Preparations are complete, the briefing and staging are over. The raid team arrives at the target and containment is deployed to lock it in. The entry team steps out of the van as it rolls slowly to a stop and approaches the designated breaching point. The team is now poised to make entry.
Raid and search entries are divided into two categories: dynamic and deliberate.
Dynamic entries feature “surprise, shock and speed”, (or “speed, surprise, violence of action”). Deliberate entries feature “surround and callout” and stealth. Both have their advocates and both are effective, depending on the situation.
Some teams rely on ruses to trick their way to entry; others prefer takedowns instead of entries. Agency and raid team policy, situation, and ultimately, the raid team leader (TL) determine the tactics to employ.
Some teams prefer single entry points with minimum damage, while others prefer multiple entry points and maximum damage such as forced breach, distraction devices, break and rake to overwhelm suspects. A variation of “surround and callout” is the “breach and hold.”
Some teams always “bang” the target with distraction devices, while others do so sparingly and only when there’s a tactical benefit. One Midwest team launches 37/40 mm wood baton rounds through the upper portion of select windows as a diversion. Armored rescue vehicles (ARVs) also make effective diversions, along with providing effective cover for the mission.
It’s imperative for all raid personnel, especially entry, to be clearly identifiable as police so as to counter later allegations that subjects didn’t know the people entering the house with guns were police.
Even that’s no guarantee. As a quote by a subject inside a recent Northern California raid location illustrates: “It was very scary. Like being invaded by a bunch of ninja pirates.”
The entry lineup on final foot approach and at the entry point is critical, as is the “stack” spacing; you want it to be not too far, but not too close. Cover the target while moving into positions to protect the team and spot suspicious movement.
The breacher must be covered during final foot approach, often by the #1 and #2 entry officers with long guns. I prefer positioning the TL, #3, or #4 close to the action, but not in it.
I also recommend designating an assistant TL, who takes over if the TL becomes incapacitated. Entry order is #1, #2, #3, and so on. The breacher should enter last and double as a prisoner handler.
Dynamic entries depend on “surprise, shock, and speed” and you go to the suspects. With deliberate entries like “surround and callout” the suspects come to you. Knock and announce requirements vary for each jurisdiction and must be followed.
The TL verifies the address and warrant are correct, to prevent “wrong location” disasters. Alert TLs have been known to abruptly halt entire raids—in mid-ram swing—because they realized that their teams were hitting the wrong addresses. Remember, while all raid personnel need to pay attention to the legalities, final responsibility rests with the TL to ensure there is legal basis for every SWAT mission.
Remain flexible about what you’ll encounter once inside. Even the most detailed intel can be wrong. And the doorway you expected and rehearsed for may turn out to be a solid wall instead. Remember that our friend “Murphy” is always lurking in the nearby shadows. So always keep an open mind and be ready with plan B, or even plan C.
Whether dynamic or deliberate, eventually all searches require clearing the entire premises before they can be considered secure. Thorough, deliberate searches are mandatory, double check as often as necessary, and reverse search personnel as needed. I always felt very uneasy in “empty” houses, and sometime hidden suspects were only found after the second and third searches, rotating different searchers.
Some searches can take a long time to secure, requiring containment to hold positions for equally long periods. To reduce containment complacency, TLs need to periodically broadcast: “Entry to cover, we’re still searching. Continue holding positions.” Only after the entire location is completely secure should the TL announce that the location is “secure.”
Containment does not broadcast to entry requesting updates on the search status. One exception is to alert entry of observed suspect activity. Entry should also broadcast when they are moving to different levels in the target, so cover will know its not the suspects.
Just as containment doesn’t chase anyone inside during a search, entry doesn’t chase anyone outside. Maintain tight discipline and focus on your areas of responsibility to accomplish the mission.
Positioning SWAT medics is a relatively recent consideration on searches. Two schools of thought are (armed) medics go inside at the tail end of the entry, while the second positions (unarmed) medics stay in a nearby safe launching area, with a SWAT cover officer.
Same with K-9s. There are different schools of thought about K-9s and SWAT. Some teams include K-9s in entries, while others employ K-9s on containment. Either way, for both K-9s and SWAT medics, the tactics must be developed and become part of your training prior to their use on raids and searches.
This is only the tip of the search tactics iceberg, leaving a number of areas I haven’t covered. Dogs, fortifications, armed and unarmed threats, break and rake, children, elderly, all pose unique challenges and dangers.
Next up on SWAT Raids and Searches: Aftermath and Debrief