As our military fights the wars against America’s enemies, lessons are learned under fire and paid for in blood and lives. The knowledge that our military fighters bring home has application not only to our service men and women in training but to law enforcement officers as well. When men set out to murder, those who are sworn to stop them must move into the fight with planning, determination and tactical skills. This was made evident in a recent patrol rifle class as we spoke with our student officers. Among these highly motivated police officers was Officer Shane Burgwald, who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and led the first unit into the Iraqi battle of Fallujah on Nov. 7, 2004.
Burgwald and his Marines of India Company, 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines as part of Operation Phantom Fury, would fight house to house, street to street for the next month and beyond. They’d make forced entries into hundreds of buildings where thousands of insurgents fought to the death. This was among the most intense urban combat experienced by our military forces since WWII. More than 60 Marines were killed in action and more than 300 wounded. This incredible fight and heroic Marine victory is chronicled in the Fox News Special, “Company of Heroes.”
Returning stateside and entering law enforcement, Burgwald assessed where law enforcement stood in response to dangers. Although the daily action in police work is certainly unlike the war, the reality of the fight is the same. Those officers who move into danger with training, a plan and thoughtful consideration have the highest likelihood of success.
Below is a tactical guide Burgwald wrote for his agency. The concepts are simple, effective and proven in battle. With his permission, I pass it along to the readers of Law Officer. I urge every officer to reach out to our returning veterans, such as Shane Burgwald, and, first, to thank them for their dedication and service. Then seek out their wisdom and experience and apply it to our situations and needs; they’ve paid for it with their blood.
By Officer Shane Burgwald,
Oswego (Ill.) Police Department
In light of recent police officers killed in the line of duty responding to everyday calls—most recently Pittsburgh, Oakland and Newark, among too many others—I have considered how to arm officers with the most efficient practical and systematic method of responding to calls in a way that can save lives. My approach can be summed up with a simple acronym: S.A.F.E.
A—Avenues of approach/egress
F—Fields of fire
I encourage every officer to read this article with a clear mind, at the same time mindful of the mental tasks and distractions you encounter when responding to a call, whether it be gravely serious or one that could be considered “everyday.”
The S stands for security and is intended for the initial responder. This refers to the staging of you and your patrol vehicle as you arrive. Proper staging in a secure and safe location is essential. To achieve this, think about the terrain and angles of observation the suspect could have on you upon your initial arrival and departure from the patrol vehicle. Prepare your safe approach en route.
The A—avenues of approach/egress, and the element of surprise —is the mental preparation for your actions after departing from the patrol vehicle. What would be the most advantageous approach to the residence? If possible, approach from an oblique angle. If you approach from an angle, you will decrease the likelihood of being discovered, thus maintaining the element of surprise.
The element of surprise provides you with three important advantages in your approach: 1) critical time to develop further planning and intelligence gathering, thereby gaining greater situational awareness; 2) advancement and infiltration—utilizing tactical, undetected movement to the area of the call will allow you to stage at specific locations prior to entry and the establishment of a foothold; and 3) a diminished likelihood of the suspect maneuvering into a position to counterattack or improve their position based on their observations of your deployment.
While conducting the mental preparation for your approach, also consider terrain, surrounding structures and vegetation to conceal your movement. Take advantage of anything to visually block or mask your movement from the staging point to the area of call.
Most important, try to match your background. People are most often detected early because of the following: shine (reflections from badge or other equipment), outline (the human shape is distinct and quickly recognized) and contrast (dark uniform on light background).
Avenues of escape involve not only an officer’s hasty retreat to gain cover or consolidate forces, but also consideration of a suspect’s most likely avenue to run or attack. It’s important to be aware of the possibility of a suspect escaping and the risk this presents in terms of a potential ambush. However, by identifying likely escape routes prior to advancing toward the offender’s location, you’ll decrease the likelihood of escape and potential danger from the rear. This will allow you to create choke points that will assist in capturing or neutralizing the offender.
F stands for field of fire. In addition to your approach, be aware of your background, surroundings and fellow officers’ positions so that if you’re fired upon and return fire, you’ll know where your rounds are directed.
Reflecting on these safety issues/tactical considerations beforehand allows the officer to force the offender into a compromised position. By advancing in a manner that uses both forward and flanking maneuvers, officers can gain effective interlocking fields of fire that deny the offender the tactical benefits of movement, time and cover.
Last, the E stands for entrenchment. When you think about entrenchment, visualize and be aware of your surroundings. Identify locations that would provide you the best cover and concealment. It’s a big advantage to have both, but there will be times when you’ll only have one or none. Tactical awareness gives the officer flexibility, allowing them to properly adjust and create the safest possible approach. For example, it may be appropriate to pull back, plan and then move forward as a team with a ballistic shield.
As seen in recent deadly events, some of the most critical and dangerous times for officers occur during the staging and approach to the call area. It’s my hope that the S.A.F.E. approach will help officers gain additional insight into mental preparedness and tactical response when entering known and unknown dangers.