I understand that this article in this magazine is like preaching to the choir, but I want to give some simple, concrete arguments for minimizing the use of the no knock amendment in and the use of dynamic room clearing when serving narcotics search warrants. In teaching High Risk Warrant planning and service, I sometimes have conversations with new SWAT operators who say they will have a difficult time getting their senior member to understand the values of the concepts the NTOA teaches concerning HRW service. You know, the ideas of slowing down, warrant service options that account for the suspect or location threat level, etc. I have learned over the years there can be ways of discussion that encourage openness, and learning…and other ways of discussion.
When helping to understand the benefits of knock an Announce over No knock search warrants, I focus on three main concepts:
1) The Safety Priorities,
2) The suspect always has Tactical Advantage
3) The OODA Loop.
My discussion centers on the reality that No Knock warrants, and using dynamic movement in an attempt to either beat a suspect to a weapon or prevent the destruction of evidence violates these three major concepts, or principles. Once you violate principles you increase the risk of failure and injury to all involved. What am I talking about?
Almost all of law enforcement uses the Safety Priorities, or Priorities of Life, in the decision making process. We account for Victims/hostages first, bystanders second, LEOs third, and the suspect(s) fourth. We make our decisions based on keeping those groups safe in that order. If we get those groups out of order, bad things start to happen. In a hostage situation, if we do not neutralize the suspect when the opportunity presents itself, we risk the suspect harming a hostage at a later time.
In a HRW, we do not have either of the first two groups present, so the group with highest priority is the LEOs. Warrant planning and service should be made with the goal of a successful warrant service, while working to ensure the safety of the two remaining groups, LEOs and suspects. A successful warrant is when we have secured the location for the safe collection of evidence by detectives and/or crime scene technicians, without injury, if possible. Our goal is not to get into a foot race or a shootout. I have heard of at least one tactical team, in days past, that believed a member wasn’t a full-fledged member until they had been shot during a warrant service. Maybe they were joking but they had plenty of operators who had been shot.
When our plan is to beat the suspect to a weapon, or plan a physical confrontation to prevent destruction of evidence we have just placed officers at the bottom of the priority list. We have said officer safety is second to confronting the suspect or “rescuing dope”. Think of it this way.
You are entering a location you probably have never seen. You have no idea of the layout. You have no idea of obstacles and any other thing that may provide stimulus you must process. Add to that you have no idea where the suspect keeps a weapon. You are now running a race and you don’t know the course lay out nor the location of the finish line. You must assume the suspect already has a weapon in their possession. Which brings up my second point.
When you enter a person’s house, they know the layout. They know the angles to see through the house the farthest. They know the position of tactical advantage. We teach the suspect is always in the position of tactical advantage, meaning in a level scenario, they will have the drop on a team making entry. If you look at some real world SWAT events where suspects have engaged teams, injuring or killing officers, the suspects have been in the best position to assault the team prior to the team knowing they were being assaulted. I always ask students in classes, when will they know they are in a gunfight? This answer is easy; when I am getting shot at.
There have been incidents where the suspect was worried about being ripped off by other criminals, so they created obstacles in their doorway to inhibit and control movement, then positioned themselves in a prone firing position…and slept there. When the team made a No Knock entry, they were immediately met with automatic weapon fire, severely injuring a team member, and slightly wounding a second.
Or, a narcotics team made a no knock dynamic entry, became distracted by one suspect and a dog, and was then engaged by a second suspect standing off their side. The suspects were eventually engaged, and killed, but not before 4 officers had been shot, some multiple times.
Neither of these events was a hostages rescue. The first warrant was for narcotics and illegal weapons, the second was for various narcotics. In both cases, the teams put the safety of the officers below the effort to surprise and overwhelm the suspects. In both cases, they did neither. There are many other similar examples.
If we want to surprise and overwhelm the suspects we utilize various tactical options and equipment. If the suspect keeps many weapons in their house, we can contact the suspect outside their residence. The chance of being heavily armed or having access to weapons is greatly reduced, and the feeling of security one has when in their home is removed.
If we are concerned about evidence destruction, ie flushing dope, we can consume the structure from the outside. We will utilize a window port team to stand by a window at a point of destruction (bathroom, etc) and if necessary, use less lethal means to prohibit a suspect from destroying evidence. Wherever we decide to make entry, we will utilize a distraction to some other area of the location. We may use a distraction device on the back side of the house, break a window somewhere else, and enter the front side of the house. Or vice versa. The key is we utilize tactics and tools that will impact the suspect’s OODA Loop.
Most in policing are now familiar with the OODA Loop. This is the concept developed and coined by Air Force Pilot John Boyd that describes the process everyone goes through to do anything; Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. If you need more explanation, please read about it.
In special weapons and tactics, everything we do, every tool we use, is done so to increase the suspect’s OODA loop, thereby increasing their processing and move to action time. This starts to give us back the tactical advantage the suspect possessed in the beginning. We use distractions to affect their processing and with time-tested success, create an overwhelming feeling that leads to a psychological shutdown by the suspect, resulting in surrender. This surrender is based on their ability to process they are at a disadvantage and have no opportunity to win an engagement with the police.
Some may say all the events where suspects have had shootouts with teams entering their homes were 100% guaranteed to happen because the suspect was determined to shoot it out with police. I will agree in a small percentage of the situations that is true. I would argue that in most cases of No knock and dynamic entry, the suspect is merely reacting to a scenario they have planned in their head for dealing with other criminals who might seek to rip them off, more than a team of police officers entering their home.
I believe, based on real events, criminals are not enthusiastic to engage a well-prepared and well-equipped SWAT team or police warrant unit, in a gun battle. The odds of 1 or 2 against 10+ do not favor the suspects. Based on events, it is more likely suspects react with gunfire when they either think they have opportunity of shooting and escaping, or when they have been surprised and are reacting within their preplanned OODA loop. This is where our tactical options and movement can increase safety and success.
When we utilize all of our tools, tactics, and training, we increase the ability of the suspect to process information correctly. We also help ourselves. If we use our ability to show our presence, our legitimate authority to be at that location for our intended purpose, we increase the suspect’s ability to realize we are the police and this is a situation in which they should surrender.
When we use distractions, either Distraction Devices (flash Bangs) or window porting away from the entry point, we increase the potential for the suspect to become overwhelmed, shut down, and capitulate. By using a slow movement through the location, we increase our ability to process the person standing in a doorway is holding a coffee mug, not a gun.
I understand warrant service is a situation where variables rule the event. However, having been on several hundred warrants, very few of which were No Knock warrants, I can also say with a fair degree of knowledge that when we as police observe the Safety Priorities and put officers safety ahead of evidence retention we reduce injuries to all parties involved.
I know that when we assume the suspect has a plan and is not surprised by our appearance and we do things the suspect does not expect (distractions and confusion in several places combined with a loud verbal and slow physical presence) we take the suspect off their game plan. And typically suspects have no plan B.
Last, when we do these things we give the suspect time to process the information we are giving them; that their only chance for personal safety in this situation is to comply with the commands of the officers and surrender to them. They have more time to realize the odds are not ever in their favor.
The goal is never to fight. The goal is to win!