8 ways cops can better defend against ambush attacks

If you don’t prepare yourself for the possibility of coming under attack in an ambush situation, other cops may have to risk their lives trying to save you

The foundation of ambush preparedness and survival is to know what surrounds you in your immediate environment. Here are 8 things you should make a habit of doing to ensure you’re always prepared. 

1. Live in Condition Yellow, maintaining 360-degree awareness. Whenever possible, partner-up and if the situation is tense or unknown, operate as point and rear guard for maximum awareness. 

2. Out on the street, check your six frequently, scanning the mirrors in your vehicle every few seconds. If you are report writing in your vehicle, do it with two units positioned window-to-window, facing in opposite directions. If you must write reports in your vehicle without a second unit, find a parking spot where no one can sneak in behind you, but be careful not to trap yourself in a pocket; choose a location where you have multiple escape options. 

And of course, at all calls, don’t get in the habit of everyone focusing on the primary problem. 

3. Leaders should designate a safety officer at any significant event where several cops gather. Make sure one officer’s only duty at the scene is to be a sentry focused outward, scanning 360 degrees for unexpected threats. 

Put your head on a swivel and don’t let any unknown person get behind you. If this sounds a little paranoid, it is. A little paranoia is appropriate for the streets you police today.

4. You must be mentally and physically prepared to respond instantly to a threatening situation. You must decide right now to be aggressive enough, soon enough if you are attacked. Seize the initiative, get ahead of your adversary’s attack plan (see: OODA loop) and make them respond to you. 

5. Mentally catalog escape routes and cover positions as you move throughout your day. The odds any given officer may be ambushed today are very low. You don’t have to choose such a lifestyle. If constantly looking over your shoulder is too taxing, then feel free to live in denial, but remember, if you don’t prepare yourself for the possibility of coming under attack in an ambush situation, other cops may have to risk their lives trying to save you. 

6. Use live fire and team tactics. Range officers should drill officers on reacting to threats they’re not immediately facing. Have officers pivot 90 degrees left and right to engage a target. In this training, trainers should add discrimination targets, where officers must choose between good guy and innocent targets — this will add even more stress and realism. 

Jeff Cooper’s “El Presidente” drill requires a shooter to do an about face (180 degree spin), then draw and engage three bad guy targets side-by-side at the seven yard line. The original drill required two hits on each target, a speed load, and two more rounds on each target. I prefer to run it at four yards with one hit per target, a speed load and then a careful, deliberate head shot on each target. This combines balanced movement, quick acquisition on multiple targets, loading under stress and then precision follow-up shots. 

Practice moving toward cover while firing, but rapid and accurate return fire may be your best “cover.”

Have pairs of groups of officers start on opposite sides of your range and engage targets while leapfrogging forward (or backwards — breaking-contact drills). One pair will advance to a designated cover point and begin engaging their targets while signaling the second pair to advance up the first team’s firing line. When team two signals, they will begin engaging targets and signal team one to move. 

Will we end up with some officers further downrange than the other group? Yes. Do we need to carefully and prudently bend our range safety rules to better prepare our officers? Yes. 

All such live-fire training should be done very, very slowly and carefully, at perhaps one-half speed — with a range officer closely supervising each team. Emphasize the need for communication when moving, engaging and reloading, using both verbal and hand signals. 

7. Practice perimeter control/rally points. Strong leadership must occur on the radio for incoming units at an ambush scene. Set an inner perimeter and a rally point/staging area. Gather and brief available officers and form team(s), with designated primary and backup commanders. Only then should you move into the Kill Zone to rescue downed officers/civilians and engage the killer(s). 

SWAT units will be an hour out for most locales. If we are to save lives at an ambush, it will be a patrol fight, not a SWAT fight. This means street-level leaders must be trained to form teams and lead small groups of officers under crisis conditions. SWAT members should all be trained to step into the team leader role as soon as they arrive at a call. The SWAT officers’ higher-level training and equipment can make a big, positive difference.

8. Don’t drop your guard when you are at the station or even when home off-duty. Several attacks occur each year at those locations. The degree of mental and physical preparation you develop is entirely up to you. Some will go too far in either direction, both over and under prepared

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