Be tactically proactive not just reactive

Follow this philosophy whether responding to a riot or supporting a search warrant


In the 1980s and 1990s, the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Police Department (my agency) knew we would be facing a riot every April and every October. The first riot we had to respond to caught our agency off guard. As the riots continued, however, our agency became totally trained in effective riot response methods, equipped with the proper equipment and developed a tactical approach that allowed respond effectively.

For your consideration, I would like to share with you the tactically proactive philosophy I followed to prepare myself and my officers to be ready for anything that might happen anywhere. 

Tactically proactive crowd control

Here is what we did. Our agency:

  • Put in place a mutual aid plan that was implemented before every event.
  • Trained every member of the department in a full crowd control class.
  • Issued crowd control equipment to every member and they trained with it.
  • Trained every member to expertly make physical arrests to overcome active and passive resistance.
  • Updated this training just prior to every riot.
  • Established a plan for response, command, equipment, mass arrests, mutual aid and street clearance protocols and trained everyone in their place in the plan.
  • We scheduled and carried out a practical exercise, the week before the event, which was a dress drill on the actual site of the expected riot and put the street clearance plan into action using all the people who were going to be involved. This was done between 3:00 am and 6:00 am on a Sunday morning before the riot.
  • Established the system and ability to make, transport, document and incarcerate mass arrests.
  • Made charges within guidelines and with the cooperation of the District Attorney’s Office.

The exercise included:

  • Traffic detour set up.
  • Officers marched to the scene in full uniform in full gear.
  • Team leaders formed lines at designated locations.
  • Sniper/observer teams were put in place.
  • Grenadiers were positioned.
  • Orders to disperse were given.
  • Masks were put on.
  • The teams did a walk-through of the entire clearance plan.
  • Practice arrests were made and taken to the arrest vans with the arrest tracking protocol followed. (These pre-trained arrest techniques were so smoothly performed during the actual riots that they inspired officers to name them the "sweep” and the “swoop.”)
  • Ultimately we used what we knew about crowd mentality to prepare a plan and put it into action to end the riots. It worked!
  • Trained other agencies in our method.

Our riots, when they came, as well as our response to it, were televised and seen around the world. Our officers were universally praised, even honored, for their calm, disciplined response and the actions they took to end the riots.

Tactically proactive firearms training

To prepare officers for being honorable gunfighters we did all the training everyone does. However, we additionally prepared our officers for potentially deadly encounters by using interactive firearms training, which is fully described in “Street Survival II, The Tactics for Deadly Force Encounters.” 

The system forces officers to realistically move to cover while communicating with suspects, hostages and innocent people live in real-time. When an imminent deadly threat is presented, officers fire their duty weapon and duty ammunition at the live projected images of the actors. Every scenario imaginable was acted out for the officers to respond to. Since the actors were in a different location, they were never endangered. The actors did not have live weapons, just realistic-looking weapons.

As a result of going through this training prior to a deadly force incident, one officer said in a post-shooting investigation after he saved another officer’s life that he made the correct decision because “I have been through this situation about a million times in training.”

Tactically proactive search warrants

To prepare for tactical situations in buildings targeted for search warrants, our investigators tried to give us a heads up in advance to allow for the making of a plan for a particular apartment, house or business possibly being targeted. This enabled our team to plan in advance and sometimes practice the approach, breach and entry at another location so that when the warrant came, we were especially prepared.

In a tactical situation in progress at hotels, for instance, we would get keys to a similar room at a different location in the hotel, when possible. We would make a plan and practice it over and over again until we were called upon to implement the plan.

What became obvious was by doing specific repetitive practice, close in time to the event, at the actual location or similar location created a calmness in the properly trained officers’ performance even in the midst of chaos.

Tactically proactive building clearing

A tactically proactive police agency can imagine problems at some buildings near and dear to their communities.

This mindset led our team to do walk-throughs with maintenance people in the city hall, county buildings, the library and in the jail. We did these at the schools as well. After each walk-through, the team had a round table discussion on what kind of problems we might face at each of the buildings and what our response would be. We identified additional tools or munitions we might need to solve problems in each unique environment. For example, a jail walk-through inspired us to purchase and train with a munition that could be deployed to quickly subdue a crowd of rioting prisoners without injuring them.

After some walk-throughs, another day was scheduled to conduct exercises coupled with scenarios. These exercises would include:

  • Building evacuation plan.
  • Building clearing.
  • Arrest protocols.
  • Hostage negotiation equipment delivery and use.

We would even measure distances from a corner wall to an office and use this and other measured distances during firearms training.

How much time does it take to be tactically proactive?

What makes a team ready for special circumstances is an ongoing training regimen where old skills are re-enforced, and new skills are added and re-enforced. Proactive tactical and crowd control teams also gather regularly to partake in isolated exercises and scenarios during which they practice applying their team skills to real-world problems. This training is ongoing.

Debriefs

At the end of any training, as well as after each performance in the real world, there needs to be a debrief for improvement where these three questions are asked and answered by the team:

  1. What did we do?
  2. Why did we do it?
  3. How do we see ourselves handling this the next time?

If the debrief shows a shortcoming, you have something to practice at your next training.     


16 police tactics for crowd control during modern demonstrations

16 police tactics for crowd control during modern demonstrations

Police departments must prepare to use proven team tactics for crowd control to ensure demonstrations remain peaceful and lawful assemblies


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