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Bob Parker

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) PD for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He is responsible for training thousands of law enforcement instructors in NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.



Jose Medina

Jose Medina

Officer Jose Medina is an active member of the Piscataway (N.J.) Police Department's SWAT team and runs Awareness Protective Consultants (Team APC) tactical training.
SWAT

What Does Mumbai Mean for Us? (Part 1 of 2)

Part One: The Attack and the Battle

December 09, 2008  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

An unobtrusive vehicle pulls to a stop not far from the city's center. Inside are 10 heavily armed and equipped men—calm, cool, waiting. The 10 make their final weapon and equipment checks as their leader issues his final briefing orders. The 10 terrorists are about to embark on the deadly mission they've been training for and rehearsing for months. Their mission is Anytown, USA. Your town.

Picture your own city on a typical Wednesday night around 8 to 9 p.m. You're on duty, on patrol, and you're also a member of your city's SWAT team, which is most likely part-time. You're probably carrying your SWAT weaponry and gear with you, since you're on call 24/7. So far, your shift has been normal, nothing unusual happening…yet.

Then you get this message from dispatch:

"All cars in the vicinity of First and Main. Multiple shots fired. Suspects armed with automatic weapons. Victims down. All cars responding use caution."

Adrenaline pumping sky high, light and siren flipped on, you race toward the shooting scene, only to hear the following. "All cars responding, we're now getting multiple reports of shots fired, men with automatic weapons. Second and Main, the bus terminal, police station, and restaurants."

Now, virtually every car on duty is responding to the still unknown, unconfirmed multiple calls. Suddenly you hear these chilling words: "Shots fired. Officers down. Repeat, officers down."

All hell now seems to be breaking loose, and it is.

This is the exact situation that the Mumbai police found themselves facing the night of Nov. 26. That's when 10 heavily armed terrorists systematically carried out deadly missions at 10 to 12 target locations in India's financial capital.

That's when a responding police van (containing anti-terror police) was ambushed and commandeered by terrorists after they killed three police and seriously wounded two others. The battle for Mumbai was now fully underway, the city was embroiled in complete chaos, and the worst was yet to come.

During the next 60 hours, 166 people would be killed. At least 304 would be wounded. Included among the dead were 16 perhaps 17 police and as many as four commandos. Initially, only Mumbai municipal police were tasked with repelling the yet unknown number of terrorist attackers, who were now moving from target to target, killing all persons they encountered along the way.

Eventually—by some estimates 10 hours later—Indian military and paramilitary commandos arrived on scene, and engaged in raging gun battles with the determined terrorists who were armed with automatic weapons, grenades, and explosives. The fighting that raged for 60 straight hours very quickly bogged down into room-to-room urban combat between commandos and terrorists, with scores of innocent persons caught in the middle.

Picture your town as the target city for this atrocity. The initial reaction by most of you is likely to be denial. "It can't happen here."

My answer to that is why not?

The Mumbai terror attack was a basic raid. It was a version of the same highly effective tactics employed by most SWAT teams, especially for multiple, simultaneous raids and searches. It was a testament to the devastating and deadly effects of stealth, surprise, shock, and speed.

• Stealth: Training, rehearsing, preparing, briefing, moving into launching position.

• Surprise: Springing the attacks without warning on unsuspecting targets, including responding police.

• Shock: Terrorists employing automatic weapons, grenades and explosives, along with the effect these tactics have upon their targets, population and police.

• Speed: Initially rapid assault, followed by slow, methodical, urban combat to slow down police and military response.

Picture these same tactics employed in your city, and tell me how prepared your agency would be to handle something of this magnitude. Consider Columbine. That incident involved two active shooters armed with homemade explosives (that thankfully failed to detonate) and semi-automatic weapons. Yet, it tied up dozens of police and SWAT personnel and ended up changing America's entire tactical response protocol for active shooters.

Consider Virginia Tech. What if there had been two active shooters instead of one? What if there were three, four, or five?

In the aftermath of Columbine, time was recognized as the key to successfully countering active shooters. As many deaths as there were at Virginian Tech, had it been pre-Columbine, the death toll would have been even more horrific than it already was. All we have to ask is what if there were five or 10 hardcore terrorists instead? Does anyone think they'd still advocate immediate single-officer engagement? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Take any active shooter incident, before or after Columbine, and time is at the very top of the police response list. Talk is out. There is no negotiating with active shooters or terrorists who are there to kill as many persons as they can before being stopped physically themselves.

What the Mumbai massacre has done for the counter terrorist world is open everyone's eyes and show them that the old-fashioned, rudimentary, straight-forward direct attack approach is a terrorist tactic that still works and works to deadly perfection.

The question for us in SWAT is if a Mumbai terror-type attack were to occur in our jurisdiction, would we be ready?

Next week, I'll discuss what being ready entails, and what we can do to prepare—without extra funding—right now.

Related:

Mumbai: What Law Enforcement Learned

Mumbai: You Would Have Shot Back

What Does Mumbai Mean for Us? (Part 2 of 2)

Tags: 2008 Mumbai Attacks, Counter-Terrorism Initiatives, SWAT Tactics, Active Shooters


Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

csipple @ 12/11/2008 10:46 AM

Great article. I believe having these type of discussions with your entire department, shift by shift, would open everyone's eyes (not just SWAT's) to the ever changing tactics of terrorists. It would also allow them to envision the dispatch call as you read the article to them (even if it were only for a few minutes/seconds). To be able to put the scenario in every officer's head for a moment would get them thinking.

CAPONER @ 12/11/2008 11:28 AM

Modern policing must be all about speed - speed of intelligence (we have to get citizens to call 911 when they see anything suspicious - then, we need the 911 operator to properly handle the call) speed of dispatch - this means supervisors have to be constantly monitoring calls to determine if enough info is given, enough resources are sent, etc) and then speed of response - everyone has to know the schools, malls, etc. and be trained to respond properly. Sounds simple, but how many of us know of 911 failing to dispatch fast or properly? How may sgts quiz their subordinates on area maps and school layouts? How many agencies train in rapid engagement tactics for the patrol officer? We have a lot of work to do!

PJEVANS @ 12/11/2008 2:48 PM

Excellent article. It is important to remember that when this type of incident happens it will be a patrol response, not a swat call, so a 'pre-incident inoculation' at squat meeting is in order. Probably something in line with a Mumbai Incident debrief, followed up with a few days of 'what would we do if it happened here' back and forth around the squad room to get everyone thinking. How many extra mags do you have available?

PJEVANS @ 12/11/2008 2:56 PM

As I was saying, how many extra mags do you have available? Ever practice leap-frogging? Fire and movement....anyone got a rifle? extra mags for it? know how to operate a tango rifle? How many shotgun rounds do you have with you? can you carry more? First aid kit? Trauma bandage? Are we going in or waiting for swat while we hear people dying inside? Is responding swat going to fill in with patrol or wait idly by for team members to show up? Explosives involved? Are we making a hole in the building or going in the front door? Hard questions that need hard thought before we hear screaming and rounds going off.

richhughes1 @ 12/13/2008 7:30 AM

Unfortunately, probably those of us that read these articles feel like you are "preaching to the choir". We try to raise the alarm about our lack of preparedness and the consequences of being ill-prepared to handle an incident like this, but senior leadership doesn't feel the need to take action because they don't think tactically or they think it is too unrealistic. How do you grab a Captain or Chief by the throat and tell him that we DO need to prepare for these things, as far-fetched as they may think they are? How do you tell politicians that we need funding and equipment for these far-fetched things?

CarlosDJackal @ 12/17/2008 1:14 PM

In my agency I am currently the only one who has had any type Tactical (Firearms) Training which provided me with the tactical and skills training that I would need in case of this type of a situation. As far as I know, I am also the only one who drives around with a plate carrier that contains Level IV multi-hit composite plates as well as a medical blow-out kit, a ballistic helmet, and an AR-15 with 6 fully-loaded magazines.

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