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Tactical Maneuver for Police in an ever changing threat environment

So here we are….more mass shooting at home. What the shit? The most notable, in terms of press coverage and casualties, was the shooting on December 2, 2015, in San Bernardino, California.  It’s terrible and we mourn for the families of the 14 killed and 22 wounded. We also salute the police officers and first responders that charged into harm’s way.  As the legend John Wayne said “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway,” and those men and women displayed amazing courage.  
A while back we talked about the importance of those involved in this dangerous work to review tactical situations that have unfolded with a critic’s eye (Find that article here.)  The purpose of this is to take lessons away from what they see.  The good and the bad.  From this, we can be better, and when we find ourselves facing danger head on, we can apply those lessons learned to win the fight.  And in today’s topic, it could help save lives.  The most common thing you will hear in any police academy is “You must have thick skin,” and they just aren’t referring to protesters in your face but to being openly and constructively critical of performance in training.  And they are absolutely right, it’s how you learn and how you get better, having someone from the outside help you make corrections.  Yet sadly, in my experience, those with the thinnest skin are often police officers.  Well thicken it up for this article.  Consider what I’m saying with an open mind.  I looked at a part of the most recent active shooter situation with a critic’s eye, and along with my previous experience with law enforcement, felt obliged to try and show fellow LEOs that there is a way to do it better.  
Many police departments today train their officers in the technique of “shooting on the move”.  It usually involves walking forward / laterally / to the rear while engaging stationary targets with their weapons.  This training can be spruced up with multiple targets, no-threat targets, reloads on the move and so forth.  It is an important skill that officers should continue to train on.  “Shooting on the move” can have a place in any engagement.  It is something we teach under stress to our clients, normally the last thing you want to do is stay in one place during an engagement.  But I repeatedly see the technique being applied incorrectly at the range and during LE operations.  What is rarely taught, but should be, is the concept of “Moving to shoot.”  For those of you with a military background, you know this is as “Maneuver.”  
The term “maneuver” is often used to describe movement by the friendly force to gain an advantageous position relative to the enemy. Approaching a target, such as a school or office building in an active shooter type situation, requires maneuver and NOT simply walking or running toward the threat with your weapon up.  You probably aren’t going to hit shit anyway.  I took a screenshot of these officers moving during the December 2, 2015 active shooter situation in San Bernardino, CA:
I showed this picture to a LAPD friend who is in his 22nd year on the job.  I asked him what was wrong with the picture, and he concluded nothing was wrong, and that was how they are all trained.  Now the picture is limited, we don’t know exactly how far away their target is, or where exactly they are headed.  But we can safely infer that their target is at least 30 yards away based on that picture, and that they are moving from one position to another with their target at approximately their 9 o’clock (using 12 o’clock to identify direction of travel).  Based on what’s in the picture there are two conclusions that can be logically reached: First, is that they are moving along the road clearing the line of cars.  If that’s the case, they are too far from some of those cars to effectively clear them.  So it is unlikely that was the objective; Police are scrupulous about clearing cars.  Second, is that the building possibly containing an active shooter is to their left, and they are attempting to move to establish a perimeter and/or get eyes on a side of the building needing coverage.
For the sake of argument, let’s conclude their objective was the latter.  They are moving to an advantageous position relative to their threat, either for a perimeter or just to get eyes on.  “Outstanding” you say, “that’s maneuver, they’re doing it, good guys win!” Sorry, not quite.  These courageous officers have defaulted to their level of training: move as a group with your weapons pointed at the threat.  I would offer that there is a proper way to maneuver, and this ain’t it.   
So based on what we talked about above, the officers have a threat at 30+ yards from their position, and since this was an active shooter situation, they probably wanted to get where they were going most ricky tick.  After some squinting and taking my socks off, I counted 16 officers in the picture.  Seven officers walking centerline down the road (Group A), three officers behind the white SUV (Group B), five officers walking centerline behind the first group (Group C) and one officer in a red shirt off to the left.   Now at 30+ yards, if Group A had to engage a threat, how accurate would those shots be? I can tell you from personal experience that things change once you’re on a 2 way shooting range, especially with the lack of cover these officers have.  They are also certainly walking slowly to be able to keep looking down/over their sights at the target area, in preparation to engage any threat accurately.  Here’s the problem: they will not be moving slowly if hot lead comes their way, they will have no cover from incoming rounds, and moving faster than they are trained while trying to engage a target on the move is going to result in a lot of missed opportunities to hit what they are shooting at. As the Greek soldier Archilochus said way back in 650 B.C. “We do not rise to the level of our expectations.  We fall to the level of our training.”  If someone had engaged Group A, they would have fallen to their level of training, trying to move slowly and attempting to place accurate shots on target while on the move.  So in following their training, we have seven officers that have placed themselves at increased risk and unable to accurately put rounds on the threat. Well shit…that sucks.
Now let’s discuss proper “maneuver” and apply it to that situation without going into the minutia of the differences between travelling, travelling over watch, and bounding over watch: Group B stays where they are, and maybe bring up one officer from Group C to the black pickup truck to put a gun on the threat area.  Now we have four stationary officers, with cover*, with the weapons on the target.  Now Group A can run to the next piece of cover with the warm fuzzy that if a threat pops up, one of those four stationary officers will engage it (they’re not there just to shout encouragement).  Once Group A gets to cover, Group C can run to the new position of Group A (or past it) with the warm and fuzzy that now there are 11 stationary officers, with cover, ready to engage a threat that may pop up.  
We could leave Group B in place behind the white SUV.  So now we have two groups: one of seven officers (A), and one group of five officers (C).  They can continue their maneuver, leaving one group stationary with weapons covering the threat, while the other moves to a new piece of cover, bounding past each other each time until they get to where they were going.  And since they will be running to each piece of cover, they will get to where they are going quicker.  Moving teams like this is very fast when done correctly and it allows for much better coverage of a threat area by supporting officers.   
So in conclusion, we have two solutions to get these officers to where they are going.  The first exposes officers to greater threat, decreases the chances of them accurately engaging a target, and takes more time to get them where they are going (possibly what is seen in the photograph). This is the standard of how police officers, even many SWAT teams with advanced training, move when a threat is present and/or possible.  The second option, maneuver, has one group of officers traveling quickly between cover while another group keeps weapons on the threat.  This option gets them there faster, does not require them to try and make shots they’ve never practiced, and ensures there are stationary officers behind cover to take those shots if needed.  
In an urban environment, with an imminent threat, you want officers to move as quickly and as safely to their positions as possible.  From there they can play their part in dealing with the threat.  Utilizing maneuver is the best way to do this.   This can be done with only 2 officers, or larger teams as we discussed.  It’s time officers and their training cadre recognize that tactics need to change with the developing threat environment.  Not doing so only puts yourself, your colleagues, and possibly innocent civilians at risk. Proper training and preparing your mindset for the environment is the key to victory. If you’re not training to win, why train?
*For brevity’s sake, I have referred to vehicles in the tactical situation as cover instead of enhanced concealment. If one of the officers behind a vehicle were directly engaged, he/she would not want to stay there long and would want to quickly displace to a new piece of cover or enhanced concealment, hopefully under cover of supporting fire from one of his/her colleagues. I believe that the topic of utilizing vehicles in an urban environment is too important and has too many facets to be covered jointly here, and deserves its own article (A fantastic one can be found here.)
Blackjack Security Concepts LLC (BSC) is operated by combat veterans of OIF, OEF, and former agents of the office of Mobile Security Deployments (MSD) within the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. We specialize in Protective Security Detail Training, Tactical Firearms Training, and technical advising for films and TV.  To instruct for BSC you have to have served downrange with us, no fluffed resumes here. Because we aren’t idiots, we put a woman in charge (and as the responsible party on the legal paperwork). She manages us, tries to keep us out of trouble, and filters messages to us. She can be contacted via email at
**Any officer interested in training in effective maneuver, or a training program for their cadre to teach their officers, please reach out to us through our website  We will come to you, and provide the training ourselves or we can facilitate a “train the trainer” type situation with your management and cadre.**
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