By: S.L. Blackwell, Chief Deputy, Pine County Sheriff’s Office
I listened to an experienced tactical SWAT operator tell the details of his SWAT teams recent deadly force incident that almost claimed the lives of two operators, and necessitated the close quarter killing of the suspect. It made me think of several other hostile incidents that I have either been directly involved in or asked to review. Several response driving dynamics became evident upon each review; personal emotions were high because fellow officers were attacked and either injured or killed; and officers caught up in the “passion of the moment” begin to incrementally strip away their tactics and training, until their mind is fixated on what they will do at the point of contact only.
Lets face it, if one of our fellow officers were deliberately attacked, killed or injured and we are the ones to respond, it becomes very personal. As leaders we need to recognize these possible dynamics especially in those rare moments of response to sudden, tragic violence as we hastily consolidate our operators and resources to interject. Recognizing that there will be hostile events that become sustained evolving events where we may not own the clock and have to react without delay. Even in these extremely difficult forced responses we need to look for those indicators from our team members that start to show they are losing focus on the tactical response and fixating only on the “end result”. When leaders start to see their operators struggle with maintaining team integrity during movement, having to hold them back or cutting corners on basic techniques and principles, or more dangerously start to take un-warranted independent actions from the team. These are all indicators of a deteriorating focus on the task at hand.
Commanders and team leaders should continually be aware of these indicators and interject (when tactical opportunities permit) to take the tactical pause and “re-set” their amped up operators. Many already do this and have built up a higher sensitivity to this dynamic through experience and training. But there are still those moments where a sudden, tragic event happens and officers are killed. When the details finally start to come together we feel those little hairs stand up on the back of our necks, and think to ourselves- This could have been prevented. It may only be a few seconds, but somewhere in that emotionally charged movement to contact phase, leaders (hopefully) will recognize the tactical integrity of the team eroding and take a deliberate tactical pause to re-focus the tactical purpose away from the passions and emotions that can blind us all in these situations.
This goes hand in hand with the ability to have tactical patience in high risk operations. The real good teams are able to recognize the tactical necessity to transition in mid movement if necessary and have the attitude, awareness and ability to “change gears” with the situation. You may start an operation as a dynamic and deliberate action towards contact, but when the suspects actions start to dictate otherwise are your team members disciplined enough to go from dynamic and deliberate to contain, cover and slow search, especially in mid stride. For that matter, from contain, cover and slow search back up to dynamic and deliberate. I have watched SWAT teams train all day on high speed dynamic tactics and all of the included tasks associated with it. If you need someone to swarm, flood and rescue they are the best. But when the suspect(s) knowingly disappear into the dark unknown in mid action, possibly lying in wait and the team fails to transition to match the tactics to the behavior, dynamic and deliberate now becomes your weakness not your strength.
Tactical Patience allows for the recognition of these game changing actions as well as the development of the situation to reveal possible tactical opportunities that may present themselves. Keeping your head as an operator is difficult enough, doing it as a tactical leader is mandatory. Each link in the chain of command can fall prey to passion and emotions in critical violent situations and lose their tactical patience when needed and neglect that tactical pause when necessary. We owe it to our officers to build these dynamics into the training and scenarios they perform and develop our tactical leadership to recognize these all important dynamics of tactical response.
As I read Steve’s thoughtful comments concerning a tactical pause, I was reminded of operations where I was pressured to hurry up. I always resisted those efforts. We knew there was a time to go fast and dynamic. But we also knew there was a time to pause reassess and continue. I hope that those who read Steve’s comments train and hopefully perform at the necessary speed and emotion. For leaders, think about what Steve said and have the conviction to resist those who want you to go 100MPH in every case.