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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

If this is a residential neighborhood with unfenced front yards, start walking closer to the houses as you begin to see the front of the call location. In neighborhoods with fenced yards where shrubbery or trees provide concealment, you may not be able to walk closer to the houses. Nonetheless, you and your partner should stay abreast of each other on each side of the street. Your partner will get a visual on the location before you will and should signal you if it's safe to approach the location in order to contact the caller.

Don't walk up to the front door. Walk up to the side of the residence and try to peek into the side or front window. Listen for conversation. Conversations will tell you if there are any other persons at the location and may tell you if there are weapons involved. If it appears that no one is home, have dispatch call the location (or use your own cellular phone to do so) and have the resident come outside to meet you. You will be able to see the resident walk toward the front door and will be able to see if he or she is holding a weapon.

Never walk inside a high-risk business such as a liquor store, bank, convenience market, or check cashing location without peeking through the window while keeping out of sight. You may interrupt armed suspects in the middle of a robbery. This is even more important if you are stopping by as a customer. Most officers will stop at these locations during a shift to get cash from an ATM, buy lunch, or to get something to drink. Unfortunately, most officers also adopt the "customer" mindset and drive into the parking lot right up to the front of the location.

Approaching Multi-Unit Buildings

Multi-unit residential locations, such as apartment buildings or public housing projects, present very specific tactical problems due to their physical configurations. Officers responding to calls at these locations should always have at least one additional officer present before entering the location and should be thoroughly familiar with the makeup of its occupants (i.e. whether some of the residents are gang members, parolees, or ex-cons).

If the location involves a multi-story building of five stories or fewer, walk up the stairs; do not use the elevators. Elevators have a tendency to break down when you least expect it, or may make several stops on the way. Each stop may place you face to face with a resident who may think you are there for him or her and may react accordingly (fight or flight).

If the building is more than five stories tall, you may choose to use the elevators but stop at least three floors below your target floor and walk up the rest of the way. As you approach the target floor, listen for unusual sounds that may alert you to a possible threat, and once again at the target apartment, listen for conversation before knocking on the door.

Note: Police officers have a tendency to "bang" on doors with flashlights or batons, instead of knocking or ringing door bells. This is a warning to the occupants about who is outside the door, and is therefore a bad idea. Never, never stand in front of a door.

While driving toward a call located in a multi-story building, formulate an approach plan based on the building's location and surrounding area. If located in a downtown area amongst several other multi-story buildings, you may drive closer to the location and still stay out of sight. If the call is in the front part of the building, drive up in the alley to the rear. If the call is in the rear of the building, drive up in front. If there is an outside fire escape, use it to listen or see into the target location before making your presence known.

If the building is isolated, and in order to approach it you have to cross a large open space without cover, you will not be able to conceal your presence. In this situation, quickly drive up as close to the building as possible and immediately get out of the police vehicle and get inside. This will shorten your exposure to an attack by either firearms or thrown missiles or objects from the top of the building. An Air Unit, if available, can assess the rooftop for you.

Terrorist Attacks

Since the terrorist attack that targeted our nation on Sep. 11, 2001, we have become aware of the possibility that several terrorist cells may still be active in the United States, and possibly even within our own communities. Recent terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and Asia point to the "ambush" as one of the terrorist's oft used tactics against government officials and police officers, as well as innocent civilians. Terrorists intent on injuring or killing police officers in the U.S. need only watch television shows such as COPS, Court TV, and other "realistic" police shows to learn about our tactics and develop a way to counter them.

It is, therefore, extremely important for officers working the streets of our cities and the roads and highways of our nation to remain alert, remain unpredictable, and do the unexpected on every call and on every stop. I hope this article has helped you toward this goal.

André Belotto is a 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, and has held the rank of sergeant since 1997. He currently supervises patrol officers in the field and acts as the Terrorism Liaison Officer for his station. He also recently supervised the training of his agency's personnel on Multi Assault Counter Terrorist Action Capabilities (MACTAC).

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Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

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.

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