Plan and Train before Executing Search Warrants
Spaulding, Dave, Law & Order
Raids and search warrants involving narcotic operations can be perilous undertakings. Larger -agencies commonly use SWAT or specially trained tactical entry teams for such entries, but many agencies do not have access to such units, or cannot afford the overtime required every time the narcotics unit needs to execute a warrant.
Narcotic unit commanders need to be trained to not only plan and execute these operations, they also need to be able to direct team members to use sound tactics and techniques when a SWAT team is not be available. Heckler & Koch's International Training Division offers just such a course for narcotics officers who face this situation.
I was fortunate enough to attend this course and found that it fills a big gap in the tactical training arena. The two instructors were quite knowledgeable. Chris Sheperd was a 13-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Special Enforcement Bureau while Mark Kannith was a 20-year veteran of the Detroit Police Department Special Response Team. Both have many search warrant executions under their belts and there is nothing like a real world experience when it comes to training like this.
"A perfect plan is like a unicorn. Everyone can tell you what one looks like.... but no one has ever actually seen one!" This thought set the tone for the first day which dealt with warrant reception and history, warrant work-up, intelligence gathering, equipment, personnel deployment, briefing and debriefing. Anyone who has ever had to put together a search warrant and then put together a raid plan realizes all of the things that can be missed or go wrong. As this block of instruction was presented, the potential pitfalls appeared immense. However, the instructors offered suggestions on how to avoid them, based on actual cases.
The class was divided into two groups; each group assigned to scout an actual residence and complete a raid plan for the targeted house. Class members were warned that the residences were real locations, not staged, so their operations were to be undertaken without the residents being aware, or the local police being involved. Both groups were successful in this.
The second day began with a review of what is needed to complete a successful forced entry. Various tools such as rams, sledge hammers, entry bars and pneumatic presses were discussed, pointing out both their advantages and disadvantages. The students then gathered in the specially built live-fire house where each got the opportunity to work with all the entry tools.
Room clearing techniques were then discussed, which makes a great deal of sense since forced entry is silly if the structure is not going to be cleared. In reality, it's not the actual entry that is hazardous during a raid, it is clearing the structure and securing the suspects and evidence. Running through the house without any type of plan in an effort to "get the dope" happens too often and is dangerous.
But sometimes standard room-clearing techniques require too much "choreography" to accomplish. The training staff recommended the use of the "Immediate Threat Concept." This does not require running some arbitrary "route" through the structure; the first officer through the door takes on the most serious threat he sees. The following officers must "read" what the officer in front of them does and take the next most serious threat.
Threats are rated as people first, doors second, and places where people can hide as third. …