Bringing the Cover With You

When there are no trees to hide behind, body bunkers provide tactical protection

     The Ripon PD employs a joint SWAT team with a nearby agency, and according to Chief Richard Bull, response time in Ripon is fairly fast compared to previous agencies over which he has presided in his 22 years of experience. As he notes, "Some incidents will not wait for the call up."

     In Sierra County, California, population 3,555 spread across 959 square miles of canyons and valleys, often only a single deputy is on duty during certain hours and others can be called out if necessary, according to Deputy Matt Boyd. Though assistance from nearby counties is available, areas with population densities where other law enforcement officers are likely to be patrolling are 30 to 40 minutes away.

Open terrain

     Besides the vast distances covered by a limited number of officers, another consideration for rural law enforcement is the terrain near residences. As Boyd notes, not only is backup 20 to 40 minutes away, but depending on terrain, the approach to residences is often wide open. For example, some areas have a fire code which requires vegetation and debris to be trimmed 360 degrees around a house. This trimmed void includes trees, which provide cover for the rural deputy. Worse, the walls and siding of prefabricated homes, common in areas near national forests, can never be considered cover for anything larger than an air rifle.

     On many rural enforcement calls, the opportunity for invisible deployment does not exist. If a residence is the only one at the end of the dirt road, the presence of a vehicle is announced with alacrity. It is impractical to drive with headlights off down winding mountain roads or pavement raised only slightly off a bayou.

     Worse, residents who live in scenic areas design these residences to take in the scenery. Boyd describes one call where most of the house, including the front entrance, was glass. He and other responding officers found it impossible to approach the house with any kind of cover.

     On another call, Boyd and other officers responded to a subject barricaded in a shed. Responding officers had concealment in adjacent mobile homes, but no cover. It was tenuous to attempt to move to the position of advantage in broad daylight. The officers wisely waited the situation out. Later, deputies located a handgun and what could have been a fairly good shooting position.

Joint training

     Joint training is an essential aspect of body bunker use, as Bull has learned through the Ripon PD's interaction with surrounding agencies that provide support. In general, officers from different agencies have different levels of familiarity with ballistic shields. For example, officers will seek cover behind the officer carrying the ballistic protection. When moving forward in a line, this is fine. But imagine three officers behind an appropriately equipped officer moving down a hallway. Do they orient in relation to their direction of movement, thus exposing each officer as they slowly pass an open doorway to an unsecured room? How do they prioritize their movements toward quickly scanning rooms or a deliberate search?

     Bull explains his agency routinely incorporates ballistic shield training in their regular firearms training. Some incidents, especially active shooting incidents, do not afford the luxury of securing an area and waiting until a team can be assembled. "Ballistic shields are invaluable for active shooter incidents," he says.

     Capt. Wesley Boland of the Newberry County Sheriff's Office, explains that just having the ballistic shields available to an agency is not enough. Using them requires training, and no administrator should feel comfortable simply issuing equipment without adequate training. Newberry County trains and uses ballistic shields on a regular basis. Deputies who have ballistic shields in patrol cars are CERT qualified.

     Agencies also must routinely use allied agency training, not only for ballistic shields but other types of equipment like air support and mounted patrol. This will insure a habitual relationship which uses common frequencies, familiarity with allied equipment and a team law enforcement concept. Everyone can contribute toward the training goal. For example, an agency that might not have a larger department's equipment may have a much larger piece of real estate available for training.

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