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3 alternative ways of considering tactical thinking

While police operations can be based on acronym-based mission-planning methodologies such as OCOKA, SMEAC and METT-TC — here are three alternative ways of considering tactical thinking

Police operations can be based on acronym-based mission-planning methodologies — such as OCOKA (Observation and Fields of Fire, Cover, Obstacles, Key Terrain, and Avenues of Approach), SMEAC (Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Logistics, Command and Signal), or METT-TC (Mission, Enemy, Troops, Terrain, Time, Civilian Considerations) — and these can be useful if one has some fluency with the concepts.

However, in most time-competitive and hasty patrol-level tactical operations, there is rarely time to develop such mission planning to the breadth and depth afforded by these approaches.

What is needed is a simple-yet-strategic mindset that can be exercised on every call or incident so the concepts can be rehearsed regularly and thus retained in long-term memory and habituated. Here are three alternative ways of considering tactical thinking and deploying.

Down-and-Dirty Basics
The down-and-dirty basics that should be in every cop’s mind on every call or car stop are line of sight, line of fire, kill zone, cover, and high ground. If you are in the line of sight, then you are in the line of fire, and that places you in a kill-zone. Do everything you need to do to establish a position behind “hard-cover,” and preferably occupy the high-ground whenever possible.

Remember, two things negate your use of affordable cover: proximity to the threat and high ground occupied by the bad guy. Another note for consideration is one of the mottos of the F-22 Raptor — borrowed and somewhat modified: “First look, first shot, first hit.”

Make that strategy work for you rather than against you.

Big Boy Hide-and-Seek
The next level of tactical thinking covers things like cover, concealment, distance, escape routes, angles, and security mantra. A brief review of those ideas:

• Cover stops the threat with which the subject is armed. Remember that there are degrees of cover — cover which can stop a handgun round may not stop a rifle.
• Concealment hides your presence from the suspect (think invisible deployment).
• Distance is the position you take that you believe best affords you an advantage — and that may be closer to rather than farther from the threat.
• Escape routes are considered before you move to your next position, so you know you have a covered avenue of egress should it hit the fan. It is also a planning deliberation that assesses the bad guy’s route out of your area of control.
• Angles are what you look for when you are thinking, “From what location can I be shot?” such as the aforementioned high ground or corners, or how you should best triangulate on a threat.
• Security is your overwatch team that protects you as you move.

When I teach academy classes, I ask recruits if they remember when they were kids and they used to sneak around the neighborhood at night, walking on fences, running through yards, and hiding in bushes, just for fun. In addition to the inevitable laugh, I get quite a few raised hands.

I then tell them, “Well, now you’re going to get paid to do that. I want you to prowl around, sneak up on the bad guys, hide in the bushes as you approach a problem, and move undetected.”

Behaviorally Based Countermeasures Strategy
Suspects can act in one of several ways:

Follow directions
Lie in wait

As you deploy to a scene, consider how the suspect can behaviorally respond to your presence. First off, he can fight you. If he is in a structure, figure out the several ways that he can fight. He can exit armed or unarmed and engage. You need to set up your sectors of fire to mitigate his threat to you; have a K9 at the ready and an arrest team with less lethal, for example. He can fight from within the structure - that most likely will mean rounds coming your way. That means you need to be behind usable cover before the shots are fired.

Don’t forget that your subject may go into the attic and fight from that elevated position. Keep this after-action review in mind: After a safe resolution to a barricaded suspect event, during the clearing of the suspect’s attic, officers discovered, in addition to numerous weapons, a hand-drawn map depicting the location of each and every perimeter unit.

The suspect can attempt to flee. Maybe he will try to run out the front door,the back door or a window. Do you have less lethal and K9s set up for those contingencies? Or, perhaps he has a car in the garage and he will attempt to drive from the scene. Have you considered blocking the garage door with a patrol car if it is safe to do so? Do you have a chase car set up? Are there spike strips already strategically placed?

If the suspect is frozen in place, maybe that means he is just too scared to respond, or, as is very often the case, he is out cold from booze. Ask yourself, “Do we have any real, legal, or moral need to be here?”

We often act because we think we have some liability if we do not act, when it is often the case that we have no legal duty to protect anyone involved. I suggest getting conversant with the “Public Duty Doctrine” so that informed decisions can be made in these circumstances.

If the subject follows your directions, you are winning. If he is posturing, then he is probably talking, which means you are “winning” in most cases. If he is hiding, then someone may need to go find him. But, that may also mean he is lying in wait. If so, you may need a SWAT team with more resources than you have available to solve the problem.

Finally, keep in mind that the purpose of a perimeter is containment and intelligence gathering. You may not be able to move to a position that affords you the observation and vantage point you would prefer if it causes you to:

Enter the line of sight / line of fire / kill zone
Surrender the first look / first shot first hit advantage
Give up any hard-cover / high ground position

Steve “Pappy” Papenfuhs is the CEO of Battalion Defense which distributes premier armor, armor carriers, ballistic helmets and shields, and other tactical kit. Pappy retired as a sergeant after serving 29 years with the San Jose, California Police Department. During his career he worked Patrol, Field Training (FTO), Street Crimes, SWAT, Auto Theft, Sexual Assaults, Narcotics, Family Violence, and supervised the department’s in-service Training Division. He holds a Force Analysis certification from the Force Science Research Center, and is a certified instructor with the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) in several disciplines including: Firearms, Defensive Tactics, Baton, Force Options, and Emergency Vehicle Operations (EVOC). In addition to running Battalion Defense and teaching both academy recruits and in-service officers, Pappy provides expert witness consultation in police practices, use of force, and training issues.

Contact Steve Papenfuhs.