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SWAT Blue Death

Written by Stuart Meyers

From 2004 through the end of 2008, 71% of all SWAT deaths occurred in training or as a result of Blue Death, which is what many people call “friendly fire.” (Of course, there is nothing friendly about one officer shooting another officer.)

During this period, 12 operators were killed during training or by another officer, while five were killed by a suspect. The training and Blue Deaths included gunfire, illness / heart attack and falls. Consider the following solutions.

Trained medical personnel must be present at training sessions and on tactical operations. Ballistic face shields and leg protection must be issued to tactical officers, and officers should be required to wear them. Increased inter-agency cooperation will prevent excessive fatigue on lengthy tactical operations. Constant and intense training is essential for tactical teams.

All SWAT team members should train eight hours a day, twice a week. Increased frequency will increase proficiency. The minimal recommended training is eight hours a day, every other week. Snipers should train four hours a day once a week. The minimal recommended training is four hours a day, every other week.

Training Safety Standards and Protocols like the following should be developed and adhered to. Before conducting any scenario or training exercise, the dispatch center of the jurisdiction where the training is to be conducted will be notified. If neighboring law enforcement jurisdictions are in close proximity or could reasonably be expected to come in contact with the training / scenario site, then their dispatch centers will be contacted, as well.

When possible, “Police Training In Progress” signs will be placed on access roads at the scenario site. Designate a safety vehicle equipped with a mobile telephone to be parked in close proximity at the training location. Depending upon the total number of personnel to be trained, a minimum of two people will be assigned as safety officers. The safety officers will have overlapping responsibilities with both being required to conduct separate weapons and ammunition checks of all participants.

Participants are advised to keep their fingers off of the trigger unless preparing to fire and to be aware of proper target identification and backdrop.

Participants must wear and carry all necessary operational gear with them at all times (except live ammunition, unless instructed). Officers arriving late or who leave and later return to the training may not participate. If a break is taken during the training, the inspection process is conducted again in its entirety. Prior to the commencement of training exercises, participants and observers line up in a safe direction and unload all weapons.

Participants must present ALL weapons to instructors / safety officers for visual and physical inspection. Three instructors are responsible for conducting this safety check. If there are only two designated safety officers present, then one participant will be a designated safety officer to assist in conducting this weapons check. Unless a live-fire exercise is to be conducted, live ammunition must not be present in any weapon, gear, pockets, bags, or other equipment used by the participants.

Record serial numbers of all weapons to be used in the training session after they have been checked for live ammunition. Vehicles being used as part of a training exercise must be checked for live ammunition. Access must be restricted to any area where live ammunition could be present. If live-fire training is to be conducted, ALL weapons are visually and physically inspected by safety officers.

Instructions are given to the participants to wait for the specific command to load and fire their weapons. They are again instructed to ensure proper target identification and backdrop before discharging their weapons. Before beginning an exercise, all training areas must be cleared of personnel who may have inadvertently entered a danger zone. Ballistic vests and helmets must be worn at all times by participants and safety officers (except for exercises conducted exclusively for snipers).

Trainees will not be permitted to fire alone on the range (for formal training sessions only). At least one safety officer or instructor must be within view and voice contact of any officer conducting live-fire training on the range. When blank rounds are used, one round is fired to demonstrate the degree of force discharged from the weapon. Participants are instructed to ensure their weapons are not pointed directly at anyone within 20 feet.

Trainees will not “sight in” instructors acting as suspects down range during stalking exercises where blank rounds are used. Targets will be posted in the area where the suspects are located for trainees to sight in and engage. Anyone observed sighting in a suspect will be removed from the training and be subject to disciplinary action. Live-fire areas must be cleared of personnel before the start of training for shoot-house exercises.

Observers are positioned in a designated safe location or directly behind the participants. They must have direct voice contact with the participants. Participants are instructed not to inadvertently point their weapons at teammates in front of them or to turn around with their weapons in hand. Once an area has been passed, any targets missed and subsequently observed may not be engaged. At the conclusion of the training day, officers will reload their duty handguns in a safe direction before leaving the training site.

For further information on OpTac International programs and services, visit www.optacinternational.com.

Stuart A. Meyers is the chief executive officer of OpTac International Inc. He is the author of the books, “SWAT Fitness;” “A Guide to Police Sniping;” and “Police Sniper Administrative Policy & Training.” He can be reached at info@optacinternational.com.

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2009

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