News from ILEETA 2011: Preparing for a Mumbai- or Beslan-style attack in the United States of America

There's no such thing as too much ammo unless you're on fire... or swimming

The November 2008 terrorist attack on the city of Mumbai that killed more than 170 and wounded more than 300 others two-and-a-half years ago was a game-changer for American law enforcement. Few overseas events — if any — have had such an impact on police training and tactics as Mumbai. Perhaps one other — the three-day hostage siege in the town of Beslan that claimed the lives of more than 300 hostages, most of whom were children — has had a similar effect, but in my humble estimation, probably not — at least not yet — but I’ll get into that later.

During an afternoon session at ILEETA 2011, Chief Jeff Chudwin of the Olympia Fields (Ill.) Police Department discussed patrol-level response to Mumbai, Beslan, and other types of terror attacks when — not if! — they occur here in the United States. Chief Chudwin was as dynamic and energetic in his presentation of materials as ever. If you’ve ever seen Chief Chudwin speak, then you know what I’m talking about when I say that he’s one of the best speakers I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.

Chudwin, who also serves as the President of Illinois Tactical Officers’ Association, began by saying that that we have both the means and the capability to defeat an attack on our cities and towns. The only question is, ‘Do we have the will?’

Mindset to Respond Immediately
“Above all,” Chudwin said, “this will be a fight of the patrol officer in the first minutes of the attack. This type of matter is going to be settled in the first 20 minutes and it’s going to be affected by patrol. The event may still be ongoing, but by responding well and quickly, the severity of the attack can be seriously mitigated.”

Chudwin then offered four essential thoughts to remember about the coming storm:

There is likely to be no specific warning in advance
Failure to immediately and effectively fight will result in slaughter of innocents
Lack of preparation and training ensures failure
Lack of command and leadership inspires failure

Please be advised: Police officers are not required to give verbal warning to an active shooter or an active terrorist that they are going to employ deadly force. In Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme court established that, “Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. Thus if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if where feasible some warning has been given.”

Okay, so what, exactly, constitutes “serious” physical harm?

1.) large, gaping wounds
2.) major broken bones
3.) damage to internal organs

Does an attacking terrorist have those objectives? Not just yes, but [bleep] yes!

So, in Tennessee v. Garner, it’s been established that deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape and if, where feasible, some warning has been given.

Does the word “feasible” mean “mandatory?”

Not just no, but [bleep] no!

Does all this mean that you might need to re-evaluate your agency P&Ps with regard to response to a terrorist attack or contact with a terrorist? Probably.

“We must follow the law with a clear understanding that we are not required to sacrifice ourselves,” Chudwin said, immediately before showing the video of Melvin Hale murdering Trooper Randall Wade Vetter in Texas. Trooper Vetter was killed while he gave repeated commands to a man holding a rifle.

Chudwin paraphrased English poet John Keats, who is credited with saying that ‘nothing is real until it’s experienced.’

“The trouble is,” Chudwin said, “that there are some things that are real that you won’t experience because you’ll be dead.”

Would you negotiate with an active killer? Of course not. But when you have a hostage siege situation in your city such as the kind that happened in Beslan, do you think there will be enormous pressure to negotiate with those terrorists? Absolutely.

Remember, though, that when terrorists attempt a Beslan-style attack here in the United States, they will have absolutely no intention of negotiating. In Beslan, negotiations was not the issue — a woefully poor and slow police response was the issue. The terrorists used the time they were given by to kill the strongest young men who to them could pose a threat. They used that time to create work teams among the males they didn’t kill and made those teams turn that school into a fortress. They used that time to set explosives. They used that time to rape and sodomize countless little girls in that school (although the Russians continue to deny that assertion).

Quick sidebar item here... Why is Beslan as important as Mumbai? Because Osama bin Laden says so, that’s why. The latest al Qaeda charter states that “children are noble targets” and Osama bin Laden himself has said that “Russia is a preview for what we will do to America.” Furthermore, that terrorist and others among his minions have repeatedly stated that he “is owed the dead bodies of one million American children.” That number is not hyperbole — that madman is as serious as a heart attack when he says 1,000,000 dead children. Enough said on that.

Training to Respond Effectively
We have to create an environment in which patrol officer training meets the threat. Most police officer training is focused on enabling single officers to do the business of street-level criminal interdiction. It is not generally focused on putting four or eight individual officers into one or two teams of officers working in close tactical coordination. 

Chudwin then invoked the name of my friend and colleague Chuck Remsberg when he said that, “The only time things really change is when something really bad happens.”

Well, we can agree that Mumbai and Beslan were pretty bad things, and as a consequence, some real and relevant change is happening in police training and tactics.

Chudwin quoted Elliot Chodoff, a political and military analyst specializing in Middle East conflict: “This is not a criminal justice issue — it is a war.” He then spoke about the work being done with MACTAC in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and the great training being done my friend and colleague, Dick Fairburn with his outstanding Street Leadership Course. I’ve written in the past about Fairburn’s work in this regard, and tomorrow afternoon I will sit down for a videotaped interview about where that invaluable training has come since we last talked about it at ILEETA 2010.

Those two training programs are, in a significant and important way, based on basic military infantry leadership, movement, and fighting tactics.

Equipment to Respond Effectively
In this type of an event it will be what I like to call a “Y’all come and come right now” type of situation. You will fight with what you bring, and you will bring what you have immediately at hand in your squad. Now, you don’t want to load up your “go bag” with so much weight that it effectively becomes a “no-go bag,” but there will be some essentials you will need. 

This is a fight to be fought with rifles, so you need to address the issue of giving every patrol officer (or at least every squad car) a patrol rifle. You need lights on those rifles and you need high-quality optics. In addition to your soft body armor, you will need to have a plate carrier and plate to protect yourself. You need to have a tourniquet, pressure bandage, and other self-care / buddy-care supplies. You need to have water, and it’s awfully good to have some type of ‘PowerBars’ or other food to sustain yourself. And you need to have plenty of ammo. There’s no such thing as “too much ammo” unless you’re on fire... or you’re swimming.

Chudwin stated that you’ll need to have some manner of rotary wing air support available. That may seem like a luxury, but it might be essential in stopping an attack.

In a sense, we’ve already had a Mumbai-style attack in the Untied States — it was at the Downtown Howard Johnson’s in 1973. Mark Essex began a rampage with an ambush on the New Orleans Police Department on New Year’s Eve 1972, murdering Cadet Alfred Harrell and wounding Lt. Horace Perez. A week later, Essex made his attack on the hotel, where he murdered employees, guests, and first responders including police and fire fighters (like in Mumbai a quarter century later, Essex had set numerous fires in the hotel). During the gun battle, Essex basically treed himself on the rooftop, where he was ultimately killed by police officers firing from a helicopter loaned to them by the United States Marine Corps.

So, you may need to borrow that airborne asset from a neighboring agency, but in one of those, “Y’all come and come right now” situations, you’re likely going to be inviting the participation of more than just that helicopter.

Chudwin said that the good news when you call neighboring agencies for help, is that you’re going to get it. The bad news is that you’re going to get it. Then he characterized the eagerness of other jurisdictions to come to your aid thusly: “They’re more than willing to come in, shoot stuff, break stuff, and go home.”

The room roared.

The Responsibility is Ours — The Time is Now
As you might imagine, there was way, way too much information in Chudwin’s presentation than can be effectively summarized here. Suffice it to say that the session was inspiring and informative — it is an impetus for law enforcement leaders and trainers to begin having conversations with elected officials about doing the needed preparation for a possible attack.

“Do you think that the day before Beslan happened,” Chudwin said, “the people in that town would have told you that event was even possible in their town? Do you think the people in Japan, the day before that earthquake and tsunami, would have told you that was possible there? No, of course not.”

Please be advised: We’ve have had plenty of prior warnings about the near certainty that a Mumbai-style or Beslan-style attack will happen in this country.

Following the Mumbai attack, FBI Director Muller said that the terrorist attacks “reminds us that terrorists with large agendas and little money can use rudimentary weapons to maximize their impact” and that “the simplest of weapons can be deadly when combined with capability and intent.”

Could a Mumbai-style or Beslan-style attack happen in Seattle or San Diego, Miami or Manhattan? You bet. Are American law enforcers preparing for the coming storm? Absolutely.

My heartfelt thanks go out to Chief Chudwin for his tireless efforts in enabling that invaluable preparation.

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