Hunter or prey? Which will your first responders be when dealing with an active shooter? The goal of Strategos International is to provide armed professionals with high-quality training to prevail against an active shooter. Their trainers do this through long hours during a five-day training course titled, “Law Enforcement Response to an Active Shooter,” which is based on demanding force-on-force and physical conflict resolution (PCR) training and tactics.
Force-on-force training creates high levels of stress. The philosophy behind it is that when training is approached at a lesser level, people die. Force-on-force has a history of revealing critical teaching errors not readily observable in other training methods. Systema. It addresses the following three situations: (1) law enforcement officer is armed; (2) officer’s adversary may be armed; and (3) there are multiple opponents. Using PCR training, officers learn to control people with their free hand while holding a firearm in the other.
Saint Cloud, FL Police Department’s chief recognized the need for such training in his department and was determined that his police officers should be able to effectively respond to active shooter situations. Because of this, his agency hosted Strategos’s Response to an Active Shooter program.
In addition to the St. Cloud PD, other Florida police officers and sheriffs’ deputies attended the course, including SWAT, firearms and defensive tactics instructors, and traditional cops. Course instructors strove to maximize their understanding of human conflict and dramatically improve their operational capabilities.
One traditional response to shooters has been containment, which worked if the situation was not evolving and the suspects’ actions were confined. The 1999 Columbine school shootings challenged the containment approach. At that time, law enforcement priorities during incidents were 1) victims, 2) innocent bystanders, 3) law enforcement personnel, and 4) suspects. However, in addressing this new type of dynamic situation, law enforcement’s response had to evolve, giving precedence to challenging and neutralizing the suspects’ actions.
Modern law enforcement priorities to an active shooter are to 1) neutralize the threat, 2) evacuate victims, 3) and evacuate innocent bystanders. Simply put, active shooter situations are elevated murders in progress. Increased commitment, preplanning and training on the part of officers are required to counteract the commitment and preplanning of the shooter.
During the course held in St. Cloud, instructors reviewed the case histories, statistics, and demographics of recent active shooter situations. This allowed for dynamic, quick-changing, worst-case-scenario training based on dealing with active shooters in environments such as schools, businesses and day-care centers.
Attitude, mental conditioning, tactical concepts, verbal manipulation, physical skills, building and room clearing, combat firearms techniques and law enforcement-adaptable Aikijujitsu defensive tactics made up the curriculum core. Attitude would be essential in gaining the tactical edge.
Mental conditioning would prepare the police for a crisis encounter before it happened and would help them cope with stress hazards during and after its occurrence. Tactical thinking would allow the officers and deputies to safely and confidently approach not only high-risk situations confronted daily, but also ultra-dangerous rarities. Verbal manipulation would enable students to prevent volatile confrontations from escalating, and defuse situations that were close to a flash point.
Physical skills, PCR techniques, and conditioning would help keep police officers and deputies alive and, in many cases, injury free when deadly force was not an option. The techniques would keep officers from making mistakes and becoming prey.
First Active Shooter Scenarios
Twenty-five role players from the Osceola Criminal Justice Academy acted as three shooters mixed in with a large number of civilians. Setting: the black insides of a building once known as Medieval Times, formerly a large, theme dinner theater.
Officers and deputies responded and formed into small, first-responder-to-active-shooters entry teams. Instructors reviewed safety protocol rules for the scenario training; 10-shot paintball guns and protective headgear were issued. Time for brief preplanning was allowed. Would the bad guys be dynamic with the situation evolving rapidly, static and not evolving, or would the shooters be barricaded in a position of advantage? The responders didn’t know.
Their mission was to enter the building and employ the tactics and responses necessary to eliminate the threats. An instructor followed each entry team and videotaped its actions for critiquing.
A number of entry teams weaknesses were noted, including creasing the trigger, probably due the darkness and uncertainties of the environment and a lack of gun transition, thereby exposing the eyes and shoulders of the officers instead of just the eyes and gun muzzle. For this entire course, transitioning did not mean changing from long gun to a handgun or vice versa, but rather, it meant keeping the body in a firm shooting platform and switching the weapon from one hand to the other to better use cover with less body exposure.
Other weaknesses were that officers repeated the same orders to the role players, entry team movements were hesitant, as if they were walking on a minefield, and team members became fixated on one person, thereby making it easy to miss other threats. The most noted mistake was loss of shooting platforms during movement.
In the first two scenarios, hostages died, and once a team leader lost control, and his team “quailed out.” or went off in different directions. But while mistakes were made, they also did a lot of things correctly. For example, they formed a diamond formation (instead of using a line or stack where one shot could possibly take down an entire team), had good weapon control and effective communication, and moved toward the gunfire.
Instructors also introduced Boyd’s O.O.D.A. Cycle—observation, orientation, decision, and action. Air Force Colonel John Boyd discovered common factors in many battles. The slower side was always defeated when it could not keep pace with a series of unexpected and threatening situations presented by its opponents. Successful ground forces constantly maintained movement and had the correct perception of what was going to happen; the other force was then frozen into inaction because of the above.
For hands-on training, instructors split the class into two basic groups. While one trained on the force-on-force paintball and barricades field, others worked through physical conflict resolution in the mat room.
Physical Conflict Resolution
This was not memorized, “by the book” defensive tactics training, which is something the instructors at Strategos International think is futile. Instead, PCR instructors offered a foundation to build and evolve tactics to impact an individual’s understanding of human conflict to the deputy’s and officer’s capabilities and to aggressively seek out strategies, principles, tactics and techniques that prevail in actual combat. The training confrontations allowed officers to use the appropriate level of force (Use of Force Matrix) while removing unnecessary steps in defensive tactics moves.
PCR techniques worked with what officers and deputies already knew, such as compliance, strikes, takedowns and handcuffing. It didn’t work with techniques that fail under stress. PCR training allowed them to work through technique variations because in a fight, set sequences often do not work. Combat capability is the bottom line. An effective officer is the one who has the tools and is thinking ahead.
PCR employed the powerful takedown principles of Aikijujitsu, taking advantage of triangulation and points of balance. Without balance, the human body cannot efficiently function and becomes inherently weak. In PCR, ever-present triangulation points were used do destabilize the opponent’s body so that it could be worked with and controlled.
A rudimentary method of finding the triangulation point was to give the opponent a push. The spot where he or she puts a foot to maintain balance was this triangulation point. The biomechanical reality of the situation was that if another part of the opponents’ body was directed into this point before the opponent could move his or her feet, that opponent went down.
Takedown techniques were combined with a focus on weapon retention, with much attention given to those situations where the officer’s weapon was already drawn or pointed rather than holstered or slung.
Force on Force
Armed with paintball guns and beginning at opposite ends of a field of barricades, combat exercises began with two against two, then three against three, and finally, four against one. As soon as the controller called, “Hot,” the fight began. The training was based on the concepts that the hunter’s greatest adversary is the predator, that a warrior can meet the predator and prevail, and that action is faster than reaction. On the paintball and barricades field, instructors taught the deputies and police officers to be hunters—imposing their will on the environments and maximizing their advantages.
An example given was that of the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank, one of the best shooting platforms in the world. The officer and deputy hunters needed emulate it—to punch their guns out and up in a ready position. To make a point, instructors called movement “sliding.” This was done with balanced weight and body slightly forward; movement was accomplished by placing one foot ahead and bringing the body up to it, much like tank treads pulling a tank along. Sliding needed to be correct, or stress could break it down. Hunters were most vulnerable when sliding from one position to another.
Traditional rules such as flagging the gun also applied. Lowering a firearm and bringing it back up into a good shooting platform takes too much time. Balance was also important because a hunter cannot afford to fall in a gunfight. Trigger fingers were to remain off the triggers until the threat was identified.
On the field, hunters were told to fight the way their bodies told them; their bodies would protect them if they let them. Successful hunters know when to take the fight to their opponent. They should fight as a team and communicate by voice, not by pointing because teammates might not be looking at them. Students were responsible for each round fired; the laser rule was always in effect.
They were also to avoid 50/50 gunfights, as such odds were unacceptable. A mistake hunters often made was to engage in range drills: tap-tap, then relax. They shouldn’t relax because that gives the bad guy the opportunity to come up on them. Hunters practiced transitioning their guns to the appropriate side of the barricade to reduce body exposure. They learned to fight opponents and not territory.
At the live-fire range, drills began with dry firing, as the modified prone position, sliding, and box drills were done. The commands, such as “down kneeling” or “down modified prone” and “transition,” were given first on the firing line and later as the course evolved to live fire drills with three shooters working T/Y clearing (an inverted-diamond formation, allowing the team leader better control), and shoulder-to-shoulder.
Evenings were spent practicing building- and room-clearing exercises in a school. Training in this area was commonly practiced with four hunters. Entry team responsibilities included communication, cover, awareness of the bad guy’s location, and each team members’ orientation. Working cross-angles and bilateral shooting as basics were taught first. Clearing was thought of as tactical geometry; all tactical principles were interlocking.
Progressively, tools were added and proficiency increased. Response to active shooters external stimuli determined where the team would go. Hunters controlled their voices. No excited rise or fall told the bad guys that the team was in control. In going down school halls, open rooms were penetrated, but team members went in only one or two rooms deep—to do more might mean a chance separation from other team members.
Rear guards were ideally armed with a shotgun and could slide back to recheck what had already been checked. Instead of announcing, “Room cleared,” the room-clearing teams used, “Nothing seen.” This meant that they were moving fast to the threat; more thorough searching of rooms would come later.
Tactical room-clearing techniques including crisscross, button hooking, entering from one edge of the door, prioritizing threats, fields of fire, extra rooms, slicing the pie, and squeeze were reviewed. “Squeeze” meant making physical contact with a partner on back or arm or wherever a team designated, signaling the hunter ready for any movement that needed to be carried out.
In high/low stacking, one hunter kneeled and maintained his shooting platform. His partner stood closely over him in a good shooting platform to ensure that the top shooter’s gun muzzle stayed in front of the low shooter. This could be used in doorways and tight hallways where more guns are needed in a fight.
Once a room was cleared, the team members exited from the same door they entered, closing the door behind them. The last hunter to leave said, “Last man out.” Good hunters worked like a pack. Some halls or rooms might be passed to get to the threat because if hunters entered the room containing a threat immediately, the odds were that the bad guy would not be set up and waiting for them. Done correctly, shooting (when necessary), communicating and sliding should win 99% of engagements.
The tactic of hall-boss clearing involved large numbers of officers moving more precisely, more rapidly and more dynamically—flying from point to point—than T/Y. It was a shock action. Because it is a large formation, hall boss might have two rear guards. Hall-boss teams might also have a second in command in case the team leader went down. With proper movement, hall-boss tactics can fight more than one fight at the same time due to the large number of officers.
Final role-playing scenarios were conducted in a high school and back at the Medieval Times fortress. In one scenario, loudspeakers screamed actual Columbine alarm taping, and a “good” woman with a snow shovel confronted an entry team who correctly ordered her down. Around them, people were down. Others were fleeing. If asked, those fleeing described the bad guys and told where they were. In one room, hunters who slid swiftly outflanked a hostage taker. She ducked and fired her paint gun too late, hitting where the sliding officer had been. She was eliminated.
On the last day, the students took their final test, a written examination. All were hunters. None were prey.
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 JWEISS2109@aol.com and MDavisFLA@aol.com.