Panthers are hunters; they strike quickly. Strategos Inter-national’s staff looked at ballistic shield tactics—also called “bunker” shield tactics—and decided that many tactical teams move too slowly, especially when clearing a large area. Movement with the shields needed to be speeded up, like a panther. Strategos reviewed at the lessons of the ancient Roman gladiators and legionnaires who went to battle using their shields as offensive striking weapons rather than hiding behind them.
Working in partnership with the Palm Beach County, FL Sheriff’s Office, Strategos International conducted a ballistic shield tactics program that made conceptual leaps in the use of shields. Tactical police officers and sheriff’s deputies attended the course held in the rural countryside of southern Florida, appropriately also home to Florida’s wild panthers. The goal was to demonstrate mastery of ballistic shield tactics combined with Physical Conflict Resolution (PCR) methodology. Use the Shield Aggressively
Several disadvantages exist with handheld ballistic shields. They can’t take rifle fire. They are heavy. Sometimes they can become back lit, causing a “white out” of the shield’s view port and limiting the shield operator’s vision. The shield operator is also at a disadvantage in both wrestling / controlling people, and must also be a one-handed shooter.
However, according to course instructor and New York Police Department Detective Peter Segreti of the Emergency Service Unit (ESU), ballistic shields are brought on most ESU assignments. They have taken hits from 9mm rounds and shotgun pellets in tight New York dwellings. During entries, the shield is what the bad guy sees when he shoots. It becomes the target, and the word “POLICE” on the shield becomes an aim point, protecting the officers behind it.
Shield Operator Tactics
The course concentrates first on the shield operator. In controlling hallways, the tactical goal might be to make deep penetration or to hold ground with the team behind the shield operator. The goals of a shield operator are to protect himself and the other members of his team (usually six to nine people), and to take ground away from the bad guy. Stress for the shield operator can become overwhelming. Suggestions for reducing it include: control your breathing, bring your heart rate down, and see what is going down.
Shield operators are the ones who read a room before it is entered, taking quick peeks with the shield. The shield operator should not “turret” or point the shield in various directions like a gun turret, because the No. 2 man can become confused and not know which way to cover. Some turns are made “lipping” the shield. This means moving the lip or side of the shield against a substantial object like a wall. Lipping can be done while in a stationary stance, but more commonly it is used when going around corners. In “overlapping,” one shield is used in conjunction with another shield. This is used in highly mobile maneuvers. Drills also included strapping the shields together, such as when using two ballistic shields up front in an officer down rescue.
Basic Combat Stance
Strategos International ballistic shield tactics use two basic shield stances. One is the basic combat stance—the primary fighting position used in shield work and tactics. The combat stance is the optimal stance when engaging a perceived bullet threat with both the shield operator’s shield and gun pointing at the threat. In this stance, the shield operator is completely behind the slightly canted shield. The handgun-bearing hand is out in front of the view port, ready to shoot. It is held in a master grip and may have a slight inward cant toward the shield to help control recoil.
Aiming is still done by sighting through the view port. The weapon is also held at sufficient distance from the view port to avoid a weapons malfunction. It is at one-handed, aggressive firing stance. Movement is very important. The operator is like a tank; his legs pull him forward and he avoids bobbing. The shield operator should avoid being in the position of having to shoot over or look over the top of his shield.
Shouldering of the Shield
The second basic combat stance, or shield position, is the shouldering of the shield. This means that the shield is held upright at the support side of the officer’s body near his shoulder using the shield’s hand-bar system. This stance is utilized when the situation is under control. It is recommended that during tactical situations, the shield operator not lay down his shield in case there is a surprise, such as an outsider suddenly picking sides and going against the police. In such a situation, the shield operator can immediately go from a shoulder stance into a combat shield stance to protect himself and his team.
The basics of the shoulder stance can transform into an individual shield skill, known as the “split.” Commonly, the split is a fast movement. This is used when the shield operator wants to move the shield away from his body to see better—such as when he is tripping over items in his path or working in a dark environment—or to protect himself from a perceived bullet threat area.
In the split, the shield operator is not looking through his view port, but the weapon is kept in the combat position. This is different from shouldering the shield where the weapon is holstered, especially on the range. Splitting can be used when returning from a cleared area or when going past doors. (NYPD officers may pass closed doors. Their experience has been that bad guys tend to be in deep).
After making entry in into a room in a basic combat stance, a split shield can temporarily be used when in a room. This gives the shield operator better vision as he moves through the threshold, checking deep corners first. For the right-handed shooter, the split shield covers his left side, not his front. The No. 2 man, moving into the room behind the shield operator, covers the opposite corner. The bunker shield operator then looks to the next threat area such as the closet or under the bed.
The split can also be used when the team is following the sound of gunfire from an active shooter and passes a door (or window) without entering. The shield operator announces, if not entering, and utilizes the split shield tactic. The shield will offer protection in case shots are fired through the doorway from the other side. If the shield operator decides to enter a room, the way of signaling his intention is to set up on the door. The shield operator does not open doors; the No. 2 man does.
A ballistic shield stack is generally made up of nine team members. With fewer than six, the team can be prone to trouble. In executing a warrant, the shield operator is the person who physically leads the team. Penetration into the dwelling being cleared goes as far as possible, while ballistic protection is provided in front of the stacked team.
First, the bad guy will tend to flee to the furthest location in the dwelling to gain ground for escape, allow for time to think, or retrieve a weapon. The team members should be the hunters. Be in control. Push the fight to the bad guys, thereby putting them on the defensive. Travel at the right speed to protect the team, and do not blow past targets / bad guys. In active shooter responses, get the bad guys with the guns first.
Second, a deep penetration will allow the entire team to penetrate and participate in room clearing operations. It is recommended that the shield operator enter open doors, such as bedrooms, first, along with his No. 2 man, who opens doors and does handcuffing, etc.
One tactical entry method is for a team to have a second shield operator within its stack who can move up to the front position. For example, when a shield operator enters a room to clear it, the No. 2 man in the stack follows him closely. The second shield operator now becomes the lead shield and the advance continues. In a stack of tactical team members with two shields, the line-up from the front is as follows: the first shield operator and his No. 2 man, then the second shield operator and his No. 2 man, then the team leader, long gun, team members with tools and cuffs, and the rear guard.
After a room is cleared, the shield operator returns to the uncleared area, rejoins the team and helps clear additional rooms. In a ballistic shield stack, it is the No. 2 man who controls the pace of the penetration to keep the gap between team members as small as possible. If members are spread out, a bad guy could suddenly appear between team members and a crossfire situation could result. Close or tight stacking avoids this.
Third, when a shield operator passes a door, he should announce doors on his left or right as well as announce any threats he might have encountered. And fourth, if progress is impeded, the shield operator can tuck his helmet and shoulder into the shield and push the threat out of the way. Done with emphasis, this is also called the Bunker Stun—a method of pushing the shield into an unarmed opponent who attacks the shield operator. The rest of the team will direct the threat down and secure him.
In addition to several other concepts, training also involved closet checks. In this maneuver, the operator turns the shield sideways. This puts the view port in a vertical position so that the shield operator can clear a closet without dipping his head or exposing his neck or head. Turning the shield sideways can also be used for taking stairways from the bottom where the shield operator’s head might be exposed from above.
Reloading with Ballistic Shield
When a shield operator has a weapon problem, he lets his team know by saying “reload” or “malfunction.” The fastest way to correct either situation is for the shield operator to have a second handgun. If a slide locks—either due to a lack of ammunition or a malfunction—the shield operator can transition to his second gun, allowing the first to drop on its lanyard. Carrying a second gun is better than trying to reload. If the shield operator has only one handgun, in addition to dropping the spent magazine and reloading in the holster, another method is to reload in the shield support hand. This is accomplished by 1) placing the pistol into the hand that is holding the shield; 2) pressing the magazine release, which can also be done before the gun is placed in the operator’s shield hand; 3) removing the magazine; 4) bringing up its replacement from its carrier and inserting it into the magazine well; 5) retrieving the pistol with free hand and releasing the slide. If the slide fails to chamber a round, rack it—using the rear sight—on the side (edge) of the shield.
Also taught to shield operators was the one-handed reload, where the operator kneels and uses the crook of the knee to hold the gun while doing a reloading sequence. A stovepipe can also be cleared by moving the top of the pistol against the edge of the shield.
Physical Conflict Resolution
The training offered Physical Conflict Resolution alternatives to overcome the shield-carrying disadvantages. According to Strategos International, the PCR is a methodology based on both Aikijujitsu and the Russian Martial Arts System. PCR defensive counter measures employ the powerful takedown principles by taking advantage of triangulation and points of balance. This means that instead of approaching confrontations strictly on strength, leverage and speed, the PCR approach moves to upset the threat’s balance.
PCR addresses the situations when law enforcement’s adversary may or may be armed or there are multiple opponents. Using PCR training, law enforcement officers learn to control people with their free hand while holding a firearm in the other.
A steady progression of PCR methodologies included take-downs using the free hand while holding a subgun, handgun, or shield, as well as gun grab counter measures.
PCR tactics also included less-than-lethal defensive and offensive movements with the shield such as defense against the shield grab in which the bad guy rotates the shield. This may break the wrist or fingers of the shield operator. Counter moves may work into strikes using the edges of the ballistic shield. PCR also establishes the concept of other members assisting the shield operator as obstructive people are taken down. For example, if the No. 2 man has a subgun, he can use its barrel to spear an obstructer.
With constant challenges, the drills evolved into team practice, at first using just the shield operator and his No. 2 man, and then employing techniques with the remaining members of a stack of tactical officers / deputies. These techniques were taught within a use-of-force matrix, with the level of force—such as the strikes with the edges of the shield—delivered in context to the resistance offered. This resistance might range from people passively obstructing members of the team to people physically assaulting them.
Vehicles take-downs using shield operators were also taught, as well as “ballistic shield street take-downs.” In this, the team exits from a van with shield operators out first to brace the bad guy, with a K9 available if he decides to run. This also is used with a “bad-guy-with-hostage” situation. The tactics of shield operator teams in elevators were also reviewed. In New York, this means going to a floor or two below where the bad guy is, not past it.
Basic course work concluded with testing and demonstration of Ballistic Shield Course skills. Most of the students stayed two additional days to complete the requirements for Ballistic Shield Course instructors’ certification. Training equals combat, and with their shield skills, the students will be better able to move into unfriendly places effectively and, when needed, faster. The students have become the hunters.
Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, OH Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a Florida-based writer and author. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.