Trainers need to consider the different needs of open environments when training officers.iStock
FEATURED IN LIFELINE TRAINING
The aftermath of events such as Columbine brought about a sea of change in LE response to active shooter events. This has been written about at length by LE writers for over a decade, and I don’t intend to rehash those lessons here.
What I do want to speak to you about is the need to transition from the established fast-moving, classic diamond of the four or more officer fire team or the two-man team (depending on how many officers arrive on scene in time), or from a traditional SWAT stack formation, to a more military-type method when faced with an outdoor, open environment compared to a closed hallway setting. Officers packed in tight formations in large, open-type environments are subject to multiple casualties in quick succession. This can be mitigated by adjusting the tactics appropriately.
The National Tactical Officers Association course on active shooter response has emphasized one-man entries all the way up to the ideal four- or five-man entry, using the diamond formation. This is a tactically sound approach when dealing with a closed environment, such as a school or business hallway. But in an open environment or outdoor setting, would a diamond formation with just a few feet between each officer be appropriate?
I’ve conducted and observed training exercises in which officers stuck to their training and stayed in a tight diamond when it would have been more tactically sound to change to a different formation. SWAT officers are well versed in the traditional SWAT stack formation and use it extensively because of the nature of their missions involving raids on drug locations and serving high-risk warrants. The stack formation works well for the missions it was meant for, but the tactical liabilities of this close formation in an open environment are self-evident.
What I train my students to do is to recognize the need to switch tactics from the traditional police response to the military tactics used for decades in wars over the past 100 years. Though officers are trained to assume the diamond formation when called on to respond to an active shooter and it works well in a hallway, it shouldn’t be maintained at the cost of sacrificing tactically sound methods. Bounding over watch of two or more officers of a team, leap frogging, fire and maneuver, etc., it involves one or more officers covering forward while one or more officers’ move up to a certain point covering the left and right and forward, offset from the covering element. Then the original officer(s) that were covering move forward past the officer(s) that are now covering and so forth. In this manner, a large open area, like say a mall hallway or the manufacturing floor of a factory, can be quickly and safely cleared while moving toward an active threat.
Trainers need to consider the different needs of open environments when training officers. When teaching any type of active shooter response we must train our officers to recognize when it is appropriate to switch tactics and then to take the lead in doing so. They have to practice this decision making and tactics until it is virtually seamless and automatic.