Gunfire, rockets, big black SUVs. It’s VIP protection ‘live action’ training in Miami

The Diplomatic Security Service spent a week in South Florida as part of a training tour with police agencies across the country


By Charles Rabin
Miami Herald

MIAMI — The high-value target had just arrived at the summit. Well-armed agents hurried her from the backseat of the black SUV to inside the building’s front doors. Then, three large explosions from inside the building and white clouds of smoke.

Guards outside the building spoke into microphones and scurried to spots around the SUV and the lead vehicle in front of it. Then the diplomat appeared again at the front entrance, barely visible under the protective shell of secret agents in body armor, weapons drawn. She was loaded into the vehicle as it raced off.

The average eye probably wouldn’t have noticed, but federal security experts at the practice run last week at the Miami-Dade Police training center in Doral observed some flaws. One agent didn’t get into the lead vehicle in time and had to hurry back to the SUV carrying the diplomat The second vehicle was aligned directly behind the lead SUV and not angled to protect it properly.

“I noticed a few things” that were off, said Peter Kapoukakis, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

Earlier this month security service agents spent a week in South Florida as part of a training tour with police agencies across the country. The goal was to get specially selected cops, who might be tasked with protecting diplomats and other “high value” targets, up to date on the latest law enforcement techniques.

South Florida, which hosts more than its share of big events like Super Bowls or visits to Vizcaya and other attractions from royalty, has a lot of experience protecting world leaders. Still, Miami-Dade Police SWAT Cmdr. Luis Sierra said it was valuable to see how other agencies interact.

“They’re able to break bread with us and share experiences,” Sierra said. “Also, it’s a great exchange of information and it takes us back to basics.”

The Diplomatic Security Service, which taught the weeklong course, is the federal law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of State. Agents deployed to events around the world — such as the Climate Change Summit in Scotland earlier this month — often work in tandem with security personnel from other countries.

The recent visit to Miami was the agency’s first training foray since the pandemic and its first time in South Florida. It came after stops in Richmond, Virginia, and a small town in New Hampshire. The attack sequences were highly choreographed and the explosions, though lifelike, were blanks.

The week’s session began with indoor training that focused on formations and how to get in and out of vehicles properly. It then escalated to motorcade attacks with gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades and helicopters in a large field just behind the Miami-Dade Police Department’s training facility in Doral. Along with the 10 officers from the county, were 15 others from Miami and the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

In one sequence, a pair of SUVs became trapped between two heavily armed vehicles. Facing a man with a rocket launcher, both SUVs turned around. The second vehicle carrying the diplomat sped off through gunfire as a low-flying helicopter led the way. The other vehicle wasn’t as lucky and got stuck in the mud on the side of the road as it was taking gunfire.

Mercifully, the practice run for that SUV was called off.

“The training mostly covers the protection of life,” said Kapoukakis. “It’s as real as can be while keeping it safe. The goal is to foster partnerships and add exposure to some skills that may not have been used. We’ve been in a classroom for days. Now for some live action.”

NEXT: 12 steps to policing a presidential visit 

©2021 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Recommended for you

Police Training

Sponsored by

Career news from P1 in your inbox

Thanks! You've been successfully signed up for the Police1 Careers

Copyright © 2021 Police1. All rights reserved.