Why this is a time for tried and true team tactics
Police officers need to be able to apply the right combination of tactics to maintain or restore peace and personally survive while doing it
During the current conflagration and carnage plaguing large urban areas following the death of George Floyd (may he rest in peace), some riot-related attacks consisted of:
- An officer shot in the head in Las Vegas.
- A lone NYPD officer was beaten by multiple attackers with metal debris.
- The killing of Federal Officer David Patrick Underwood who was shot to death in Oakland.
- The murder of a retired St. Louis Police captain shot while guarding a friend’s pawn shop.
- The targeting of four officers who were shot in St. Louis while working crowd control.
- Two officers deliberately hit in Buffalo, N.Y., by a hit and run driver in an SUV.
- The running down of NYPD officers at the scene of looting.
- The abandoning and burning of a police precinct house in Minneapolis.
- The looting and burning of businesses in cities all over the United States during widespread rioting.
To survive during potentially violent events such as these, police officers need to be able to apply the right combination of tactics to maintain or restore peace and personally survive while doing it.
Here are a few specific skill sets to strive to develop that have proved successful in the past.
Classic crowd control tactics
Large stationary or slow-moving crowds can be managed by the use of classic crowd control, tactics and formations by police agencies. These include commanders being able to issue commands to their officers to move as a team in formations like columns, lines, wedges, echelons, crossbows and encirclements.
Officers should be appropriately equipped depending on the event being policed. The bare minimum beyond duty gear for an officer facing a potentially violent crowd is a helmet, gas mask, carrier, wooden baton and ring. Long sleeves and long pants should also be the uniform of the day any time tear gas might be used.
Agencies that have trained teams and commanders continue to be effective during these events. However, policing these events does expose officers to attack.
Tactics to counter threats
Here are a few counter-tactics to address the heightened danger:
- Agencies should have a pre-trained plan.
- Areas and roofs should be policed before an event if possible. Look for stacked, rocks, fireworks and flammables.
- Commanders need to be able to communicate to a crowd with a public address capability like the Long Range Acoustic Device.
- Plainclothes officers need to position themselves to gather intelligence and put police in a position to proactively address threats.
- A sniper/observer team should provide overwatch to protect police and the public.
- Pre-trained officers must recognize that when shots are fired, crowd control is secondary to moving to cover and dealing with the threat. Remember, riot shields do not stop bullets. (The extensive use of fireworks may be a ploy to lull officers so that when shots are fired at them, they will remain stationary targets longer.)
- Teams should have ready access to ballistic shields and/or armored vehicles.
- Officers need to scan constantly for developing threats and be proactive about addressing them.
- Officers must be masters at gaining physical control of arrestees quickly and defensibly in a crowd.
- Solo officers must not get isolated.
- Fire-resistant BDUs are an investment worth making and fire extinguishers must be on hand.
- Grenadiers armed with chemical munitions, non-lethal and less-lethal options need to be on hand.
- Officers need to be pre-trained on special considerations and justifications for the use of deadly force in a crowd.
- Explosive ordnance disposal capability should be available.
- Medics and camera operators should be assigned to the effort.
- An effective press liaison should keep the public updated and provide rumor control.
- Departments in urban disturbances must have developed team classic crowd control skills and field force capability.
What is Field Force?
The concept of a field force was developed in Miami in the 1980s to address the dynamic nature of major urban disturbances. They are much like modern-day cavalry units. A field force is a perfect tool for dispersing mobile violent crowds, as well as quickly dealing with looting, arsonists and shooters. While the main team of officers deals with the large crowd, field forces respond directly to developing problems at other locations.
Field force team composition
Multiple field force teams should be designated and trained. For example, you may have an Alpha Team, and a Bravo Team, etc. Each team has a lieutenant, who has the authority of the chief at every scene. The mobile teams handle problems as a single unit and should be cross-trained and equipped to operate as a crowd control unit or a tactical team. They travel primarily in marked units.
An example of what a field force “Alpha Team” would look like is:
A1 – Lieutenant (officer in charge of Alpha Team) and three officers.
A2 – Sergeant and three officers.
A-3 – Four tactical officers.
A4 – K-9 officer and partner.
A-5 – Grenadiers with chemical munitions, impact munitions and breaching rounds available, as well as the authority to use them and partner with a carbine.
A-Van 1 – A van with recording capabilities, evidence packaging material and other equipment.
A-Van 2 – Transport van with a tactical medic on board.
A-Bearcat 1 – If you get multiple armored vehicles through mutual aid, it is great to have one with each field force.
These elements should be trained to travel, dismount and deploy as one unit. The make-up of a field force will vary.
Immediate response capabilities
These field forces can be dispatched, for example, to a trouble spot where 20 or more rioters have regathered after being dispersed. If a strip mall is being looted, a trained field force unit can arrive immediately to arrest some and put the rest on the run. The instantaneous deployment of 16-20 officers as a team at a scene of trouble can have an incredible psychological effect on the one-time, fun-time looters leaving the hardened criminals behind for arrest.
If shots are fired anywhere, a field force can become an immediate response tactical unit. The mobile ability of a field force will not only save lives and diffuse problems, but it will also allow teams to deploy and secure an area to enable fire units to quickly engage fires, preventing large swathes of business districts from going up in flames.
There are actually spokespersons currently supporting urban rioting, suggesting it is acceptable to destroy businesses to make a point through arson, because “property can be replaced.” The actual truth is, as we have seen after previous conflagrations, many areas looted and burned never recovered. The police officers deployed to these events must have the equipment and the tactics to not only protect all lives, including their own, but also protect the heart of a city, which are the businesses that sustain lives.