear the door, a blue entry is called and the secondary team enters and clears via the ladder and window at position 1.
The plan was simple and straightforward, and at first glance, appeared to cover all the bases. We taped out the floor plan in the gym, and team members began run-throughs to familiarize themselves with their various assignments. The run-through is one of the most important aspects of planning a high-risk tactical operation, and provides team members with an opportunity to work out any confusion and concerns prior to arrival at the crisis site. The value of this effort cannot be overemphasized, and it is a mandatory part of every pre-raid process.
During one of the runs, we raised the question of the suspect s potential location at the moment the entry team cleared the threshold. What if he was not found in the living room as expected, and had in fact made it to the bedroom or bathroom by the time the team cleared the entrance to the bedroom (position 2a)? If this occurred, the tactical advantage and initiative would shift from the team to the suspect. The officers moving through 2a would no longer have the elements of surprise and distraction since they would have been given up by the primary breach and announcement. At this point the suspect would have recovered from the effects of the NFDD, and would be giving full attention to the only officer-access point into his newfound stronghold position 2a. Should he be armed and aggressive, this could have fatal consequences for entry team members. As we discussed the problem, one of the operators offered a simple solution: Add a secondary distraction at the opportune moment and roll the initiative ball back into the entry team s court.
We began timing our run-through movements and determined that if the suspect made it into the bedroom, we d need to deploy a secondary distraction approximately three seconds after the primary breach. This would hopefully draw the suspect s attention away from 2a, just prior to the entry team reaching that position.
We added the following component to our plan:
5. Secondary distraction team: This three-man element was assigned to position 3, the bedroom window opposite the bedroom door, and consisted of a break-and-rake officer, a bunker officer and a cover officer.
The new team takes up position to the left of the bedroom window (position 3). The team s bunker officer provides cover as outlined for the position 1 team. Upon report of the flash bang, secondary distraction team members listen for the sound of the door breach/ram. Upon hearing that, the break-and-rake officer counts, One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, then ports the window. All members of the element then go prone below the structure foundation, to reduce their vulnerability should officers entering through position 2a be forced to use their firearms.
We practiced run-throughs for several more hours, and then moved to the target location.
The Real Thing
Upon arrival the teams took their positions, and at the designated time we set the plan in motion. The distraction team cleared the window and ignited the NFDD. The team saw the suspect running into the bedroom just as the primary breacher hit the front door for the first time. The distraction team reported this via radio as the breaching team s second hit opened the door, and the entry team moved into the living room/kitchen.
Entry team members quickly cleared the room visually, and then moved toward position 2a in an effort to enter the bedroom/ bathroom area and complete the clearance. The secondary distraction team had begun their count at the sound of the first hit to the front door. When they reached one thousand three, they cleared the glass from the window at position 3, and then proned-out beside the house.
At or about that exact moment, the primary entry team s point man reached position 2a. He immediately looked to the corner of the bedroom on his hard right (position 5), and spotted the shotgun-wielding suspect. The suspect was at attention with his weapon shouldered and pointed at position 3. The suspect apparently saw the point man out of his peripheral vision, and began turning his shotgun barrel back from position 3 toward the officer. Fortunately, the point man was squared to the target. He delivered a four-round burst of MP5 fire, immediately incapacitating the suspect.
We learned a number of things on Scott Street that night, most notably the inherent and life-saving value of well-timed distraction and diversion techniques. Many teams view the distraction device as an end unto itself, but we learned in this case that the concept of distraction ultimately proved more valuable than the tool itself. The suspect was armed with an 1100 Remington shotgun, which was loaded with slugs and off safe. Had his attention and aim not been drawn to the breaking glass at position 3, he most certainly would have been focused on the fatal funnel at position 2a. In the absence of that, entry team members would never have been able to enter the bedroom, locate the suspect and neutralize the threat prior to being engaged. The secondary distraction in this case rolled the ball back into the officers court, allowing them to regain the initiative and successfully complete the mission.
Though the operation was successful from a primary-mission perspective, the deadly jeopardy created as a result of the dynamic confrontation caused team leaders to re-think the decision to force entry into the home. Methamphetamine-induced psychosis and a sawed-off shotgun were a deadly combination, and in the post-incident critique everyone agreed that additional energy should have been committed toward a less-confrontational way of accomplishing the mission.