SWAT Raids and Searches Part Four: Containment and Cover

Remember Murphy's Law. Unexpected obstacles, dogs, darkness, etc., can throw off even the best-laid plans. Effective perimeters don't happen by accident. They require tactics, planning, and precision coordination.

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Today's raid and search tactics installment is the actual "hit"—the tactics that determine success or failure. The key to a successful raid or search is the perimeter.

Too often, raid emphasis is placed on the entry, while containment and cover are overlooked. Whether dynamic entry or surround and call out, raid and search success depends upon a tight perimeter. If you don't "lock them in," suspects escape, and the mission fails. Something so basic and obvious should be a given, right?

Wrong. Remember Murphy's Law. Unexpected obstacles, dogs, darkness, etc., can throw off even the best-laid plans. Effective perimeters don't happen by accident. They require tactics, planning, and precision coordination.

Tight perimeters require at least one tight containment and cover ring, sometimes two, to prevent suspects from escaping and unwanted "visitors" from entering. This requires a minimum of four officers, usually posted outside each corner of the target.

Depending on target configuration or circumstances, additional cover personnel will be required. Especially in summer when suspects tend to be outside. Depending on the situation, you may need to redirect some entry personnel to help secure outside suspects before making entry.

On one raid back in the day, we encountered 30 suspects—all outside the house. This altered our tactics to breach and hold until all suspects were secured.

In the real world, some raid teams must make do with limited manpower. The predictable result is something has to give. Oftentimes it's the perimeter, where only two personnel must cover a target (usually from diagonal corners).

The extreme is not having enough personnel for any perimeter. Example: the Midwest SWAT team tasked with three simultaneous adjacent "hits." All 11 raid officers were assigned to the three entries, leaving no personnel for containment. Only pure luck averted failure and disaster.

Another SWAT team conducted a search entry with nine officers, leaving a lone containment officer who apprehended the suspect climbing out a window.

The advantages of SWAT on containment are obvious. However, when this isn't possible, non-SWAT personnel are needed. They require thorough briefing on the "rules," such as area of responsibility, fire discipline, avoid crossfire, hold positions until secured.

One universal LE rule in the last 20 years is "fingers off the trigger." Accidental discharges have potentially deadly tragic consequences, especially when there are 10 to 30 officers running with weapons in hand. "Fingers off the trigger" includes inside vehicles, especially the passenger side of cars. With most officers being right handed, opening car doors with weapon in hand is a recipe for disaster.

As one federal agent riding "shotgun" learned while boxing in a suspect's vehicle during a takedown. Adrenaline pumping, the agent opened the passenger door, gun in hand, an action that caused an AD. The .45 slug blew out a full inch of his femur. Had his partner not raced him to a nearby ER in time, the agent would have bled out. Although he survived, he was forced into disability retirement after several surgeries.

Containment and cover is a time proven, effective tactic known as hammer and anvil. For raids, the "hammer" is the entry, while the "anvil" is the containment. A simple cause and effect that cause "fight or flight." While some suspects fight, most flee—opposite the entry point, usually out the back.

You go in the front, they flee out the back. This requires rapid and/or covert rear cover deployment to capitalize on the element of surprise. Consequently, rear cover usually deploys slightly ahead of, or simultaneous with, the entry—or suspects will likely escape.

Depending on circumstances and/or configuration, some raids require double perimeters to prevent escape. While it requires more manpower, this is a highly effective tactic—especially for "runners." It's even more effective when combined with K-9 teams.

Oftentimes, there is limited useful cover (from bullets) on raids. What do you do when there's no cover whatsoever? One tactic is to position yourself up close to the target itself. While this isn't actual cover, it prevents suspects from spotting you, unless they expose their position. Definitely better than being totally in the open.

A proven effective verbal command is to order suspects to "stay inside!" Then, broadcast this to entry. This keeps suspects bottled up inside the target. If they do come out, prone them out. And if "runners" get past the first perimeter, don't chase—or you'll leave your position uncovered. This is where second perimeters and K-9s are effective.

Here are a few general recommendations:

  • Containment must be prepared to deal with obstacles such as fences and dogs (Co2 fire extinguishers work well).
  • It's advisable for containment and entry to coordinate and time their approach to arrive simultaneously. I prefer straight forward deployment over something fancy.
  • If you have an ARV, use it as rear guard cover and rescue.
  • Always leave a rear guard with the raid vehicles to avoid theft and vandalism—especially if you park your vehicles away from the target, particularly in unfriendly neighborhoods.
  • Raid personnel often carry 50 to 60 pounds of equipment, so to prevent fatigue, avoid traversing long distances to the target on foot.

Whether dynamic or deliberate, successful raids and searches require thorough preparation and precision coordination and timing. Although often deemed less important than entry, without an airtight containment and cover, the mission will be doomed to fail.

Next up on Raids and Searches: Entry


Related Articles:

SWAT Raids and Searches—Part One

SWAT Raids and Searches Part Two: Search and Raid Preparations

SWAT Raids and Searches Part Three: Staging and Target Approaches

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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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