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Movement to Contact

Active shooter response requires decisive action based on military tactics such as find, fix, and finish.

November 14, 2013  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Paintball is one way to get immediate training feedback. 
Photo: Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office
Paintball is one way to get immediate training feedback.  
Photo: Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office

I firmly believe that during an exigent circumstance like an active shooter situation you can't be hemmed in by policy, political correctness, or misguided citizen beliefs. You either take immediate action or someone dies—much like the military approach. Therefore, to improve your tactics for such situations you should understand and incorporate elements of proven military doctrine.

Many of the principles involved in offensive tactics of Movement to Contact (MTC) can be used by law enforcement. For the purposes of this article, MTC has one objective and that's to close in with and engage the active shooter.

When to Use MTC

For any active call you first have to decide whether you are dealing with a dynamic or static situation. With a static situation (i.e.: barricaded suspect) you use a more traditional approach. Law enforcement agencies typically use the 4Cs: Contain, Control, Communicate, and Call SWAT. However, when it's a dynamic situation (i.e.: an active shooter), the 4Cs take a back seat. The new paradigm becomes ACT: Assess, Communicate, and Take action. It's the very nature of an active shooter scenario that will leave us no choice but to use movement to contact.

Active shooter scenarios share the same type of beginning. There is more chaos than calm. There is a lack of confirmed intelligence and a host of conflicting reports. Initial responses are often unorganized and take time to get in place. And lastly, many decisions are made based on faulty information (through no fault of the officers). This is exactly the type of situation that calls for an MTC mission.

MTC is used when the tactical situation is vague or not specific enough to conduct a planned response. For us, the purpose of MTC is stop the threat, deny the suspect movement, deny an advantageous tactical position, or collect information to be used in critical next-step decision-making.

Because it's a dynamic and ever-changing situation, MTC becomes a decentralized process with command and control left up to the individual elements conducting the MTC. Since there may be several teams converging at the same location from different approaches, the team with the best chance of success (or that makes contact first) should go forward while the others take a support role.

MTC is clearly a military-style offensive action. It holds several offensive characteristics including surprise of action, concentration of forces, and a fast tempo. While the first objective is to close in with and engage the active shooter, as a secondary objective MTC is also a way to develop other favorable tactical actions in case the scenario goes static.

A military commander has five basic options upon contact: attack, defend, bypass, delay, or withdraw. However, MTC leaves law enforcement only one choice: engage. Our number one priority is stopping the threat by any means possible. There is no way to candy coat this, though many people try by playing word games. Instead, we need to teach the public that using proven tactics has nothing to do with being militaristic and everything to do with mitigating the problem.

Find, Fix, Finish

U.S. Army field manuals state that close-quarter combat is characterized by danger, physical exertion and suffering, uncertainty, and chance. This sounds like what a law enforcement officer faces during an active shooter situation. As with any warrior, a law enforcement officer must possess the courage, mental and physical toughness, mental stamina, and flexibility to handle the situation.

There are three objectives in a movement to contact operation that law enforcement shares with military doctrine: find, fix, and finish. First, you have to find the suspect in order to engage the suspect. You do that by getting as much information as you can, determining what you're up against, and getting as close as possible to where the active shooter is located. Time is of the essence and unlike traditional law enforcement operations time is not on your side.

Once you find the active shooter, you need to fix him in place. This means you need to limit his movement and therefore check his effectiveness against other potential victims. You may have to pin him down even if it means using coordinated fire. This type of tactic is not usually associated with police practice but it is a real-world technique. If you keep the shooter busy, he can't fire at you or anyone else. Fixing him in place will buy you time to fortify your response.

Once you fix the suspect's position, you need to finish the mission. You either need to continue to engage the active shooter until you stop the threat, continue to contain her if the situation turns static, or if she surrenders, take control and proceed with your arrest procedures. You have to be prepared for each possibility or anything in between.

Become Part of a Fire Team

When you are one of the first to arrive, you automatically become a member of a fire team. You need to outfit yourself with as much firepower as possible. Hopefully by now you have a well-stocked deployment bag and your agency allows the use of some type of long gun. If not, you have to deal with what you have on hand.

There is an ongoing debate in the law enforcement community about what the minimum size of a team should be for entry. Some argue that a one-person response is acceptable and oftentimes necessary. Others would say that you should wait for backup and deploy with no fewer than two. Experience teaches there is no right or wrong answer here. Each situation is different and you should decide how to make entry based on the totality of the situation.

If your backup is right behind you, then you would be ill advised to rush in by yourself. However, if there is going to be a five-minute spread between you and your backup, you may have to go in alone. I have always been of the mindset that the tactical situation dictates my tactics. With an active shooter killing people, law enforcement's job is to do whatever it takes; if that means going in alone, so be it.

Small Unit Tactics

The best thing you can do for yourself is to learn as much about small unit tactics as possible. You need to learn how to move as an individual and as part of a team. Concepts like cover, concealment, movement strategies, and using speed for security are part of this type of training. I recommend practicing MTC in two-, three-, and four-person teams. That way you will be prepared to work with any type of partnering situations that you can take advantage of.

Training is only limited by your imagination. One year my agency did active shooter training and piped in a loud soundtrack of sirens, alarms, and people screaming. The realistic environment taught us that verbal commands and using the radio were at times useless so we had to learn how to use hand signals as a backup. It's the little things that end up biting you and only through training can you identify what they are. Whatever training you seek out, remember you are not training for a slow and deliberate search but a fast and audacious MTC to end it.

Borrow from the Military

In addition to movement to contact there is a lot that law enforcement can adapt from the armed forces. Military manuals, for example, are a great source of information as long as you use a law enforcement perspective as a filter. Field manuals like "FM 3-21.75 (FM 21-75) The Warrior Ethos and Soldier Combat Skills" are a great place to start. You can obtain them for free online. Another great source of information is anything written by H. John Poole. His "Homeland Siege: Tactics for Police and Military" is a personal favorite.

There has always been a line drawn in the sand between military and police operations, and rightfully so. But as this world keeps changing and we face more and more homegrown threats of a violent nature, we need to up our game. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we should tap into the experience of the military and see what we can learn from them. If there is a way to apply that knowledge, we need to make it our own. Unlike what many would-be detractors think, it's not about militarizing law enforcement. It's about making us more effective in doing the very things the public demands from us.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.

Tags: Training, Active Shooters, Best Practices, Patrol Tactics, Military-related


Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

Pup @ 11/14/2013 2:32 PM

Murgado, great article and well written. I've been instructing A/S for years and it's nice to see someone else have the same training ideas as I've been teaching. As you said, the number of personnel depends on the circumstances. It's my opinion, even when an officer is alone, he needs to get the attention of the suspect to avoid innocent lives being taken. This is why it's important for all LE personnel to take tactical training serious. You just never know when it hits home. "Always expect the unexpected". Be safe and God Bless

Rick @ 11/15/2013 9:32 AM

It should be ACE; with E standing for Engage. Officers need to make sure of their target before engaging though. In the Las Vegas incident, a citizen carrying a concealed weapon was asked to leave the store, explained his position with management while security called police. LEO"s went in with an engage mindset because of the 'man with a gun' call. They shot the gun and killed him as he left the store with other patrons that were evacuated because of the 'man with a gun' attitude as security cleared the store out. Now he has a widow that is probably going to be very rich.

Rick @ 11/15/2013 9:35 AM

Likewise, LEO's need to be aware that citizens are developing a 'fight back' attitude with criminals and CCW holders may attempt to intervene to stop any active shooter. Don't mistake the legally armed citizen for another shooter and engage the wrong person.

Deke @ 11/19/2013 3:33 PM

While I'm a civilian, I strongly believe police should identify where a shooter is aiming. If someone is shooting at someone with a gun, both should be ordered to drop their weapons before being engaged.

Likewise, if someone is shooting at unarmed civilians, immediately end the threat

Mike @ 11/20/2013 1:47 PM

The idea of coordinated fire in a civilian setting is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. If an officer were to engage in this and accidently hit a bystander getting sued would be the least of his problems. Prosecution is much more likely and for only following what you are putting forth as an acceptable police practice.

lawdawg @ 2/15/2014 5:00 PM

Deke,
Stay on the civilian side, you would get one of the good guys killed.

Mike,
You might be misinterpreting what coordinated fire is. You still make sure that the background is safe, you are not just firing willy nilly into the area around the suspect, but actually trying to hit him/her with a higher rate of fire. In the process it keeps the suspect's head down so he/she can't inflict any more harm on the innocent people around them. How is there a problem with that? Or would you rather the suspect just kill more innocent people.

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