The diversionary device goes off just after the front door is breeched. The team enters the doorway and takes fire from within the residence. This scenario has played out many times over around the country. Some SWAT teams deploy shields, many do not. Patrol is even less likely to have portable cover even though they’re involved in more day-to-day searches of homes, commercial establishments and vehicles. Our department currently employs approximately 100 shields on the street for patrol.
In my 17 years in SWAT, we averaged three to six raids per week and didn’t initially use shields. I’d think, “Man, if someone shoots at me on these high-risk entries, I want some type of protection.” I quickly adopted the use of the shield, carrying the Body Bunker for a few years and later the Defender. After a few years of developing a shield program, I asked Al Baker, developer of The Baker Batshield, whom I consider the father of the present-day shield, to teach a course. Baker is a former NYPD ESU member. I’ve learned a lot from him and use many of his methods.
As time moved on, patrol officers watched our SWAT team deploy shields and wanted shields of their own. In the mid-1990s it was decided that a small number of shields would be purchased for each station and a handful of people who shot 90% or better were trained. These shields were kept at the station and, when needed, someone would respond to the station to grab one from the wall. That wasn’t my idea; I thought they should be on the road at all times.
Two years ago, our assistant chief and former SWAT sergeant told me in his thick New York accent, while running on a treadmill, “Dickerson, I’m applying for a grant to buy shields for the active-shooter program. Tell me what shields you want.” The grant was large enough to buy 86 shields for patrol. We chose the 14-lb. MUST Shield from First Choice Armor and the medium shield with lights from RBR Tactical Armor. Each station was allotted 10 individual-assigned shields: five MUST Shields for day work and five RBR shields for night work, and the other 20 went to specialized units.
We also purchased one 34-lb. MUST Shield for each district, which is rifle rated for rounds up to 308. Sergeants then chose from their shifts the officers who would be trained in an 8-hour course how to deploy the 34-lb. shield.
Shield or No Shield?
The course we developed for the shield teams starts off with a PowerPoint presentation explaining the capabilities, ballistic protection and why the two shields were chosen for patrol. ( Note: If we receive another grant, I’d purchase some of the Baker Batshields for the long-gun guys. The design makes a good rifle rest when slung.) After the lecture we move to the practical exercises.
This is where the fun begins. First up: active-shooter drills, starting with the hybrid entry. The technique is reviewed without the shield, and then shown with the shield. Nothing changes; the technique stays the same. Perform a Quick Pie approach—viewing the room by moving just enough to permit an increasing slice of the room—and take your shots from the doorway until the suspect goes down, then enter.
We acquired one of the drills we use from a Jackie Chan movie that we now use before going to Simunitions. It’s clean, can be done anywhere, and you only need tennis balls. An instructor will stand somewhere in the room, armed with the tennis balls. The team lines up at the door and performs an entry as the tennis balls are thrown close to the doorway. The team uses CO2 weapons—no projectiles—loaded with air and engages the instructor. The hybrid entry exposes little and even less with the shield. I always ask afterward, “Shield or no shield?” Everyone says “shield,” especially after tennis balls bounce off the shield.
Using the shield along with the hybrid entry technique provides a split second longer to analyze whether to shoot or not. SWAT guys tend to think faster and shoot straighter. Patrol guys don’t get the time to train or to do a dynamic type of entry well, but they know how to pie a corner— I hope. Often, we see people try to hide behind their guns when performing a dynamic entry. The point is proven hybrid entry.
Hallways, Then Stairwells
After the room entries, we touch on hallway movement and then move onto stairwells. Next up: Slow building searches in three-man teams, both in a lit and non-lit environment. It’s recommended that the shield operators have a handgun light, holster and all. If the shield operator doesn’t have this set up, the No. 2 man will become a support man to the shield operator and provide light over or around the shield, if the shield itself isn’t equipped with a light.
We move to vehicle clears before lunch, clearing both cars and my van, which is all black with tinted windows. You can’t see inside without opening doors. We use two or three people to clear a vehicle with guns pointed toward a safe backstop if possible. Everyone will either be on the same side or use an L formation to prevent an escape.
To the Range
After lunch we head to the range. We start at the three-yard line and move back to the 25. Drills are performed static, moving forward, backwards and lateral. Reloads and malfunction drills are also mixed in. Students must shoot a 50-round test from the three-yard line to the 15-yard line with an 80% score to walk away with that shield.
The last drill is the officer rescue using five people. We start off with dry fire. Two shields are used, overlapping to provide cover for the hands-on guys. Once the team has the technique down, we go to live fire.
I use a drill shown to us in my SWAT days by one of Richard Marcinko’s Red Cell teammates, who came out to teach at a hostage rescue school. This drill was not originally a shield drill, but it works well as one. The two shield operators load three magazines. We start at the 25-yard line with overlapped shields moving forward and in front of the dummy. On command to fire while grabbing their belts, I pull them backwards, lateral and push them forward. They must shoot on each command while attempting to keep the shields overlapped and not run dry at the same time, so they must communicate. They’ll shoot all three magazines. The students like this drill. It’s a challenge to work together and a workout for me.
We also run an advanced class, which incorporates bus clears, defensive tactics, force-on-force entries, two-,
three- and four-man rescue teams from vehicles with shields attached to windows and advanced live fire. This is a topic for a follow-up article.
With proper training, patrol cops can learn to use ballistic shields to great advantage. Patrol might not have the training time available to SWAT, and they might not deploy shields as often. But, believe me, as you enter a building that might contain hostile elements, it doesn’t matter if you’re SWAT or patrol. Be well trained, and you’ll better prepared.