Another Approach to Tactics Guest Post by Bert DuVernay

This is a great article, "Another Approach to Tactics" written by, Bert DuVernay who is the retired Chief of Police for New Braintree, Massachusetts and the Past President of the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors' and Armorers' Association. His background includes 45 years of police service, both full-time and part-time, as well as 6 years of college teaching and security consultation. He is the past Director of Smith & Wesson Academy, where he was a staff member from 1990 to 2001. He is a member of ILEETA and IALEFI. He is currently Armorer and Firearms Instructor for the Oakham MA PD and teaching with the Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee.

His article speaks to the importance of understanding tactical principals over solely teaching police skillsets. This is important and the essence of winning and losing, the essence of being effective and safe, because it teaches cops to look outward at the situation and solve the problem or tactical dilemma at hand verses using preconceived best practices and school solutions.

Col. John Boyd said "the game is to create tangles of threatening and/or nonthreatening events/efforts as well as repeatedly generate mismatches between those events/efforts the adversary observes or imagines...and those he must react to... as a basic to penetrate adversary organism to serve his moral bonds, disorient his mental images, disrupt his operations, and overload his system, as well as subvert or seize those moral-mental-physical bastions, connections, or activities that he depends upon, thereby pull the adversary apart, produce paralysis, and collapse his will to resist. HOW? Get inside the adversaries observation-orientation-decision-action loops (at all levels) by being more subtle, more indistinct, more irregular, and quicker, yet appear to be otherwise."

Here's the Chief's piece which I highly recommend.

When we speak of police tactics, we normally refer to widely accepted, or "textbook" techniques for resolving a situation like a robbery in progress or high risk (felony) vehicle stop. These techniques are usually introduced at the recruit level and re-emphasized through in-service training as a specific procedure that, formally or informally, becomes policy in a department or region. Too often, these procedures require personnel or resources that will not be available in practice which results in officers attempting techniques that are either unsafe or unlikely to work with the resources at hand. In addition, an officer that is trained solely in the execution of a technique without a sound understanding of how that technique gives the officer the upper hand in a confrontation is at a loss to improvise when the unplanned for occurs.

A better approach would be to teach basic tactical principles that remain more or less constant regardless of the tactical problem. These principles could be taught by examining accepted tactics for their strengths and weaknesses during role play training. For example, the classic police vehicle positioning during a high risk traffic stop gives the advantage of easy communication between the officer and satisfies the human tendency to gather together during time of danger, but has significant disadvantages. First, the officers all have approximately the same view of the vehicle and suspect so that what is cover from one officer's weapon is likely to be cover from all officers' weapons. Second, the suspect can observe the officers relatively easily since they are all in approximately the same place. Third, since the attention of all officers is in the same direction, an attack from the rear or side by a suspect that fled the vehicle on foot during the initial portion of the stop or arrived in a second vehicle would probably not be detected until too late.

By moving one police vehicle to the side approximately 90 degrees the advantages and disadvantages of the previous position are reversed. Communication between the two vehicles is not as convenient but that angle denies the suspect much effective cover, divides the attention of the suspect and allows the officers of each vehicle to easily observe the sides and rear of the other police vehicle.

The position chosen must fit the situation at hand. On one extreme, if the two patrol vehicles were from two different departments, did not share the same radio frequencies, had not portable radios and the officers had never worked together before then position #1 should probably be chosen to minimize the inevitable communication and procedural problems. If, on the other hand, the responding officers had good communications, a strong leader and experience working together, then position #2 would likely be more advantageous. Similar advantages and disadvantages can be found in any approach to this or any tactical problem.

Few tactics will provide only strengths with no weaknesses. An approach must be chosen that will provide the strengths most likely to be necessary and bring along the weaknesses that probably won't matter in that situation.

I believe that tactical considerations can be grouped into three main categories; teamwork, planning, and use of time. Some overlapping of the categories will become evident and if the reader choses to re-classify some of the identified considerations, so be it. The following topics are in no order of importance since any could be critical under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

The first category is teamwork. Without teamwork any group is just a number of individuals that can be played against each other and defeated one by one. With teamwork that same group functions as one and is difficult to defeat. For our purposes the main components of teamwork are position, security, communication, command and redundancy.

Position refers to the positioning of officers so that they can support each other and safely focus their attentions on the suspect while at the same time dividing the attention of the suspect and fragmenting his efforts. This also relates to security, communication, and cover/concealment.

Security is an aspect that is often overlooked within groups that have not practiced as a team. Survival is our main concern and this will not be accomplished if the officers are attacked unexpectantly during a situation. It is human nature to focus attention on the main source of danger and ignore 99% of one's surroundings. The hazard in that situation is evident and will exist unless specific security assignments are made. This relates to command.

Someone must be in command of any tactical problem. In the absence of someone in command it is doubtful that everyone is functioning under the same plan. Even in a group of officers that has functioned mainly by consensus, situations requiring instant decisions are likely to arise. Someone must be in charge with that fact acknowledged by all of the functioning group. Command relates to everything.

Communication is one of the most vulnerable and critical parts of any tactical activity. Without communication it is impossible for a group of officers to function as a team. With a group of officers that has worked together frequently the communication can be very subtle or a result of standard operation procedure. Officers that have worked together extensively will "communicate" just through their experience with each other and their knowledge of the other's normal actions. With less practiced groups the communication must be more overt. Communication relates to position, command, security and intelligence.

Redundancy means simply that a plan must not depend on one person to succeed. If any one person should become injured or otherwise ineffective, or if a portion of the plan should otherwise fail, the officers must be able to survive. Planning, command, and position are related to redundancy.

The next main category is planning. Planning consists of intelligence, decisiveness, cover/concealment, simplicity, and surprise.

The more intelligence or information that we have about the situation, the more likely we are to form a successful plan. As well as obtaining information about the suspect and the physical surroundings, knowledge of our own capabilities and limitations is crucial. Intelligence relates to command and communication.

Military strategists are fond of saying "A good plan implemented today is better than a great plan implemented tomorrow." That is the essence of decisiveness. Once a good plan has been determined, implement it. Decisiveness is not the same as rashness. Sometimes the good plan involves waiting. It is a question of judgement. Surprise, command and use of time relate to decisiveness.

There are a few things that effect individual survival more than cover and concealment. Cover is taking a position behind an object that will stop bullets while concealment merely hides an individual. A plan must provide for some cover/concealment for an officer if he or she is likely to survive. This relates to position and security.

The best plans are often the most simple. When one considers the high stress environment, the number of officers involved in many situations and the fact that the suspect is a thinking, reacting individual trying to defeat you, the need for simplicity should not be surprising. Simplicity relates to communication and decisiveness.

Surprise is perhaps the most important aspect to any tactical plan. Any plan can be defeated by an opponent that is aware of the plan and given sufficient time to prepare. Surprise need not be total if it is enough to prevent effective response. Use of time and decisiveness relate to surprise.

The last main category is the use of time which consists of the seemingly contradictory ideals of patience and speed.

Patience must be exercised when we are in a position of potential disadvantage; for instance when searching a dwelling for a dangerous suspect. Such a search must normally proceed slowly to avoid passing unchecked areas and assuming a poor position. Impatience here could easily result in an unnecessary loss of (police) life. The ultimate level of patience is the release of a suspect that we cannot defeat. No convenience store robber exists that is worth any officer's life. With barricaded suspects in particular, the passage of time is often a great asset.

On the other hand, when we have the advantage we should act quickly to prevent the advantage from eventually shifting to the suspect. We all know of situations in which hesitancy cost lives that probably could have been saved by acting decisively. Again it is a question of judgement.

As a final note, remember that your suspect is seeking the same advantages you are and at the same time. Half the battle is in preventing this from occurring.

Although this list seems lengthy, many of the topics are interrelated and obvious once pointed out. Discussion of these matters during training may provide the officers that you are training the edge that they need when facing a real, not paper, opponent, opponent that is trying to end that officer's life.

The Chief was gracious enough to allow me to post this article her eon the site. My hope is you read it, seek to understand it and then apply the lessons to how you do the job of policing.

Stay Oriented!

Fred