The days of the internet, social media, and YouTube coupled with a two-decade-long war have made tactical training more accessible than ever. It has allowed veterans to take their training and experiences and bestow them upon our society in everything from everyday carry considerations, law enforcement operations, to private security, just to name a few. While these same tactics have also been applied to gangs, tyrannical governments, and other places they should not, I would argue the vast majority of this training is applied with honest means to honest people. This has also opened the door for the rapid spread of what I call “fadtactics.”
When I entered law enforcement there were a lot of things I struggled with, which I have expressed in greater detail in past, and likely future, articles. Most of these struggles were annoying and at times dangerous. But none has been more dangerous and infuriating than watching as law enforcement has adopted these fadtactics. The majority of these are promoted and trained by never-has-beens who want to exploit the current environment, but there are also those with limited to extensive experience who betray it all to promote and teach these tactics. Even the military has money grubbers willing to sell their snake oil.
Before continuing, I must explain why I find this so viscerally infuriating. There are very few things I watch or listen to that create a physical response from me, but bad or fad tactics are one of them. They seriously make my body heat up. I start to sweat, and I can just see people getting hurt or killed with each passing moment. Tactics, broadly, are the actions or strategies implemented to achieve a goal. In this case, I am referring to tactics being applied in things like clearing rooms, approaching unknown individuals/suspects, approaching vehicles on traffic stops, etc. Basically, the day-to-day actions and strategies officers apply in situations from sitting in their cars doing reports to responding to an active shooter, and everything that lies in between.
As an officer, every moment in that uniform can make you a target. Going into a store to get a drink could be a potential ambush. Every second in that uniform is, or should be, a moment of heightened awareness. Because of this, what we do could potentially save, or destroy, lives. This is not a game; this is human life. Fad/bad tactics can cost civilians and officers their lives. I CANNOT stress that enough. Hence why I care so deeply. I can personally attest to what can happen when things go wrong, or even when things are done right but sometimes, we lose. It is a feeling I try to avoid at all costs.
A fad, or bad, tactic is a technique, or tactic, that looks good or fancy, but is actually dangerous. It should not take most people long to understand when I tell them to think things like John Wick, Bullet Train, or, despite my deep love for the franchise, James Bond. These are great movies that use some actual tactics, but the majority of it is rehearsed movie action. It is not real. You can find these very tactics, as well as others, being taught throughout the country, and the world, spreading like a virus. It is the YouTube or social media clip of someone trying to grab a gun before someone shoots them in the chest, using household items to put guns out of battery, or clearing techniques that require a lot of spastic and wasteful movements. These clips are created for the success of the promoter, they are not what happens when someone actually fights back or has every intent to kill or harm you. These situations are violently dynamic.
I could rant on this topic for hours without scratching the surface. It is hard to explain what a good tactic is without going into great detail. What I can tell you is that the day of body-worn cameras (BWCs) have exposed the major flaws within law enforcement. When I was still in Regiment, people used to always say we got all this cool high-speed training on high-speed techniques. While some of that is kind of true, our approach never violated the KISS principle… Keep It Simple Stupid. In high-stress situations the body changes. The mind changes. Tactics should not be so complex they feel like a step-by-step choreographed dance where there can be no alterations. Tactics should be guiding core principles and approaches designed to be highly adaptable and VERY SIMPLE!
Some examples, our department teaches the L formation when approaching vehicles and individuals to prevent crossfire, a sound tactic. Yet, when we approach houses, we do a four-sided hold, meaning people are on all four sides. There are BWC videos of officers from other departments shooting at each other when using this approach. It is failing to consider that bullets go through things, and we are aiming at each other… We teach that nothing is “clear” until you occupy it, a sound tactic. Yet, we then apply tactics based on the idea something has been “visually cleared,” even though there are numerous blind spots… I have watched video after video from my department, as well as our training sessions, and others where these obvious fadtactics have come into play. It makes my blood boil because so few people teaching these techniques have ever seen the consequences. They have never watched their partner die, had to watch a family member receive their folded flag, and never had to bear the tin reminder around their wrist.
I understand that law enforcement and the military are not the same, nor should they be. Having been a cop, there are a number of new techniques and tactics I have had to use given our limited resources, officers, and totally different “rules of engagement.” These tactics are soundly based on what we have, and they do not violate the core principles. It is adapting and overcoming. But our department, and likely other departments, are missing out on a major resource available to them. The veterans who have been in combat, have been under immense stress, who have extensive training and experience, and who have seen and bear the consequences. Whether people want to admit it or not, tactics are a game of odds, and you must stack the odds in your favor. I am not saying veterans know it all or that veterans are the complete answer, but I am saying that on average, they have more experience.
I am part of a large department. We do have a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) style team. Despite our many combat veterans in the department, we only have one or two on the team at a time, and most leave after a year or two. Most combat veterans in our dept initially want to join our SWAT-style team, but that goal is quickly forfeited as reason falls on the def ears of the fadtacticals. With every passing “success” these tactics are “validated” through the near-miss fallacy.
There is no single answer. Tactics are as complex as the situations we apply them to and the world around us is constantly changing. My simple answer is this, test your techniques, not to success, but to failure. If you think your technique is fail-proof, you are already wrong. Every tactic has a vulnerability. This is, after all, a game of odds. There are no weighted dice here. Even the best in the world, doing everything “right”, have been killed by some of the least experienced. I am begging that we put aside our egos and challenge ourselves as officers to do better. I am asking we put Hollywood where it belongs and adopt the tactics that will save lives.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.