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High Risk Warrants

The Clearwater, Fla., Police Department’s SWAT team recently underwent high risk warrant training conducted by the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). Deputy George Creamer of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s (LASD) Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) was the course’s head instructor.

SEB’s methodology is based in part upon the room-clearing concept of the three-man cell, which they have been using and improving upon for 17 years.

This course is designed to expose SWAT operators to the techniques and service options used in the planning and execution of high risk search and arrest warrants. The advantage of using SWAT is that it has the special skills and tactics to enhance the safety of detectives and patrol officers serving these warrants and minimize legal repercussions.

Characteristics of this type of operation include preplanning in detail, completing the plan prior to deployment, and thoroughly briefing personnel prior to deployment. Preparation lies with SWAT, which chooses the deployment tactics based on information gained through intelligence. In high risk warrant service, containment is complete and simultaneous with the entry team’s entry into the location. Ideally, control of the target location and occupants is completed within two minutes.

Training includes team configuration, role definitions, SWAT criteria, the planning phase, intelligence and the suspect profile. For example, a request comes to the SWAT commander from detectives—who have invested considerable effort prior to SWAT’s involvement—to service a search warrant that has been determined to be high risk.

Criteria for requesting SWAT include: The suspect(s) are known or believed to be heavily armed, the location is heavily fortified, the suspect is wanted for an armed assault on a peace officer, or any condition posing an unconventional hazard for “routine” service. This is sometimes identified as a “threat matrix.”

Presenting the Plan

A detailed pre-briefing is held by assignment for all personnel involved in the operation so that each operator is very clear on his assignment. This allows the right operator to be chosen for the assigned task and, more importantly, provides accountability. Contingency plans are also reviewed to cover what actions to take if, on the approach, surprise is lost, there is a breach failure at the primary point of entry, shots are fired, or children or dogs are present.

In the case of dogs, PepperBall® guns or fire extinguishers (preferably external only) would be needed. Contingency plans might include the use of less-lethal weapons and diversions. Explosive breaches could be part of the plan, but not a contingency if the team fails at its initial attempt to make entry. When the element of surprise is lost, other tactics apply.

After the pre-briefings are completed, an overall brief is presented to the command staff. With the use of a white board, the team leader or scout presents the mission and the list of operators and officers taking part, as well as their special equipment, weapons, vehicles, convoy order and drop-off points, and duty assignments.

The briefings will also include the route of approach and where the vehicles will be parked, taking into consideration the suspect’s view of the street and the team’s route of safe retreat. Also, out of the suspect’s sight will be the mobile command center.

For high risk warrants, the neighbors are neither advised nor evacuated as might happen in barricaded subject or active shooter situations. This prevents the suspects(s) from being tipped off. In some high-crime neighborhoods, the time that the warrant will be serviced might be when the lookouts are active. This has to be accepted and worked around.

Team Scout Briefing

The second part of the plan is presented by the team’s scout. The scout formulates the tactical plan for all tactical operations, acts as the assistant TL to the field commander, and assists in running the team. He or she is usually the first officer in an entry team’s stack and lines up on the hinge side of the entry door. (The team might also have a backup scout to assist the scout.)

The scout’s part of the plan is the Warrant Service Scouting Mission Checklist. It includes the location and description of the structure: doors (locations, type, placement of hinges, whether there are locks or bars, and if the door is fortified); windows (locations, types, sizes); and locations of possible hazards (exterior lighting, fencing, outbuildings, RVs, converted living space, etc.).

The scout also provides the route of approach for the containment and entry elements, the command post location (which might be a quarter of a mile away and includes members of the command staff, radio, intelligence officer and negotiator), the pre-designated area for vehicle parking, the recommended primary entry point, special equipment needed, containment positions, the staging area for the entry team, the floor plan, and videos and/or photographs of the location.

Team leaders involved in warrant execution will participate in an intelligence-gathering drive-by prior to the briefing. Intelligence-gathering drive-bys confirm the investigator’s intelligence, confirm approach routes, establish containment and cover positions, determine the final staging point for the entry team, select primary and secondary entry points, evaluate the need for window port teams, note obstructions and special problems, note prominent terrain features, select a rally point, and determine the command post location. The route to the hospital is also driven.

Three-Man Cell Tactics

After going over planning, pre-briefing and the mission of the scout, Clearwater SWAT trained in Three-Man Cell Building Clearing Tactics by clearing rooms in a vacant, spacious business/warehouse building.

The three-man cell concept uses a minimum of three guns on a room. This offers the power of more guns on a target as well as protection and security for the team moving to an unknown location. This style of movement can be used in all facets including covert, warrant speed, active shooter and hostage rescue. The only difference is the speed in which the team moves. All entry team members are to be highly skilled at movement before making the entry team.

Upon initial entry, the team consists of three entry team officers: First Man (also called the scout), Second Man and Long Covering (long range) Man. Ideally, First Man sets up on the hinge edge of a door; he usually sees the majority of the room. The Second Man sets up on the other edge of the door. In high-low stacking, the First Man kneels and the Long Covering Man takes a standing covering position. It is important to avoid having a tall officer in a kneeling position with a shorter partner higher in this stack. When clearing the target, the first three-man cell may not be the next cell to clear the next room.

Before the movement starts, the high and low operators must first simultaneously clear the hard corners, which are the last portions of a room that can’t be seen from outside the doorway. Once entry is made, the First Man moves to the next threat while being body-blocked by the second, and the third provides cover. This goes for large and small rooms.

When covering a large room or hall, the Long Covering Man steps into the doorway while the other two clear the hard corners. This allows three guns in the room at one time and complete coverage. In this concept, going low means that another gun will be positioned over your head.

Communication is accomplished by radio or silent movement. In silent movement, nonverbal physical contact is made with a partner’s back or arm, but not to the extent that the partner trips or his shooting platform is disturbed.

Switching gun hands or moving the weapon to the support side means changing a weapon system from one hand or shoulder side to another to support the move or gain an advantage. It is used for better cover and less body exposure.

When opening a door, police must process data quickly: Who is the person they see, and is he a threat? Some doorways will lead into multiple threat areas; use mirrors if necessary. Entry is accomplished from the door edge by cutting the pie, etc., and not just jumping into a room where a bad guy could be hiding in a corner or closet. Ninety percent of a room can be cleared with the eyes before entering it. Take in the bulk of the room first, then closets, etc. The third person in the cell locks down the room while the other two cell members look under beds and clear closets, etc.

Plans for the next movement are made from behind cover. If an officer senses a problem, he should stop and read it before he makes his next move. If a building splits into a number of rooms in various directions, lock down a part of the building with a cell.

LASD has found the three-man cells to be very effective and useful. It should be emphasized that this style of movement is an art and takes a lot of practice. The covert-style, three-man cell concept can be applied to all service options inside of a target location. The hardest part is for the team to figure out that it needs to transition from one speed to the other. Discipline is huge.

In Operation

On the final day of training, the Clearwater SWAT unit was broken down into three groups. Each group scouted, planned, briefed and conducted a different high risk warrant operation. Simunition was used.

The entire class was briefed by each section’s field commander (supervisor in charge of SWAT personnel during field operations), then the scout. The warrant was reviewed in its entirety, seeking any appropriate amendments. Intelligence gathering included an investigator interview, a clear mission statement, the suspect’s profile criminal history, weapons, vehicles, timetables, targeted structure profile diagrams, other people present, the environment, possible in and out routes used by the suspect(s), and any other special problems.

Tactics were dictated by the object of the warrant, the target site, the suspects, and how the mission could be achieved while maximizing safety for all concerned. The highest value is put on human life, not evidence. One option presented was that surveillance and take-down be handled away from the target site, so it is important to know the legal requirements.

There are many variables during the service of a high risk warrant. Some situations call for using breach and hold, dominating a point of entry, as suspects are less likely to go through a barricade. Breach and hold is an option usually used after the others have failed, the team has been compromised, or you have lost your resources on the initial entry.

Limited penetration can be made by controlling a portion of the targeted site and calling the occupants out; if needed, dominate points of destruction with porting teams. In one scenario, two bad guys, one violent and one nonviolent, were in a house turned into an office building. The cramped layout was filled with furniture, giving the entry team problems. The nonviolent person was ordered into compliance and handcuffed.

In the scenarios in which an officer went down, a SWAT-trained medic was brought in after the bad guys were controlled. The downed officer was removed using a drag Sked, which is a rolled-up plastic stretcher or half-stretcher that becomes rigid when holding a patient and slides easily across the ground.

More Training

Other tactics were learned during the class. Upon entry, the team should move at a controlled speed, meaning the team only moves as fast as it can process the information in front of it and shoot accurately if needed. Such an entry is used to gain advantage over the suspects and destructible evidence.

If the element of surprise is gone or the team has lost its resources upon entry, it should then transition to a more covert style of movement. Lock the target down, remove individuals encountered, gather intelligence, and then continue through the house, searching in a slow and methodical manner. There is no hurry to clear the house once the team has been stalled. Avoid separation of the team at all times. Always keep the problem in front of you.

K-9 teams can assist the entry team during tactical operations when appropriate, but they must train with SWAT regularly to be effective. Long rifles/snipers prepared to take a precision shot if necessary can provide real-time intelligence during tactical operations and long-range coverage for the entry and scout teams. The sniper’s spotter provides for his security.

SWAT team members may be assigned as a secondary entry team to take control of people inside the target structure; they would enter through the entry team’s entry point. If officers take fire before entry, entry is not made because it is often difficult to tell where the shots are coming from. Diversionary devices and chemical agents may be deployed at the request of the team leader.

It may be necessary to conduct a man-down response: Assume defensive positions behind adequate cover, conduct a roll call, extract any wounded team members, and advise the team and command staff of conditions before proceeding with barricaded suspect operational tactics. In may also be necessary to withdraw to the rally point because if the operation is compromised, the safety of the officers comes first. If compromised upon entry, other team members can move to windows and cover with guns.

For cases in which people are running about, apprehensions are made, or an entry team member is forced to lock down on someone, the rest of the team goes forward. If the suspects or people run into a house and the entry team is right on their heels, initiative might be maintained. Tactical takedowns are also an option when executing an arrest warrant.

Suppressive Fire

Covering fire is a concept the military refers to as “suppressive fire.” One technique to consider is to place rounds high in a door jamb to give the bad guy something to think about. Considerations for its use by police include whether people are in the house who are not shooting at the police and who are not bad guys, whether the SWAT members are positioned safely from the rounds, and if police fire can be disciplined and controlled. Covering fire is used when backing out of a house or area while taking incoming rounds. Its goal is to suppress the bad guy’s actions. Cover fire is a tough call and is different in each situation.

After the initial clearing, all areas should be re-cleared. Once this is complete, and before the team turns the target over to investigators, the team should briefly discuss entry and movement issues on the scene, diagram for future reference, photograph and document damage, thank the investigator and offer further assistance if needed. In the case of a search warrant, once the location has been secured, investigators are called to conduct their search.

Post-operation information, including supplemental reports, may be provided to investigators. A property assessment is conducted and recorded, all equipment is inventoried, and an after-action packet is produced for future operations. This may include a copy of the warrant, suspect and target data, photos and tapes, a radio log, diagrams and recommendations. A comprehensive, honest, post-operation critique should be conducted.

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, Ohio, Police Department and a frequent contributor to

LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a California-based writer and author.

Published in Tactical Response, Jul/Aug 2011

Rating : 10.0

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