Common Breaching Tools
The tools needed to conduct manual breaching for rapid deployment are very simple and probably quite familiar to most officers. As stated, most doors are going to be outward-opening doors due to fire code. This means that they cannot be “kicked” in, and therefore must be pried open. The standard tool for such a task, originated with the fire service, and is called a Halligan tool, or hooligan tool, depending upon what part of the country you are from. In essence, it is a large pry bar. Also, you need the Halligan tool’s counterpart, the sledgehammer.
The Halligan tool is a very versatile tool and can serve multiple uses. The spike on a Halligan tool can be used to break padlocks. Generally this would apply to padlocks on a chain. The key here is to make sure there is no slack in the chain. Insert the spike in between the U-shaped hasp and the body of the lock. Then strike the Halligan tool on the side directly opposite the spike with a sledgehammer, forcing the spike further into the space, spreading or separating the body of the lock from the U-shaped hasp.
Although it is not the common means of breaching an inward swinging door, the Halligan tool can be used to accomplish this task. To do this, one officer inserts the duckbill into the door jamb directly above the locking mechanism of the door. A second officer with a sledgehammer will then strike the back of the duckbill to drive it deeper into the door jamb. The Halligan man will then either step and pull back, or push and step forward, (depending which side of the door he is on), forcing the door’s locking mechanism to separate from the jamb.
The primary function of the Halligan tool is to open outward-swinging doors through prying. Generally speaking, as one approaches a door, if he can actually see the hinge, the door will open toward him. Using the Halligan tool on this door is a two-person operation. To employ this technique, one officer, holding the Halligan tool, inserts the duck bill or forked end in the space between the door and the jamb, directly above the locking mechanism.
A second officer then forces the duck bill or fork deeper into the space by striking the back of the tool with a sledgehammer. Driving the Halligan tool into the space between the door and the jamb creates a fulcrum point, so the Halligan tool can then be used as a prying lever. To use this fulcrum point, the Halligan man then steps back, pulling on the bar and forcing the door open. A drawback to the Halligan tool is that officers are working in front of the door that may have a direct threat on the other side.
Kick or Sledgehammer?
While inward-opening doors may be forced in by kicking, officers need to know that the doors they will most likely encounter will be commercial-grade steel doors or heavy, solid, wooden doors in steel frames. These will not be easily forced in by kicking. Officer can apply much greater energy and force to a door with a battering ram than with a kick, increasing the likelihood they will defeat the locking mechanism. Trying to kick in a heavy door is more likely to cause an injury to an officer, take more time, and have a lower probability of success than using an appropriate tool.
The sledgehammer can be used with the Halligan tool, and also it can be used by itself to break glass and even breach an inward-opening door. To do this, an officer positions himself on the hinge side of the door. The officer will then take a full swing and strike the door directly above the door knob.
As in swinging a golf club, baseball bat, or a baton, the motion should come from the rotation of the hips in order to generate the most amount of force possible. The officer is not going to stop this motion when he makes contact with the door, but rather is going to continue to “swing through the door” to ensure that the maximum amount of force is transferred to the door.
If the door is equipped with a deadbolt, the officer would strike between the doorknob and deadbolt. Appropriate sledgehammers would weigh at least 6 pounds, and the average sledgehammer in use is 8 pounds.
Many times, a door is equipped with good locks and deadbolts but inadequate hinges. It is also possible to attack the hinge side of the door. To accomplish this, the officer first swings the sledgehammer in a golfing motion, striking the door about 9 inches above the floor, in the area of the hinge. After two to three strikes here, the officer then strikes the top 6 inches of the hinge side of the door with an overhead swing. Alternating a couple swings high and then low may defeat the hinges of the door, causing it to break free.
The battering ram is the most common manual breaching tool used for inward-opening doors. The preferred method of using the battering ram has the officer standing to the knob side of the door. The officer then swings the ram in a sideways motion, again rotating at the hips to generate maximum force, while fixating his eyes on the part of the door he intends to strike. The strike should hit directly above or beneath the locking mechanism, as close to the jamb as possible without striking it.
This motion would be repeated until the door is forced open. Like the sledgehammer, the ram can also be used to force the door from the hinge side as well. The officer would use an underhand swing and repeatedly strike the door on the hinge side, close to the jamb. The disadvantages to the battering ram are its size, weight, and difficulty in carrying long distances.
Lastly, officers may also have to break glass. Older schools that have not updated their classroom doors may still have doors with nice big windows in them. This glass could be broken to unlock a door. The glass in these doors would be simple enough to break, but more modern facilities may have wire-reinforced security glass. This is usually two layers of glass, (which may be safety glass), with a wire mesh sandwiched in between layers, mounted in a metal frame.
This glass is difficult to break, even after striking it with a baton. The Halligan tool can be used to break this security glass. If the tool has a spike, simply strike the glass with the fine, sharp point to penetrate it. The spike should easily fit into the wire mess and could provide a means by which to clear the wire reinforcement. If there is no spike on the Halligan tool, striking the glass with the duck bill should generate enough force to break the glass and penetrate the wire mesh also.
In addition to responding to a call for an active shooter, patrol officers can also encounter other dynamic situations, such as a hostage situation or barricaded gunman, which will require them to contain the location and await the arrival of SWAT. While awaiting the arrival of SWAT, the suspect’s behavior could transition from a standard hostage situation, (a SWAT response), to an active shooter. Patrol officers would then need to get in and stop the suspect’s deadly behavior.
It is possible that officers may need to conduct a breach in order to do that. Unlike normal patrol officers, most tactical teams consider the possibility of having to make an immediate, unplanned breach by having their emergency assault team take some method of breaching with them. This could be the normal manual breaching tools, a breaching shotgun, or explosive entry charges. Patrol officers would normally be limited to manual breaching tools by virtue of their assignment and lack of specialized training.
The bottom line is that times have changed, and law enforcement leaders have made significant progress in recognizing the need to train and arm patrol officers for responding to rapid deployment situations. In order for their vision and efforts to not be in vain, they must now be made aware of the need to provide first responders with the tools they will need to access a secured building in order to resolve an ongoing crisis situation.
To accomplish this, some portable entry tools need to be in the trunks of individual patrol units or at least patrol supervisor vehicles. This would make the tools immediately available on scene to first responders and prevent them from being on the outside of a crisis situation looking in.
Paul Brandley is a patrol sergeant with the Pawtucket, RI Police Department and a team leader / training coordinator on the Special Response Team. He has a master’s degree in criminal justice, is a graduate of the 226th session of the FBI National Academy and has been in law enforcement for 14 years. He holds instructor certifications in MP-5 submachine gun, patrol rifle, defensive tactics, rapid deployment techniques, and currently serves as vice president for the Rhode Island Tactical Officers Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.