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Cover Story

Urban Counter-Ambush Tactics

Avoid the kill zone when responding to calls for service with these simple approach techniques.

April 14, 2012  |  by Andre Belotto

Photo: Mark W. Clark
Photo: Mark W. Clark

Of the 56 officers reported feloniously killed in 22 states and Puerto Rico during 2010, 14 were ambushed, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program database's latest statistics. The counter-ambush tactics discussed in this article will provide you with simple ways to respond to calls for service so that an ambush is less likely to occur.

This article focuses on the urban patrol environment. The tactics discussed are not super-secret SWAT or ERT procedures, nor sensitive military operations plans. It's simple: If your tactics prevent a suspect from ambushing you, you have used a successful counter-ambush tactic.

Nothing discussed here is a re-invention of the wheel per se, but a refocusing on, and highlighting of, things officers need to do every day. Over the years I have discovered two important truths about the patrol assignment: 1) Exhibiting complacency will eventually injure or kill a police officer; and 2) Every call, every stop involves at least one firearm: yours.

The Kill Zone

It's amazing how many officers responding to a radio call in an urban environment drive right up to the call location, or park their police vehicles just a house or a building away. These officers are gambling with their lives that this is just another "routine" call. Why? Is it because they have several calls holding and just want to get them handled as quickly as possible? That's not a valid reason. Each call has to be handled safely, and safety takes time; it cannot be rushed. Let dispatch worry about the calls holding. You can only worry about the call you're on.

In an urban environment, residence and business locations have one thing in common: a kill zone. The kill zone is the angle of view available to a suspect, based on his position inside the residence or business, to shoot at an approaching officer. If a suspect is standing or is seated right up against the front window of the location, he has a wider kill zone than if he were located further inside the room. Unless you drive or walk into the kill zone, you won't know your predicament until you're being shot at. Depending on the suspect's shooting skill, it could be too late.

Every call (unless handled over the phone) will require you to enter the kill zone. The following tactics will help you stay out of it long enough to get advance warning of the suspect's intentions, therefore allowing you a chance to respond. The only limit to these tactics is your own imagination.

Note: If you have a partner, let's assign him or her as the cover officer throughout this article. You are the contact officer and you will be on the side of the street where the call is located.

Depending on the nature of the call, request additional units to act as cover while you and your partner contact the caller. This may take some time due to the availability and distance of additional units, but if it's not a life-or-death type of call, wait. If it’s a situation where a delay will result in great bodily injury or death, you must act immediately. Otherwise, wait for additional units.

Approaching Homes and Businesses

If you can see the front window or front door of the residence or business, the suspect can see you. Park your vehicle at a location far enough down the street that you can't see the front door of the call location. Then walk toward the location. Have your partner walk on the opposite sidewalk. You should be walking on the street right next to the parked vehicles. This way both you and your partner will have parked vehicles as cover as you approach the location.

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

dennis tate @ 4/17/2012 7:31 AM

Excellent points, and timely. Another minor tactic to consider in our urban area is intentional sight review of potential rear-property or perimeter area dogs tied, loose, or fenced. Worn down runs, exercising areas, or tie points can indicate possible aggressive dogs which may also be inside the property and used to attack/delay officers' entry and arrest of suspects. A pretty common tactic, but one worth noting and checking routinely as well.

Stan @ 4/17/2012 8:29 PM

I hope if you are responding to a potentially hazardous call that you are taking these precautions. Its the "routine" calls that you don't expect anything out of the norm that get you in trouble. Not all of us have the luxury of immediate back up. So taking a tactful approach on all your duty calls will help limit the potential for bad things to happen.

Random @ 5/8/2012 7:37 AM

I once reported unusual activity of many squirrels at a local park. The dispatcher laughed. They were screeching and jumping up and down in a perfect circle by a trashcan. Figured it was probably a rattler they were afraid of. I started getting in closer. It was strange and a little funny. I reached the can and saw nothing but squirrels. It stopped being funny to me when the first squirrel came out of hiding and leaped at my face. I have never lived this one down.

Anything can happen.

Anon @ 10/2/2012 12:17 PM

Let's face it, we knock on a lot of doors. I always stand to one side of the door, turned sideways, to lessen the chance of taking any rounds the person on the other side may wish to great me with. I've also always covered the peephole on the door if there is one, and if I was able without putting me at a tactical disadvantage. I figure it levels the field a little more since I already cannot see who is answering, at least they cannot see me knocking.

Don Wilson @ 6/24/2018 7:25 PM

Not every officer has the advantage of approaching a structure on a car lined with vehicles. Where there is no clear tactical approach, LEO's need to keep that vehicle handy for shelter, and approach the home/building keeping close to the structures on either side. This way any shooter inside the structure will be forced to make an attack at an extreme angle and possibly expose themselves.

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