Most people honestly believe they are good drivers.
Of course, 49 percent are “below average.” Likewise, most cops who conduct raids believe they are good at it. They believe that making entry and securing subjects without an injury proves that they are good. In some cases, it’s proof that they’re lucky and nothing more. Most raids could be conducted with water pistols instead of firearms and still be successful. Most raids don’t involve a gunfight. That doesn’t mean bringing a Super Soaker and leaving your gun in the car is a good idea. Do not mistake luck for skill.
The biggest problem with most raids is the failure to prepare. Sometimes there are mitigating circumstances that prevent proper preparation, but that’s the exception, not the rule. What follows are seven steps every team should take regarding their next raid. To quote the great John Wooden, “The failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Step 1: Identify the type of raid to be conducted.
Is it a search warrant, an arrest warrant or a hostage rescue? Each type requires different kinds of equipment and preparation. Know the difference and plan accordingly. Know the background of the people you are likely to encounter. Do they have violent histories? Have they been in prison? Have they sworn to never go back?
Step 2: Conduct a site survey of the location.
Drive by and take photos from all possible angles. If you have an aerial unit at your disposal, get them to take overhead photos from several angles. If you don’t, Google, Bing and Yahoo may give you aerial views, but they won’t be as accurate as a photo taken yesterday. There are several questions the photos can help answer: Do children live there? Are there dogs present? Are the doors and windows reinforced? How can you access the backyard or back of the building? Are there fences or gates to overcome? Are there any schools nearby or easy access points to a major highway or wooded area to which a suspect can flee? Each special circumstance requires a solution.
Local fire departments often keep schematics of the buildings in their area. The building inspector’s office or the department of buildings may also be of use. If it is a house in a development, look for a similar house in the neighborhood that is for sale and take a tour. Many planned developments have cookie-cutter layouts. You can film a walkthrough, take pictures, or if it is a high-risk raid, you may be able to use the similar structure for practice. There is no substitute for knowing the layout and being able to plan your entry accordingly.
Step 3: Create a written operational plan.
No one likes paperwork, but a written ops plan can be used as a reference for everyone involved in the raid. It answers questions when the team leader cannot be reached. It reminds people of what their assignments are and what equipment they need to bring. It offers contingency plans, like ambulance contact info and the route to the nearest medical trauma center. It tells people which radio channel to use and where and when to meet for the final briefing before the operation. Everyone will have their own ideas as to what’s happening. A written ops plan takes away most of the misconceptions.
Step 4: Conduct a briefing with everyone involved.
Ideally, the briefing will be held on the day of the operation, though briefings are often held the day before because the raid is scheduled to happen in the early morning hours. If marked police units will be accompanying the raid team, or if a medical unit will be waiting nearby, they need to be present at the briefing. They need to see who will be participating and what each person’s role will be. The briefing is the place to stress safety. Everyone participating in the raid needs to wear body armor and markings that identify them as law enforcement. Officers have been shot by their fellow officers during operations simply because, unrecognized at the scene, they were mistaken for bad guys.
A briefing also gives everyone a chance to ask questions. If some of the participants are from different agencies or are unfamiliar with the area, they may not know a lot of things that you take for granted. If you typically use breaching rounds, flashbangs or explosives for entry, everyone needs to be told beforehand. Perimeter teams can mistake shots fired or explosions for a hostile attack. The more information passed to the team, the better the end result. If the same team performing the entry is also tasked with processing prisoners or conducting a document search of the location, then each member needs to know what their secondary assignment will be once the location has been secured. If a search warrant is being presented, then a search warrant kit needs to be brought in that includes all of the necessary evidence bags, boxes, tape, cameras, paperwork and a copy of the warrant.
Step 5: Practice.
Even if the entry team does nothing but raids, they still need to practice for the operation. If the team members are normally working the streets or are plain-clothes detectives, then practice is even more essential. If you are using a raid van, practice getting out while wearing your full kit and carrying your long arms. If the team will be arriving in several vehicles, each member needs to know where he is supposed to line up in the stack before approaching the building. Will the team approach the building in a phalanx or in a single file?
Make assignments for the team leader, the breacher and rear security. Does everyone know their assignments and what’s expected of them? If a team member has never breached before, they need to understand that they have to step out of the way after the door has been opened so that the team can get in. If a shield is being used, the carrier may find aiming easier if his weapon has a laser. Does everyone have a charged radio and are the comms working properly? All of these details can be worked out in practice. The more extensive the practice, the smoother the operation will go. However, even spending five minutes practicing getting out of vehicles and lining up will make the raid start more smoothly than it would “winging it.”
Step 6: Conduct the raid.
How to clear a house or building is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is important that the members stick to the designated plan as much as possible. I have unfortunately seen entries where one or two people forget the plan, sprint to the back room and bypass all kinds of threat areas, and the raid quickly falls apart.
Step 7: Hotwash the operation.
Step seven is the most frequently forgotten step. Professionals will take the time to get together and discuss everything that went right, everything that went wrong and what they can do to improve for their next raid. Maybe they needed bolt cutters, or maybe someone needs to practice their handcuffing. If there is a team member who cannot keep their emotions in check and stick to the stack, it may be time to relegate them to perimeter security. This is not the time to be politically correct, and everyone needs a thick skin. The purpose of a hotwash is to improve the team. Accept criticism, learn from your mistakes and move on.
Planning for a raid gives the team every possible advantage. Not planning for it guarantees that there will be unnecessary mistakes, and these can range from the annoying to the tragic. Many times, it just takes one team member insisting on planning to make it clear to everyone else the benefits and getting them to follow suit. The life you save may be your own.