Traditionally when police talk about breaching tools they are in the context of SWAT Teams. In deed, many breaching tools require specialized training to understand the complexities of the tool, or the specialized methods that must be used to ensure a successful breach. Tragic events, such as the spree killer at Virginia Tech, have illuminated the need for patrol officers to have a means to defeat locked or barricaded entry points.
Today’s patrol officer is assigned more equipment and technical gear than the early James Bond, so arbitrarily suggesting even more equipment is not going to bode well for many officers. So why would I even suggest adding more to that big mess?
Although, some large agencies have the luxury of full-time SWAT Teams, most of us work at agencies where the first officers to arrive on a critical incident will be Patrol. They will likely be the ones that will resolve the critical incident. Those officers have to be trained and equipped to respond and neutralize that threat immediately.
At Virginia Tech the murderer used chains and locks to barricade doors so he would have additional time to carry out his evil. Indeed, one of the first responding officers was confronted with this problem and resorted to shooting the lock – not the best method, but the only solution the officer could think of at that time. Most schools have lock-down procedures in the event of a threat, but many also keep the majority of their doors locked during the school day as an added precaution.
If officers respond to a similar scene, are they going to succeed if they’re stuck at the door? Anymore, most windows on schools or public buildings do not open, they simply allow natural light in. Breaking out windows and attempting entry or rescue is a very dangerous venture, and likely will not be accomplished with a baton. Not to mention the debilitating injuries that glass can inflict.
SWAT Teams breaching windows have officers wearing kevlar gloves and sleeves to protect from broken or falling glass. I’m pretty confident most patrol officers don’t have access to such protection.
Many SWAT Teams have a variety of breaching tools including:
- Battering rams
- Halligan Tools (H-Tools) for prying outward opening doors
- Window rake and breaks
- Pry Bars
- Explosive Breaching materials in some cases
- Breaching shotgun rounds
- 37mm or 40mm breaching rounds
- Bolt Cutters
- Sledge Hammers
- even using Armored Response Vehicles!
Trying to equip every patrol car, and train every patrol officer in the proper use and techniques for all these breaching tools is not reasonable or realistic. The expense of many of these items, and the technical nature of their use, is well beyond most agencies budgets and most officers ability to remember. I believe that most of these tools need to stay right where they are – SWAT Teams.
However, I do believe that there is a breaching tool that every patrol vehicle should be equipped with – the sledge hammer. The hammer has been described as the “universal tool”, and for good reason. With a good sledge hammer, most obstacles can be broken to allow access for the officers. Windows can be breached somewhat safer due to the extension of the sledgehammer’s handle.A 10 pound sledgehammer like this Truper brand sledge can be an excellent “all purpose” entry tool for a patrol officer. This one has a 36″ fiberglass handle with rubber grips. It is available through Amazon.
I am in no way advocating that a sledgehammer replace a long gun. I have written before on the critical need of a long gun in the successful conclusion to a deadly force situation. With a good sling (required in my opinion) the officer can have the long gun slung, and have their strong hand on the grip ready to fire the long gun. The officer can carry the sledgehammer in their support hand, or have a second officer designated to carry if one is available. Officers can quickly drop the sledgehammer and bring the long gun to bear when needed.
A great benefit of the sledgehammer is that almost everyone has a basic understanding of how to use hammers. A sledge is heavier, and 2-handed, but training for its successful use should require a minimum effort – aim, swing, hit. The ability to remember how to use a sledgehammer should also keep any remedial training to a bare minimum. A huge bonus to budget-strapped agencies is that a decent 10-pound sledgehammer can be purchased for around $30.00. Compare that to most battering rams that will run anywhere from $300-500.
Most interior residential and many commercial doors open inward. Simply hammering the door near the locking mechanism can defeat a locked door. Though it may take repeated hits, the officer is much more likely to gain access then by kicking the door, especially heavier commercial doors that are often required to be fire rated. Another option is hitting the door in the center to literally breaking the door down.
If the door happens to open outward, the door can still be defeated by breaking the handle and pounding the locking mechanism until it breaks. It will take longer, but its a better option than nothing. If the 10-pound sledge is too much, there are 8-pound sledgehammers as well.
Here is a final consideration. To successfully confront an active shooter, or other critical incident, officers need to have these four components:
- A confident understanding of the Priority of Life. (Ed. note: Click here for more on the Priority of Life.)I’ve written about the Priority of Life before so I won’t repeat it here, but that concept is THE guiding principal in any critical incident.
- Basic training on response methods and techniques for active shooters (preferably with an emphasis on solo or small element techniques).
- The necessary equipment to defeat the threat – long guns, extra ammo, and in my opinion a good breaching tool (sledgehammer).
- A department policy or recognized procedure that allows officers to think for themselves and make immediate decisions with what they are faced without obtaining direct supervision’s approval. If an officer can respond to someone shooting at them on a car stop, than there is no reason they should not be able to make those same decisions while aggressing a shooter in a school, mall, or wherever.
With these four foundations in place, any patrol officer can be prepared to meet the next critical incident and come out successful.