Cover and suppressive fire: Blind spot in training, gray area in policy

The military would have no qualms about laying down cover fire to rescue a downed soldier — does your PD address the option of cover and suppressive fire in both policy and training?

Ba-whoom! Ba-whoom! Ba-whoom! Ba-whoom! The slugs came ripping through the door where an entry team was attempting to rescue a hostage by affecting a stealth entry.

One officer went down, seriously wounded. As the entry team withdrew, a team member dragged his wounded buddy to safety while others covered the door where the rounds had come slicing through. On the opposite side of the door sat the armed shooter, loading more slugs into his shotgun while still holding his hostage.

All officers present held their fire.

Their deadly force policy laying out the rules of engagement required that before officers fired, a suspect must present an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm. Clearly this criteria was met; however, the second part of the policy required that before an officer could use deadly force he or she must have “Target Identification, Target Acquisition, as well as Target Isolation.”

None of these criteria were present.

According to your policy as it exists today, would you have been justified in firing through that door to cover the rescue of that downed officer?

Check your policy, and also answer these questions:

  1. Are your officers able to fire back through a door or window that is being used as a gun port without first acquiring a visual on the suspect?
  2. Are your officers able to fire at a window, or door where the wounding shots came from while a rescue of a downed officer is taking place, even though the suspect is neither currently visible nor firing?
  3. Are your officers able to fire at a site where an armed deadly suspect is known to be, but is not visible, to facilitate the tactical move of pinned-down officers?

You might be surprised to discover that according to your policy, the answer is “not really,” or even “no!”

Cover and Suppressive Fire
In the age of Fort Hood, Mumbai, Beslan, Jihadists, snipers, ambushes, barricaded suspects, active shooters, and the October 17, 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Kenya, agency administrators need to consider all viable tactics to address modern threats that suddenly present themselves. Could one of these threats show up suddenly on your doorstep? Here is an answer: To prepare for the future, look to the past.

The military would have no qualms about laying down cover fire to accomplish the rescue of a downed soldier during a rescue attempt. If enemy fire came spitting out of another location — toward the rescuers — a platoon of officers covering the movement would not hesitate to lay down some substantial suppressive fire toward the location the rounds were coming from. They would have no issues with firing through walls on either side of that window, when the shooter disappeared from the window used as a gun-port.

Does your policy effectively provide an option to police officers facing these same threats?

The questions you need to discuss before the situation arises are:

  1. Are there circumstances in civilian law enforcement where suppressive fire or covering fire would be justified, even necessary?
  2. If so, does your policy allow for it?
  3. If these options are available, are your officers trained to effectively apply these tactics in a real world situation?
  4. If there is no policy or there has been no training, how do you proceed from here to accomplish necessary change?

In doing so, keep in mind that, no matter how dire the situation, police officers are ultimately responsible for every round they fire.

John Lennon once sang, “Imagine all the people, living life in peace.”

Wouldn’t it be nice? John Lennon imagined one world, but lived and died in another.

In the real world, police officers are finding themselves more and more often in positions where to save lives, they have to utilize cover fire or suppressive fire.

After-action investigations generally reveal that conditions proved the actions were reasonable, but these tactics were supported by neither department policy nor training. If this has not happened to your agency yet, now is the time to address the issue.

“Ready on the right? Ready on the left? Ready on the firing line?”

This was a phrase used in the past to prepare officers to “commence firing.”

Now is the time to address the tactical option of cover and suppressive fire in both policy and training, because every officer in the nation is standing — ready or not — on the firing line.

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