BREACHING 101: If the initial breach fails, have pre-planned contingency plans to move to the second or third entry point. If that is not an option, prepare for surround and call-out, and establish a chemical agents and negotiations plan as well.
During this training video the BlueSheepDog Crew will analyze a home-made video of a police SWAT team’s failed breach attempt. As the video will clearly show, the wet weather and narrow front door landing made this particular breach dangerous from the beginning. However, there are several other important factors to consider in the decisions to breach, the method used to breach, and the number of personnel available and needed to safely make a breach.
Making a forced entry into a structure suspected or known to have a dangerous suspect inside is one of the most dangerous activities police are required to perform. The old saying, “a man knows his own castle, and how to defend it” has a lot of truth in these circumstances. Police are often required to enter structures with little or no intelligence on the layout, obstacles, and fortifications of the structure inside. For those reasons, these police actions must be extraordinarily planned and
Making the Breach!
Let’s start off by watching the home-made video so we can understand the proper context (of what we can see in the video). The title on YouTube.com is “FBI Alaska SWAT team failed breach, but so far I have not been able to find any corroboration that this is the FBI, or even in Alaska.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The F.B.I. maintains over 40 regional SWAT teams to serve as the tactical arm of the Bureau on more standard services. These teams are well-equipped and train several times per month, but like most SWAT teams they are part-time. Agents assigned to the regional SWAT teams have full-time assignments and are called-out as needed. This may or may not have been one of those teams.
These teams should not to be confused with the F.B.I. Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). FBI HRT has 3-4 teams that are full-time. HRT is assigned to the Tactical Support Branch of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG), and are based at the FBI Academy at the Quantico Marine Corps Base near Washington, D.C. The F.B.I. HRT is a highly specialized anti-terrorism and high risk response unit.
From the onset we can see that there is a steady rain during this operation. There is a 4-man element stacked at the garage of the adjacent residence. From what we can see, this is a street of 2-story duplexes, with the target location being the second structure in from the cross street. The team has pulled a HMMWV (Humvee) into the front yard of the target residence. I’m not 100% positive, but it appears the Humvee is up-armored. This is based upon the add-on armored turret, and the doors appear to be thicker than the earlier non-armored Humvees.
From the video it does not appear this operation is a “No Knock” search warrant. The placement of the 4-man team, and the Humvee, strongly suggests a barricaded subject or more standard warrant service. Though the movement of the 4-man team to the front door suggests some level of desired stealth, there are several key learning points:
- Only taking (4) operators to the door is not an adequate number. The passenger of the Humvee could have exited and added to the number, but even (5) is pushing the limits of being able to respond to threats.
- One operator (likely the breacher) downs his AR-15 at the starting point (adjacent garage door). Not that I advocate breachers carrying slung rifles, but I’m even less favorable of downing a firearm.
- The shield operator is trying to use a ballistic shield and wield an AR-15 rifle one-handed. I understand the desire for added protection, and am a big fan of ballistic shield use. However, unless your team uses the Baker Ballistics MRAPS (or similar weapon platform shield) trying to hold a AR-15 on target for any amount of time is impractical and reckless.
- The shield operator is not in front (off to right), so the shield really only partially helps him, not the team.
The lack of proper personnel becomes evident as the breacher comes around to the front to position himself for the breach. The shield operator is now off to the right holding the alley between the buildings. Unless there was intel to believe this was going to be a threat area, this is a total waste of the shield. Even the shield operator is only partially covered, and not very well at that. The use of the Humvee passenger for added responsibilities could have helped place the shield over the front door while the breacher did his job.
The two “cover” officers do not have their rifles up and ready. This may be because they don’t want to “laser” the breacher, or a lack of situational awareness. I appreciate this safety practice in almost every situation; however, it leaves the team completely vulnerable to a sudden attack from the front door. If the suspect opens the door, or if the breach is successful, there is no police firearm in the fight. This can be countered by a high-low stack to the right of the breacher (on the ground). Two rifles enter the fight in a safe manner, and their position to the right allows the breacher to work without lasering.
The breacher is in a tough spot for sure. The landing is elevated, and small, prohibiting cover officers from being on the same plane as the breacher. A breacher must examine the breach point and take appropriate actions or counter-measures to provide the best assurance of a successful breach. Recognizing small landings, and wet conditions would be one of those observations.
In this scenario, the breacher could have placed his back against the structure and performed a right-handed breach, rather than a left-handed breach. The breacher may be left-handed, but each operator needs to be able to function from both sides. By placing his back against the structure, he would have stabilized his platform, and at the same time opened up the doorway for the two “cover” officers to be up and in the fight.
The Failed Breach
The first breach attempt is unsuccessful, though the door does move in somewhat. Anyone who has kicked a door, or swung a ram knows that if the first hit fails, the second and subsequent hits are going to be done with even more force. This is very likely true in this incident, as the breacher hits so hard his back foot slides off the landing. Although there can be some humor in a slip and fall, there isn’t any when an officer is exposed to injury and his teammates are left hanging.
In this event, the breacher could have suffered very serious injuries from this slip and fall. In addition, to leg injuries, the breacher was very close to face-planting into the front of the Humvee. Being rendered unconscious, or immobile leaves the now 3-man element in a very precarious situation. The breacher is a big guy, and would likely take two operators to move out of harm’s way. That leaves only one team member providing lethal cover.
- The breacher fails to recognize the inherent dangers of his positioning – both wet, and blocking covering others.
- Slipping off of the landing, the breacher nearly becomes a casualty of this very small team.
- The team leader does not call a failed breach after the slip and fall, and instead allows this failed attempt to continue for nearly 1 minute, unnecessarily exposing his team to danger.
- The breacher takes too long to recognize the door is jammed at the bottom, and is focused on repeating a motion that has been successful in the past but is completely inadequate at the present.
- Cover operators completely fail the team element. The shield and second “cover” officer leave the doorway to attempt a secondary breach of a window. After the breacher fails, and becomes exhausted, the first “cover” officer downs his rifle to finish the breach eliminating the last lethal threat option.
Amazingly, a failed breach is not called by the team leader and instead the breacher regroups and tries again. On his second attempt he nearly slips and falls just like the first attempt. I give him credit for recognizing the final sticking point is at the bottom of the door, as the top 2/3 is already opened. However, he continues down a very dangerous path – “if all you have is a hammer (ram), then everything starts to look like a nail.”
After a total of 12 strikes on the door, and 23 pain-staking seconds, the shield operator and second “cover” officer decide to breach a window on the side of the structure! Now the breacher has been standing in front of a door with a glass opening, fully exposed to fire from within for an incredibly long time, AND two of his three “cover” officers are pre-occupied trying to breach another opening.
If that’s not bad enough, after 15 unsuccessful strikes at the door, the final “cover” officer downs his rifle and takes over the breaching job of the now tired breacher. After the fourth hit the door finally opens up, with absolutely no lethal cover, the 3rd “cover” officer and breacher totally exposed to danger without the capability to return lethal fire, and the two other “cover” officers completely out of the fight and distracted breaking a side window.
Flash Bang or Surveillance Deployment
The breacher never transitions to his sidearm after the door pops open, and the “cover officer” who finished the breach takes nearly 12 seconds to get his rifle ready for a threat. The shield operator remains out of sight, while the second “cover” operator returns to the front door, but is not in a ready position.
Apparently, the whole purpose of this expedition was to deploy a flash bang. It may also have been some form of surveillance device as well. Uh, fellas … the surprise was over after the 2nd ram strike. Hanging out exposed is a recipe for disaster. Amazingly, the flash bang or surveillance device is not even present on the team members, as the second “cover” officer has to run back to the starting point to retrieve the device.
There is one rifle aimed inside, while the original breacher steps out-of-the-way instead of putting another firearm in the fight. The deployment officer is not armed during deployment, and I’m perfectly O.K. with that – they should focus on the explosive in their hand. Thankfully, the deployment officer performs a “sighted delivery”, looking for innocent people or flammable materials prior to deployment – the recommended tactic of the National Tactical Officer’s Association (NTOA).
After the deployment, there is some discussion with the breacher (maybe team leader?), and the 4-man team begins to move back to their starting position. The breacher never draws or presents a firearm, and amazingly leaves the ram for the first “cover” officer to pick up. This leaves only the shield operator with a firearm out, and he is very late getting into a position to provide actual cover to the retreating team.
Observations and Recommendations
The full circumstances of this incident are not fully clear, so the be fully accurate in our critique is not possible. However, the actions of the team could have been much safer. Here are our observations and recommendations:
- A 4-operator element was not only inappropriate, but dangerous to the welfare of the entire team.
- Failing to properly direct assignments led to chaos when the breach failed. Know your assignment and handle your area of responsibility unless a compromise situation requires
- Recognizing a failed breach, and implementing pre-planned contingency plans is crucial to success and safety.
- Proper use of a ballistic shield can be invaluable. Improper use can incompetent or worse, detrimental.
- Be prepared to complete the mission – not having tools (flash bangs) ready is a safety violation.
- Leaving the work area is just as important as entering – keep an adequate number of firearms facing the threat.
One of the primary purposes of BlueSheepDog is the commitment to bring our readers relevant and professional training so they can perform their jobs more safely, and more professionally. Occasionally this training involves critically examining a video of police officers in action.
A critical analysis does not hold back, but instead objectively weighs the positives and negatives to gain a proper light for learning how we can do our jobs better. Taking an objective view of police action allows for the reader and viewer to make informed decisions about the actions and the analysis of those actions. Some of our video reviews have been highly praising of the officers actions, such as the
Breaching doors or windows to make entry into a structure goes well beyond the development of modern SWAT teams back in the early 1960’s. Law enforcement officers tasked with searching a structure for persons or evidence of crime have always been faced with the dilemma of how to safely and successfully accomplish this task for centuries.
Our intent here is not to cast barbs at fellow officers, but to examine operational practices and improve ourselves for the next time, when we are the ones tasked with the job. Be smart. Plan well. Be Safe!