Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nobody Needs An MRAP

Law-enforcement officials of a certain political persuasion are apt to tell you that "Nobody needs an AR15". Well, bearing in mind numerous law enforcement failures of late, I would turn a similar phrase: "Nobody needs an MRAP."

I'll remind you again that I'm not a cop-hater. I'm all for constitutional and common-sense policing. In the last few years there has been a conspicuous lack of common sense when it comes to SWAT teams in particular. See this CATO institute map showing recent SWAT debacles. Hell, just Google "SWAT raids wrong house" and you'll get way too many hits.


So today, I saw this story from The Daily Mail about a Sheriff in Indiana who needs an MRAP to fight all the veterans returning from war (his words, not mine). The military is offering MRAPs to various law-enforcement departments nationwide at bargain-basement prices. Not wanting to pass up an MRAP for roughly $499,500 off list price, many departments are buying them.

The problem is that SWAT teams are already wreaking havoc with the equipment they have now. Imagine a wrong-door raid where some genius decides to breach the house with his shiny new 60,000lb MRAP because, well, he can. Currently, SWAT teams are getting away with murder (sometimes literally). County attorneys won't prosecute officers for gross misconduct, and Joe Citizen's only recourse is a lawsuit, which most municipalities don't really fear anymore. I don't want to give SWAT teams any new tools with which to terrorize law-abiding citizens.

But not being one to just bitch and moan, I'll propose some SWAT reforms.

1) SWAT members must take a class on constitutional law, and take refreshers yearly.

2) Team members must qualify with their weapons quarterly, if not monthly.

3) Team members must pass a warrant writing class, and demonstrate that they understand how to read a warrant (especially the address of the place to be searched).

4) Every raid has an official AAR with city council members or other civilian oversight present.

5) Three wrong-door raids in any 12-month period results in the team being disbanded and the leadership (sergeant and above) fired. All funds set aside for the team in the future will be paid back to the taxpayers. Officers involved in a wrong-door raid will personally apologize to the victims, and pay for all damages to property. They will also re-train on warrant writing and reading.

I don't want this to spiral out of control to a political blog, so I'll take a break from this stuff for a while. I write this because I care about the image police have in this country. I have friends who are cops. I was a cop. I want them to be safe, and I want you to feel safe around them. Unfortunately, that can't happen until we get a handle on police use of force. I would urge any cops in the audience to push their peers to excel as professionals and seek extra training in use of force and constitutional law.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Cautionary Tale Redux

While at a private range on Saturday, James (thanks for the camera work and video editing!) and I shot a mock-up of the Iowa Falls shooting I wrote about a while back. Let me lay out the design of the "experiment".

The Iowa AG's report says that five officers fired a total of 68 rounds in 7-8 seconds. Channel 13 WHO says the subject was struck 17 times, leaving 51 misses. The AG and Channel 13 agree that the shots came from no further than 25 feet. From the video, it appears that the officers were already either on target or at the low ready when the firing began (they did not quick-draw and fire, they were more or less ready to fire when Fitz went for his gun).

Obviously we can't precisely re-enact the event itself because (1) I don't have five armed former operational operator friends who can be in the same place at the same time, and (2) the officers were in a circle and firing past eachother, and I'm not going to do that. But we can work with the averages.

On average, each officer fired 14 rounds, and hit four times from a maximum distance of 25 feet. So, what we did was use an M&P 9 loaded with 15 rounds and shot at an IPSC silhouette at a measured distance of 30 feet. We used a shot timer set to "random" to surprise the shooter, and set it to beep again at six seconds, signaling the end of the event. Any rounds not fired at the second beep would be counted as misses. We wore a 33lb ballistic vest to restrict our movement and just generally make life harder. Then we did rifle PT to exhaust our arms and shoulders, which makes shooting a handgun harder as well as raise our heart rates and simulate the stress of a life-and-death situation (if one can do that...). Additionally, whoever was not acting as the "officer" fired a 5.45x39mm AR15 about four feet to the right of the "officer" to attempt to add confusion and maybe impart some distracting muzzle blast.

Without further stalling, this is me talking unscripted on camera:

To cut through my rambling at the end, what it boils down to is that there really isn't an excuse for missing 75% of the time from across-the-room distances. There was time to set up a perimeter and evacuate neighbors, but no one thought to grab their shotgun or AR. If you're expecting trouble, always take the long gun. ALWAYS. The subject's soft-armor vest would not have taken a hit from a 5.56, and likely not a 12ga slug or full spread of buckshot. I would bet that there were so many misses because officers were trying to shoot around the vest. That is a fairly old SOP that should be revisited as police have new tools at their disposal (such as AR15s). Also, without steel or ceramic plates, all that energy from the bullet goes into the wearer, so 68 hits from a .40 S&W (supposing they didn't compromise the vest, which repeated hits sometimes do) would have laid down a ton of hurt.

As an infantryman in Afghanistan, I had to justify every round fired by my soldiers during the AAR. Big Army wanted to know who fired what in which direction, why that type of weapon was used, and anticipated collateral damage (the correct answer was "none" or you were on the naughty list). If we're going to hold soldiers at war to that standard, I think it's fair to hold peace officers to it as well. Personally, I believe the shooting was justified. However, the tactics and marksmanship were abysmal and every officer who was there needs to re-train on small-unit tactics (i.e. DON'T FORM A CIRCULAR FIRING SQUAD!) and all the departments need to seek some marksmanship training from a reputable source. Also, SOPs for dealing with armored assailants needs to be addressed. I'm glad no officers or innocents were hurt, but this could have ended very differently. Training is essential and I hope the departments involved are seeking it.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Cautionary Tale

There was an unfortunate situation in Iowa Falls a couple of weeks ago. A very troubled young man was killed in a standoff with police, but that's not the most troubling part of the story. No, the most troubling thing is that 22 police officers formed a circular firing squad and shot *at best* 25% hits from 8 to 25 feet away. Read the article and watch the video here before continuing so I don't have to write a sketch of the AG's report. Personally, I think the suspect committed suicide by cop, and I don't fault the cops for shooting, as Fitz can be seen with a gun in his hand as he fell to the ground. The shoot was probably justified, but the tactics and accuracy are totally indefensible.

So, we have 22 officers on scene, a four-man takedown team, and one armed and dangerous disturbed person. Sixty-eight (68!) rounds were fired by five officers and the suspect's family say he was struck 17 times. That works out to exactly 25% hits. The officers formed a circle around the suspect and fired at eachother, as can be seen in the video.

So what went wrong?

First, tactics. When I was a cop, I worked with other officers from other departments regularly. But we never trained together, nor trained for situations like this. So when the fecal matter hit the oscillating blades, there is a good chance that there was no chain of command (or likely several independent chains of command, which is worse) nor a plan of action aside from what they could cook up in just a couple of minutes. The four-man takedown team was a good idea, but the lethal-cover officers should have been moved out of the line of fire and instead of a circle, they should have formed an L-shape. Circular firing squads are a bad idea, and EVERYONE there should have seen the problem and made some effort to fix it. They are extremely lucky that no officers were shot.

Second, accuracy. The number of hits in this situation is absolutely sad. I did the math, and it works out to every officer shooting 13 or 14 rounds, and hitting a maximum of FOUR times. From the video, we see that the takedown team behind Fitz was at most 10 feet away, and the other two firing officers were in the middle of the street on the opposite side. This is at most 30 feet away. All officers had their weapons drawn, and the muzzles were probably either on target or at the low ready position. How you can miss 75% of the time from 10 yards is beyond me, but I do have a theory. The suspect was wearing a ballistic vest, so I think the officers were trying for head or groin shots. I don't know the make or model of the vest he wore, but I can't imagine it would have stopped a volley of .40S&W. Even if it did, it was soft armor and he still would have suffered quite a beating from the rounds. I don't know if any officers had long guns, but this would be a good case for cover officers carrying AR15 carbines with green tip. Really, any FMJ round fired from a rifle will shred soft armor. But, you still have to hit your target.

The purpose of this article isn't to beat up the officers (though a light thrashing is in order for missing 51 times from less than 10 yards). I do have suggestions of how to prevent this sort of thing in the future.

1- Planning.
There needs to be an established emergency chain of command. Department X's ranking officer on scene is in charge, period.

Also, the Army's "Five Point Contingency Plan" would be a good outline for making a quick tactical plan. The takedown team could have coordinated with the perimeter cover officers to create a distraction in order to deploy less-lethal measures or just tackle the guy. And, if everything went all to hell, there's a plan for who will shoot in what direction and fall-back positions for the takedown team. All this planning can be done in a minute or two if you've practiced. I used it a couple of times on overwatch missions to move a small DDM team to better recon positions outside our patrol base. Everyone knows what's going on, and what to do in most foreseeable situations. And it's easy.

2- Accuracy.
Practice is the obvious answer, but it goes a little deeper than that. There was time to get 22 officers from four different departments on-scene, so there was time for one or two guys to go get long guns and set a proper perimeter.

Also, the good old fashioned mag dump is an acceptable tactic now and then. It wasn't in this situation though. 51 bullets hit everything except their intended target. Shooting once or twice and then re-assessing the threat is perfectly acceptable,  and also easy to do without sacrificing security. Travis Haley's phrase "thinkers before shooters" echoes all over this situation.

Of the seven or eight people who routinely read this, if you are police officers or know any, please encourage them to get the proper training, and think about catastrophic situations like this unfortunate case.