Breaching as part of an entry, in law enforcement and the military, is a crucial skill. Some things must be done successfully the first time, and breaching is one of them. Operators cannot accomplish what they came to do until they are inside. However, there are very few legitimate breaching schools available, and in many organizations, little time is spent on breaching training. My personal experience in breaching until recently had been learn-as-you-go training. It boiled down to, “Here are your tools, now go and make a hole any way possible.”
One key factor that I’ve recently come to understand is that breaching and everything involved in gaining access to a structure is the most important part of making entry. It doesn’t matter what kind of structure or what setting, if the breacher can’t make a portal for the team than there is no entry. In breaching, time is of the essence. Each second wasted puts the entry team and breacher deeper into harm’s way. With a prolonged breach, the element of surprise is eliminated and the bad guys carry the advantage and can turn the surprise back onto the entry team.
Real-World Tool Tests
In the last few months, my precinct’s narcotics unit has been fortunate to test Blackhawk’s lineup of dynamic-entry tools on several search warrants, in hopes of better effecting the breach. There is no greater evaluation of tactical products than putting them to the test on the street in real situations.
THE ENTRY RAM: The first piece of equipment that we were able to put to good use was the new Special Operations Entry Ram. This state-of-the-art hammer was totally different than what I was used to using, which was the conventional, big and heavy steel ram. This new ram weighs in at 30 pounds and is just 25 inches long. Made from a non-conductive material (good in case suspects have electrified a point of entry), the handles on this ram are made of a flexible material, which has proven to be an extremely important advantage.
With the steel ram that we were used to, the handles were constructed of steel, offering officers no give, whereas the flex handle of the Blackhawk ram allows the tool to absorb the impact. The light weight of this ram makes for easier transport and carry. Getting in and out of a police vehicle with the smaller ram helps officers be more energy efficient. With instruction on technique from Team One, the lighter ram also allows officers to make more efficient and controllable swings. Over these last few months, I have used this ram on wood doors locked with dead bolts, and steel project doors—and only once experienced trouble on a breach (on a steel project door).
TAC PACK AND PRY: Other tools that my precinct evaluated included Blackhawk’s Tactical Backpack Kit and their new small pry. A Tactical Backpack Kit is something that every department should invest in and keep readily available for active-shooter situations. The Backpack Kit contains the heavy-duty Bolt Master, a bolt cutter; Special Operations Hallagan Tool, and the Thunder Maul. During an active-shooter situation, the bad guy will, more than likely, have a well-thought-out plan to inflict severe casualties. Part of that plan probably includes barricaded doors to keep innocent hostages in and to stall LE from getting inside. The Tactical Backpack Kit comfortably carries the tools that would aid in gaining entrance during such an event. For example, if the suspect has chained the doors shut, an officer equipped with the backpack could cut a hole in the door with the Thunder Maul in order to gain access before cutting the chain with the Bolt Master bolt cutter.
THUNDER MAUL: Even though I have described how these tools can be utilized for active-shooter situations, I have also used the tools in the Tactical Backpack (including the new small Pry) to effect several search warrants. The Thunder Maul has been used several times to easily demolish toilets, a place where a narcotics suspect will first move in attempting to flush evidence. Fortunately, the contraband sometimes gets stuck in the toilet. The Backpack Kit is easily adjustable so that it stays tight and fixed firmly, and has never gotten in the way. The Thunder Maul is so well balanced it makes for an easy swing that annihilates, while keeping hands and other body parts safe from flying debris. I’ve found through experience and (loss of blood) that using the Thunder Maul to break something like a toilet is much safer than using a ram.
The Small Pry has come into particular use, when checking such areas as vents in a house. One thing that criminals like to do is to hide contraband in areas where they think LE officers won’t look. My narcotics unit has used the Small Pry several times to easily gain access to vents where they found illegal substances.
After using these tools for several months and thinking that I was using the tools to their greatest potential, I participated in a breaching class put on by Team One.
Attending a formal breaching school taught by Ty Weaver of Team One Network, I quickly found that I had a lot to learn. Hosted by the Richmond, VA Police Department, the training event was coordinated through our training officer, Sgt. Ray Fitts, and drew interest from a number of LE agencies including Richmond’s S.W.A.T. team, members of Arlington S.W.A.T., Hanover S.W.A.T., Richmond’s 1st Precinct Focus Mission Team, and members of the Richmond Capitol Police.
The course is typically a three-day block of instruction and starts in a classroom. During this block of instruction, officers learn how important breaching is, the tactical elements involved with dynamic entry, and nomenclature. One key factor stressed early on is that even the smallest amount of time matters when making an entry. So much can happen in just half a second. That’s why it’s so important to prepare and plan for any breach. An accurate and detailed site survey can save a lot of miscalculations and missteps during the operation. So can accurate intel.
Giving the breacher the best point for entry and choosing the right tools are paramount. Proper planning can prevent mistakes—like trying to do a breach with a two-man ram on an entry where there is only room for a single person at the breach point.
Break and Smash
“I’m not teaching the one and only way,” instructs Weaver, “just simply a way to breach.”
Living up to his belief in the importance of hands-on training, Weaver didn’t keep officers in the classroom very long before moving the operation to an abandoned apartment training area inside the city’s urban projects.
The first part of hands-on training was reviewing the wide variety of tools that were brought for demonstration and use throughout the scenarios. Although Blackhawk sponsors this course, the tools spanned the entire industry, since each agency utilizes what tools they have and must be effective with what their agency provides. The tools ranged from medieval-looking contraptions of destruction, to high-tech power tools. What everyone really respected was that the class didn’t evolve into a sales pitch. After using all brands and types of tools to overcome the same obstacles, each tactical team was left to form their own opinions.
After the use of tools had been covered, Weaver and his staff revisited the basics of breaching, focusing on using a ram to breach an exterior door. Before attending this class, I didn’t have much technique in swinging a ram, and quickly learned why I wasn’t always so accurate. One of the first things that you’re taught is getting set up on the door itself. Place your lead foot firmly against the door to take out any play in the door’s movement. By doing this, a door doesn’t shake and dissipate the shock from the ram’s impact. The greatest amount of force must be imparted on the door during the entry for a confident breach.
Once my feet were set in the correct position, Team One illustrated how important it to set the ram with the business end flat against the door, keeping the arms tucked in tight against the side of the body, and swinging by rotating the at the trunk to utilize core muscles. This technique utilizes the strongest muscle group in the body. As a side benefit, this technique allows for greater accuracy and a flat, solid hit on the door’s impact area. If the ram does not hit solid and flat, energy is directed away from the targeted area, resulting in wasted time and energy. This technique permits the tool to do the work it was designed to do.
Teamwork At Work
Once mastering the basic technique of swinging a one-person ram, officers practiced and honed their skills against steel practice doors, under strict supervision by former experienced LE and Special Operations instructors.
We got a chance to use several other tools, such as using the two-man ram, and setting a Hallagan tool to pry open an outward-opening door. Both exercises used teamwork to be successful. The two-man ram took coordination, timing, and balance to make a solid hit. Setting the tool and prying took one person to set the Hallagan with a sledge (or ram) and another person to hold the Hallaghan in place and pry. This required coordination on the setter’s part and trust on the holder’s. No matter what tool was being used, accuracy is key and keeps one from wasting energy.
After getting to smash the practice doors, the instructors demonstrated how to do a shotgun breach and use power tools to pry, bend, and cut. Not only did they discuss methods to quickly bypass speed bumps in an entry, but they have every officer (regardless of one’s current assignment in a stack) use these tools for familiarization. I was really impressed that a cordless drill could power most of the power tools.
Once everything was covered, it was time to put our skills to the test—it was scenario time. We were broken up into teams of six and assigned a different scenario for a breach within the apartment structure. These scenarios bring everything taught in a breaching course together. Every breaching assignment is scouted by two designated breachers who then discussed the situation with the team and decided which tools best fit the job. Each scenario varies, from interior breaches to exterior breaches, and each time a team attempts a new scenario, the roles shift so that every officer gets a chance to experience different duties within an entry team.
After hours of scenario training, the tired class was given one last assignment: Break through a cinderblock wall. Like a juggernaut, officers worked as a team, rotating and using a small ram to create a hole large enough for an entry team to access a panic room. With the Blackhawk ram and the majority of the class swinging away, we were successful.
My performance in breaching has come a long way in just a short span of time. Experience with Blackhawk’s Dynamic Entry has taught methods to make overcoming obstacles less of an issue. Team One’s efforts in demonstrating a wide range of solutions has directly contributed to our team’s efficiency in the field. An arsenal of well-designed tactical tools can’t be an afterthought. In this age of high-risk warrant and raids, every officer in a stack has to be capable of quickly making entry, and a specialized breacher course should be given priority in every department’s training schedule.