Question: Why should America's highly trained police be interested in crawling into scuba gear and swimming around in the water?
Answer: Large bodies of water, including waterfronts, oceans, lakes and rivers, make up significant areas of responsibility in many police jurisdictions. They also present unique challenges to law enforcement officers who must deal with water-based criminal activities.
Steve Bronson, the founder, director and chief officer of Tactical Watreborne Operations (TWO), is out to help law enforcement meet these challenges. According to Bronson, TWO's mission is to train, advise and provide continuing education to special police units with marine intervention, tactical waterborne or rescue requirements.
Bronson draws on solid experience. As a U.S. Navy chief petty officer, he helped develop the Navy's Special Warfare Combatant Craft training program. Currently retired from the Navy, he designs waterborne tactical gear and instructs both police and military special units.
Serving as Heckler & Koch's maritime adjunct instructor, Bronson is also the director of waterborne operations for the International Association of Counter Terrorism & Security Professionals, as well as the waterborne technical adviser for the Virginia Tactical Police Association.
Bronson makes diversity an ally by utilizing a variety of instructors with specialized backgrounds, ranging from special operations to emergency medical services. By using the latest instructional techniques, methods and equipment, Bronson's organization strives to produce marine operators who are the best in knowledge and experience.
Bronson says his organization has one specific goal: to provide law enforcement and its specialized units with the training to improve their ability to respond to situations calling for tactical work in, on, under or around the water. He trains officers to secure the situation and control it.
TWO training includes these courses: "Water Rescue," "Rescue Swimmer Operations," "Tactical Boat Operation," "Basic Boat Search" and "Advanced Board and Search." These courses cover how to get the police craft or boat along side, how to observe suspects, how to stop a suspect's boat, and how to board. Additional instruction, such as "Cast and Recovery," trains swimmers to cast from a moving boat and rendezvous with it for pickup. TWO's "Accidental Submersion Training" shows how to survive a drop off the deep end of a pool while carrying 54 pounds of weight, a helmet and an HK MP-5, and how to get back to the surface. This and casting are probably the most demanding parts of the training.
Bronson says that SWAT or tactical team leaders must realize that since childhood, we are ingrained with a natural fear of water. SWAT team leaders have a duty to recognize who can and who cannot excel in waterborne training and who is prepared to use it to survive in the water when weighted down with tactical gear.
A number of other tactical courses are also available, including those focused on underway boarding of small vessels, night observations, disabling a vessel to prevent a get-away, setting up a sniper position and hull searches.
"In the future, our vision is to have a training facility, but we count it as one of our strengths that we will take our training to an agency's area of responsibility," said Bronson. "If your team is going to respond to houseboats on a river-type environment, we will train you to respond to houseboats. If your jurisdiction includes the ocean, with surf and large vessels, we will train for it by offering a curriculum specifically for your agency and personnel. We tailor our courses to a department's training needs. Along with our training, we offer a one-day site survey and make recommendations to enhance a department's or agency's capabilities."
Indian River Sheriff's Office: Using Police (Combat or Tactical) Swimmers
Recently, at the conclusion of an on-site, three-day TWO training course, Sgt. John J. Burdock, training officer for the Indian River County Sheriff's Office (IRCSO) located on Florida's Atlantic Coast, demonstrated a complex exercise scenario set up by Bronson to test the skills of participating officers. A tied-to-the-dock, 36-foot fishing boat had role players aboard who took a hostage.
Said Burdock, "Bronson briefed my team with information, including standard intelligence as to the subjects, clothing, weapons, etc. From this point, Bronson's clock began ticking on our operation.
"My team deployed a two-man sniper team to provide overwatch while the other nine operators conducted a clandestine swimmer approach to the suspect vessel. The boarding team used different techniques, such as swimming in pairs, keeping the proper distance from each other, remaining silent in the water, and using docks and other boats to help conceal our movement. We did everything it took to make a safe and effective approach.
"Once in place, our team was able to board and take down the hostage takers with no harm to the hostage."
Following this exercise was a detailed and a final wrap-up.
First Tactical Police Training Using PWCs (Jet Skis)
At the Indian River County training site, Kawasaki personal watercraft (PWCs) were used to deal with insertion problems, such as taking down other watercraft and providing security for the waterborne element.
Bronson says that representatives at the Kawasaki Corporation believe that his training with the Indian River County Sheriff's Office Emergency Response Team (ERT) may have been the first such program to incorporate use of PWCs in police tactical training. His trainers used two subdued-painted, brand-new, three-seat Kawasaki jet skis.
"For the SWAT team faced with a known moving target, a security element can be placed on board prior to the assault team boarding, for cover. Jet skis can provide an insertion platform for a two- to three-man security element. Kawasaki 1100 jet skis can safely carry two fully equipped SWAT officers," said Bronson. "TWO recommends the use of jet skis in pairs and constant use and training to remain proficient."
Said Burdock, "PWCs are fast and relatively quiet compared to a boat. Such placement of a security element or advance party would be effective in securing a large vessel. PWCs can also be used for intelligence gathering and scouting missions."[PAGEBREAK]
Lee County Sheriff's Office Boarding Scenario Using Simunition
In four- and six-day waterborne training courses for the Lee County Sheriff's Office (LCSO), based on Florida's West Coast, Bronson upped the ante by installing multiple "bad guys" or suspects with shady histories and two hostages aboard a shrimp boat in one training scenario. The boarding party, backed by a second group covering the sheriff's office boat, drew the bad guys' attention as the team split into two-officer units to search and secure the vessel.
The hostage had an explosive device attached to his chest, controlled by one of the suspects, in plain view, who handicapped any rescuers by holding onto a pressure switch, ready to ignite the device. He randomly pointed a gun between the advancing officers and the hostage's head.
A second hostage, who did not speak English, was outfitted with explosives and tied to the stern rigging. Suddenly, everything started happening at once. As someone jumped off the shrimper from the starboard quarter, distracting the crew of the cover boat, one of the bad guys fired six shots at the approaching sheriff's boat through the partial concealment of a scupper. He then, however, surrendered.
The boarding party moved onto the shrimper quickly. They threw a rope ladder over, but all team members boarded using hand- and foot-holds. Some team members moved to control the surrendering suspect. The non-English-speaking hostage tied to the rigging was checked over, and explosives experts were called to respond.
The suspect, who continued to hold the pressure switch attached to the explosives on the first hostage, brandished his weapon. A protective shield-bearing deputy began negotiations. Meanwhile, the hostage was able to free himself. The suspect, panicking, pointed his handgun at the deputies. Two deputies' gunshots struck him down with mortal wounds.
While this was happening on deck, a two-deputy team searched the boat's interior. One stepped into the fatal funnel of an open washroom doorway and was gunned down. As the suspect charged from the washroom, shooting and yelling, the surviving deputy returned fire. Another young deputy made a fatal mistake and opened a booby-trapped door, to which an explosive device was attached. Some mistakes, some successes. Following the scenario was a long and productive debriefing among the "survivors."
Bronson reports that TWO conducts 12 to 24 training classes in the U.S. a year, with anywhere between 12 and 24 students per class. This number is increasing as more officers participate in waterborne operations.
"Our ERT Team had contacted Bronson of TWO to provide three days of waterborne training," said IRCSO's Burdock. "Top-notch and professional is the only way to describe the course. I highly recommend the training offered from TWO."
These comments were echoed in the Lee County debriefing session. Said Lt. Jeff Taylor of the LCSO CLEAN Task Force, "Tactical Watreborne Operations has the most realistic training and surpasses all law enforcement training I have attended in the 24 years of my career."
For more information:
Tactical Watreborne Operations
1630 General Booth Blvd.
Suite 109, Space 240,
Virginia Beach, Va. 23454
(757) 426-9526, or e-mail: [email protected] (remember the R comes before the E in watre. Coming soon: www.watreborne.com
For information on Kawasaki's Law Enforcement/Public Safety loan/lease program, contact
Jan Piessner or Merry Richey,
Kawasaki Motor Corp.
Santa Ana, Calif. 92799-5252.
Jim Weiss is a retired police lieutenant from the Brook Park (Ohio) Police
Mary Dresser is an award-winning journalist, having worked in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and currently, Florida.