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Departments : The Winning Edge

Vehicle Counter-ambush Tactics for Patrol

Don't let yourself become a victim of an attack in or near your car.

May 23, 2012  |  by Andre Belotto

If you need to leave some indication of your location at night to responding officers, leave only your vehicle’s parking lights on. Nothing works to blind your fellow responding officers more than the flashing emergency lights of your police vehicle (whether all of them or just the ambers) as they turn the corner behind your unit. It will take them several minutes to recover their night vision after they walk past your vehicle. Avoid all of these problems by just turning the bright lights off.

Vehicle Placement

Patrol driving should be conducted with an eye on the possibility that an ambush can happen at any given traffic light. Keep the following tactics in mind and also share them with your family members.

Never stop your vehicle door-to-door with the vehicle next to you. A good vehicle position is with your windshield parallel to the other vehicle's rear bumper. This position will allow you or your partner to open your vehicle's doors without interference in case a quick exit is necessary.

While stopped at traffic lights, keep enough distance between you and the vehicle in front of you to allow you to go around it in case you are fired upon. A good position will allow you to see the vehicle’s rear tires at the point where they contact the pavement.

Try to avoid using the drive-thru option at fast food restaurants. This is a perfect location for an ambush of police officers, and in many driveways there isn't enough space for you to open your vehicle's doors. Fast food restaurant driveways are a preferred location for carjackings, armed robberies, and also a favorite place for panhandlers to operate.

Cover Fire

First let us make sure we define the term "cover fire" for law enforcement purposes, as it differs from the military term. My agency defines cover fire as "controlled and deliberate fire directed at a life-endangering threat, where an officer believes the threat to be located. Cover fire should be used when exposed to a life-endangering threat to protect others and stop the threat. Cover fire should only be deployed when other options are not feasible."

If you are being fired upon by a sniper and find yourself without adequate cover, you can and should fire at the location you reasonably believe the sniper fire is coming from, which will allow partner officers to quickly move to cover. Fire two or three rounds directly at the source of the sniper fire in order to keep the suspect's head down, and then move to another location and seek cover. Remember, the move to cover should last between 3 and 5 seconds as it takes that long for a shooter to see and acquire a moving target. It is a bad idea to move quickly to another location with a weapon that is out of battery for one never knows if there are additional suspects in the area.

Communication between officers in such a situation is key. If you have a partner on scene, one of you should provide cover fire while the other moves to cover. Once behind cover, the first officer can provide cover fire while the second officer moves to cover. You should both be using different cover locations in order to make the sniper shift his or her weapon position to engage each officer. It will also allow at least one of you to see the source of the threat and to engage it.

This tactic should keep the sniper busy trying to avoid gunfire and will allow additional officers to position themselves in order to engage him or her. Although you and your partner should use separate cover, you should be in direct line of sight with each other to maintain communication. The most important thing for you to remember if you are attacked by a sniper is to react, move, and fight back.

Each agency has policies on the use of deadly force, and officers should abide by those policies and what is legally permissible within their respective jurisdictions.

Extra Ammo

My agency has recently trained all of its personnel in Multi-Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capabilities (MACTAC). These tactics were developed as a result of the Mumbai terrorist attack against that city's security forces and infrastructure. One of the things we discovered during this training was that engaging heavily armed active shooters using cover fire and movement will require lots and lots of ammunition.

The average police officer in America carries the ammunition held by his or her pistol and spare magazines in belt pouches, and maybe an extra box. Let's face it: most cops are cheapskates, and many believe that unless the agency pays for it, they don't need it. Spending some of your own money to ensure you have an adequate supply of ammunition to engage multiple armed suspects is something you and every officer must think about. You don't want to run out and become part of the problem, hiding from gunfire with empty weapons.

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 that 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. He is also the Terrorism Liaison Officer for his station and has recently supervised the training of his agency's personnel on Multi Assault Counter Terrorist Action Capabilities (MACTAC).


Urban Counter-ambush Tactics

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Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Dick @ 5/24/2012 9:23 PM

André Belotto, are you for real? 35 years ago Southern California law enforcement experts were preaching writing citations from outside the car. Try that when it is 10 below zero in a snow storm. Also most modern departments that I am aware of use their MDC’s to issue citations making it very difficult not to use them

Brandon @ 5/25/2012 9:12 AM

Yea, being outside of your car is a plus but not practical. Many people are ordered to use the computer to run people or write tickets. Or bad portable radio range forces you to use the car radio. Busy radio days also ruin that. Some officers including myself dont want to scratch up their cars paint finish with a ticket book because when its rusting, the agency wont repaint. If I know I am not going to write somebody or not at that moment, I stay out of the car. If I am writing someone, I keep the door open and only sit half way on the seat and look up as often as possible when writing them. I also try practicing shooting from inside the car. At night, an FTO taught me to stand to the right rear against my car so I use the light from my tail lights to read the ID when running it and I can look thru the back window to watch the car while they assume your in the driver seat. The tail light thing has been very helpful to me but he swears by it. I have seen people get out of their car and start looking for him in the driver seat and he just stood against the right corner panel. Would really screw up someones plans if they wanted to jump out shoot you in the driver seat.

Dustin @ 5/29/2012 9:55 PM

If it works, I would rather be alive and driving around with a lightly scratched car with perhaps some rust in those areas unlike Brandon below here...just saying...

Dave @ 5/30/2012 3:27 AM

Andre, I always enjoy reading your contributions to Police-L and elsewhere, and I usually agree with you, but I have to take issue with two points in this column.

I'm in a colder climate (northeast Ohio). You try standing outside to write a citation when it's 10 below zero, six inches of snow are expected in the next three hours and the wind is blowing at 20-40 mph. Okay...maybe don't sit in the driver's seat, but stand outside the car?

The second point I'd like to contest is turning off the emergency lights. Your article says to turn them off on a call, and I have no argument with that in general, but on a traffic stop that's taking place OFF the road (ALWAYS leave the overheads on when stopped on the street), such as when a suspect pulls into a parking lot or gas station, I want my lights to stay on so my back up units can easily find me.

My two cents worth.

Juan 10-13 @ 5/30/2012 7:34 AM

Yes Dave.....the weather is a definite factor to consider while and before considering a vehicle stop! I have always kept my lights for my safety from vehicular traffic. All traffic stops are unpredictable and having your lights on will assist your back up officers to locate you quicker if things go south!

Pup @ 5/30/2012 9:00 AM

Andre, I enjoyed reading your article and most of the tactics you mentioned, I teach. I don't live in the sub zero weather, so I can't really comment, other than I teach staying out of the car, unless you have the occupants secured.

My point is, everyone has their own thoughts about tactics and their safety. As for the rotating lights, I agree they should be shut down to the ambers once the vehicle has yield. The reason I teach this method is while standing at the Def vehicle, you're blinded and back lit by your own bright rotators or solid red/blue. This procedure doesn't allow you to see if anyone is approaching from the rear of your unit/sidewalk, especially in a unlit area. As for traffic noticing your on a T-Stop, other units and citizens will notice you just as much with your ambers. Again, these are my thoughts. Being a neighbor to LAPD, and with LASD for 34 years, currently as a Master Trainer, our departments tactics are pretty much the same except for searching tactics. One thing we could all agree on is "Victory Loves Preparation". Be safe and God Bless..

vikingpj @ 8/21/2012 7:08 AM

I have watched many ambush shootings where suspects jump out of their car after a pursuit and shoot the officer while they are still in the car. I have wondered if we rely to much on training with firearms to save our life as opposed to using the vehicle you are driving as a weapon. Running through the suspect or the scene to open distance may be your best option at this point.

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