Tactical Strategies – Practical Use Of The Operational Environment


    pic1By Richard Kay.

    Officers tasked with the role of public safety face challenges every day they step into the operational environment. Some challenges relate to fulfilling the responsibility of the job role, others relate to officer safety at the hands of violent criminals or resistive subjects. The former may be intentionally seeking to harm the officer, whilst for the latter it may be a coincidental consequence. Either way, officers need to remain prepared for any eventuality.

    Rather than merely amble around in an unaware state (condition white), officers should always maintain a state of relaxed awareness (condition yellow). A state of ‘over-readiness’ is also not suitable, as prolonged hyper-vigilance is not practical, can make officers overly anxious and is not healthy. Officers that are relaxed yet aware can make the most of their environment and notice small things that may indicate potential issues for examination.

    A key aspect of operational safety is how officers interact with the environment. Knowing and using the physical environment properly can assist officers and provide an advantage in the conduct of operational duties. This becomes especially important if the situation involves interpersonal conflict or active aggression from others, especially critical if the subject is armed with a firearm.

    The most important thing in a violent encounter is harm minimisation whilst ensuring officer safety. Subjects are just like officers – they do not want to get hurt either. In order for a subject to harm officers effectively, several requirements must be met – he must be able to locate the officer, he must have a target to focus on and he must be able to carry out his attack successfully.

    Concealment delays the subject from figuring out where an officer is, but to avoid being shot, an officer should use cover. Taking steady, aimed shots is important, but not at the cost of exposure to the subject. This is where tactics come into effect. A subject cannot shoot at officers if he is not willing to expose himself to fire. Sticking the firearm out of cover and firing blindly is a dangerous thing to do because there is little control over where the rounds hit. Officers that make it harder for the subject to see them will make it harder for them to be shot at.

    Fatal Funnels

    A fatal funnel is any area that narrows and constricts movement or an area that focuses the subject’s attention. Buildings and rooms are dangerous because officers must enter through fatal funnels. The subject knows the officers will use these passageways.

    Doorways are the most prevalent fatal funnels that an officer uses. Beware of backlighting when opening doors and remember that doors may open into areas with more doors, such as closets and other rooms. Doors with visible hinges open toward the officer, while doors with hidden hinges open away from the officer. Officers should avoid standing in the fatal funnel the opening door creates and, when possible, stand to one side away from the opening door. Looking through the crack between the open door and the frame can clear some parts of the room. When the hinges are visible, a rope can be used to remotely pull the door open. If the hinges are not visible, the door can be pushed open with a flashlight or baton.

    Windows are sometimes used for entry, particularly when investigating a building that has no other unsecured entry points. The same window the subject climbed through to get inside the building may be the only way in; however, it can be difficult to protect officers entering through the window frame. Windows can also create unique lighting and reflection problems. For example, an officer investigating a building alarm looking through a window from a lighted area outside into a dark room can be seen by persons on the inside. Conversely, during evening hours, persons outside can see officers in a lighted room. Officers should avoid being silhouetted by windows.

    Hallways are usually long, narrow and restrictive, generally with doors on either side and at both ends. Alternate routes to a hallway should be considered, but if a hallway must be entered, beware of backlighting and do not pass up doors. The width of the hallway will dictate tactics for movement down hallways. If the hallway is narrow, an officer should blade his body, with his chest area facing the wall. If a subject is contacted in the hallway, the officer will give verbal commands to distract the subject. This should enable the officer to retreat out of the hallway to a cover position. If possible, the subject should be turned facing away from the officer and a visual inspection made for weapons on the subject’s person. The subject can then be directed out of the hallway to a secure area.

    Stairwells are generally surrounded by steel and concrete, with upper and lower landings as well as switchbacks where the stairs change direction. If stairs must be used to clear a building and a choice is available, move from top to bottom. While both directions have disadvantages, coming from top-down exposes the less critical areas of the lower body. Moving from the bottom-up could expose the critical areas of the head and chest.

    Elevators are vertical coffins and the worst fatal funnel of all. Upon arriving at the designated floor a bell will usually ring signaling the arrival. Once the door opens there is no available cover and only one direction to go and that is toward an unknown threat. One option is to use the stairway, but there are situations when the building is so tall the use of the stairway takes an excessive amount of time or will physically exhaust an officer. Instead, use an elevator with a master key, go to a floor several floors above the actual target, exit at this higher floor and take the stairway down to the target floor.

    Visual Surveys

    An officer should use visual survey techniques, which create a situation where a subject has to react to the officer’s action. The objectives are to not be seen, or to move so quickly that the subject cannot react in time to harm the officer.

    Glancing (‘Quick Peek’): The principle is to present as small a target as possible and to present this target so quickly that a subject would have difficulty reacting. When glancing, only the eye closest to the corner and the firearm held in the hand closest to the corner should become visible to the threat area. Inevitably, shoulders and elbows may also extend into the threat area dependent upon body size, therefore officers must attempt to minimise time spent glancing.

    The location of glances should be unpredictable to the subject. Therefore, it is recommended the first glance not be at eye level but rather come from a higher or lower position, with any subsequent glances varied in location. The advantages of the glance are that it is fast and an officer can do many in a short time. The officer also has the advantage of some cover. The disadvantage is the subject may see the officer and easily reach them if the subject is near the corner or doorway.

    To perform a glance, the officer should stare at the wall in front of him to help prevent extending their head and both eyes past the corner’s edge. If the glance is from a low position, the officer must keep good balance by placing his weight on the balls of his feet and, if needed, placing his free hand against the wall for support.

    While in a crouched position, the officer should be cautious that his knees do not enter the fatal funnel. Only the closest eye and the barrel of the firearm should break the invisible plane that extends from the corner. Do not glance from the same place twice in a row. Have the firearm in the ready position. Only bring as much of the head around the corner as is necessary to see (one eye), do not tilt the head, limit exposure. The more body exposed, the longer it will take to get back behind cover.

    Angling (‘Slicing the Pie’): The principle of this technique is to get the officer’s eye around the obstacle, the sides, and see some part of the subject’s body before the officer can be seen. Angling has some limitations in that it takes longer than the glance and the officer may expose himself to other threat areas. If the officer realises that he is exposed to other threat areas when using this technique, he should stop and use the glance. Be aware of casting shadows on nearby reflective surfaces, such as windows and vehicles, that could give away the position while using either technique.

    To perform angling, turn the head at about a 30-degree angle to the obstacle. This makes the eye the closest part of the body to the angle of incidence and will keep the nose or ear from coming around before the eye. The firearm is in the same hand as the eye that is being used to look around the obstacle. Holding the firearm in the other hand tends to expose more of the body, thereby leaving cover to fire or return fire.

    Do not allow a foot to give the location away. Point the toe inside the corner. The forehead must not come around first, so do not tilt the head. Keep the head straight up and the chances of getting anything around the corner before the eye are reduced. Maintain balance and hold the firearm in a position so it is possible to see past the arm all the way to the ground. Once the subject is seen, go to a position of cover before the subject is called out.

    Reflections: Mirrors can be used to clear areas without exposing the officer to the threat. A small mirror (flat or convex) can be attached to a collapsible baton and then placed around the corner, allowing the officer to remain behind cover. The mirror can also be handheld if necessary, but the hand will be exposed to the threat. A drawback to mirrors is that they reverse and distort images, which could confuse the officer.

    Reflective devices are not confined to mirrors brought by officers to the scene. Officers can use reflections on glass-fronted cabinets, bathroom mirrors, glass in picture frames, vehicles, windows, glass in storefronts, or any item that reflects an image. Officers should be cognizant that any reflection that they can use can be used against them as well. For example, if the officer can see the subject’s eyes in the reflection, then the subject can see the officer.

    Like all operational safety strategies, practice is the key to effective use under stress. Officers should maintain awareness of these tactical aspects and try to incorporate them into everyday activities. Mastering the physical skills of operational safety is important, but using the physical environment in a tactical manner provides a huge advantage for the officer. Be prepared, be aware, stay alive.


    Richard Kay is an internationally certified tactical instructor-trainer, director and senior trainer of Modern Combatives, a provider of operational safety training for the public safety sector. Visit www.moderncombatives.com.au for more information.