'Tactical Loitering': Suicide is not part of your job description

A counterpoint to Chuck Remsberg’s thought-provoking article on tactical loitering

In the weeks since I first read Chuck Remsberg’s thought-provoking piece on tactical loitering, I’ve been knee-deep in lesson plans, site inspections, depositions, and trials. Busy is good for a lot of reasons, not the least of which in this case being that it gave me ample time to decide just how I was going to respond.

Let me begin by stating that I know two of the three trainers quoted in Chuck’s piece. Although I’m not familiar with Don Alwes, I know John Farnam and Ron Borsch well, and I consider both to be excellent trainers. I also know Chuck Remsberg intimately, as I was an instructor for the Street Survival Seminars for a dozen years during the time Chuck and his partner Denny Anderson owned Calibre Press.

Knowing Chuck as I do, I believe his intent in authoring the piece was to present a non-traditional point of view on the concept of active-shooter response. Be that as it may, I have to take exception to the points of view offered by Don, Ron and John.

FBI Says, Wait for Back-up
In addition to the acclaimed officer survival texts authored by Chuck — Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters, The Tactical Edge: Surviving High-Risk Patrol and Tactics for Criminal Patrol: Vehicle Stops, Drug Discovery and Officer Survival — that I use consistently when teaching my classes and authoring my expert court reports, I also reference three FBI publications: “Killed in the Line of Duty” (1992), “In the Line of Fire” (1997) and “Violent Encounters” (2006).

I would suggest every trainer pick up a copy of all three FBI publications for review — they are free to all police officers. If you don’t want to bother, email me. I’ll send one to you at no cost. I’ll even pay for postage.

To summarize, each publication emphatically states the single greatest tactical error in police officer deaths every year is “failing to wait for back-up.” Here are some very interesting facts contained in those publications.

For their 1992 study “Killed in the Line of Duty,” the FBI researchers examined 40 shooting incidents involving 50 officers and 43 bad guys and found that the No. 1 factor in police officer deaths every year was “acting alone” or “failing to wait for back up” before engaging a suspect.

In fact, the 2006 publication “Violent Encounters” documents eight case reviews where they interviewed severely injured officers who admitted that they went into dangerous situations alone, when they knew they shouldn’t have, instead of waiting for back up to arrive.

All three publications are replete with references where “positive comments [were] often made about the ability to perform police duties without assistance” and the “‘macho attitude’ that was applied to both sexes” about these tactical mistakes.

Time and space simply don’t allow me to cite every reference to these numerous critical tactical errors of flying solo and rushing into dangerous situations that the FBI analyzed in these excellent training texts.

Suicide Isn’t Bravery
Getting back to Chuck’s August article, I was particularly taken aback by Don Alwes’ statement that in his opinion, there’s an “overemphasis on officer safety” in today’s curriculum and that in his opinion, agencies “haven’t yet gotten on board with current thinking.”

Likewise, John Farnam’s idea that a “risk-adverse cop who won’t step up to the plate regardless of the danger... needs to do something different for a living” was equally disturbing.

His statement that “we need to train heroes” and that “others need not apply” is like comparing apples to oranges and calling it fruit salad.

Officers often do heroic things. They take risks every day. But needlessly risking your life in a suicide mission because someone sitting on the sideline weeks, months or years from now might call you a “loiterer” is not only foolish, it flies in the face of everything officer survival trainers have been preaching for more than four decades.

Know Your Limitations
You can’t train heroes. They are born. It is an intrinsic trait of the person, male or female. I can say these things because not only have I been an officer survival trainer for nearly 40 years, but I have a heroism citation in my portfolio.

Some brother cops called my actions foolish. The local Chamber of Commerce deemed them heroic. But like Dirty Harry said, “A man has to know his own limitations.”

I knew what my skills were when I entered that that frozen lake that cold winter day to save a life. My partner radioed for the Coast Guard while holding onto my Sam Browne, boots and shirt. He knew his limitations. I didn’t fault him one bit. It would be a suicide mission for him.

There is a big difference between “tactical disengagement” and “running away.” There’s also a big difference between “gathering intelligence and coordinating” and “tactical loitering.”

Likewise, “formulating a plan of action” is a whole lot different than “dithering.”

In summary, before you take action — any action — know your skills, assess the risks, and use properly trained and practiced tactics. During those 12 years I was with the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminars, we used to preach: “Suicide is not part of your job description.”

Neither is Tombstone Courage. Proper police action is a balance of safety and efficiency.

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