Three benchmarks for SWAT formation tactics

By Sgt. Steve “Pappy” Papenfuhs

A local police department’s SWAT team recently contacted me and asked me to train with them in Active Shooter/Rapid Deployment tactics. They specifically asked me to teach them how to run their team in a “column” rather than a “diamond” formation. Stealing a line from coaches in both American and European football leagues, I told them that in my opinion, “Formations don’t win football games, and they don’t win fights.” Well-trained, thinking, resilient, dedicated warriors win in combat. Tactical fundamentals persevere — not trick plays. As Iowa’s Central College Coach Ron Schipper said in 1997, “Xs and Os don’t win football games, people do.”

What do the Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tempe, Fremont, Oakland, and Caramel Indiana police departments have in common with the Sonoma County (Calif.) Sheriff’s department? Each of these agencies abandoned their diamond-formation driven active-shooter response in favor of more aggressive, realistic, and life-saving tactics. Add Long Beach Police Department — which never adopted a diamond-formation in the first place — and we have a substantial (although not exclusive) list of agencies that recognize the critical limitations of massing forces in a kill zone, ignoring good use of cover, and abandoning fire and maneuver strategies.

Three Benchmarks
There are three benchmarks against which tactical options should be measured. First, from a human factors standpoint, the tactic must address the performance limitations of all human beings. Under the extreme stress of an active shooter event, perceptual distortions are inevitable. These include tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and a narrow focus of attention. The strategies, tactics, techniques, and procedures (STTP) must account for the fact that officers will be in the most stressful event of their lives, there will be the possibility of carnage, sirens, alarms, fire sprinklers, gun shots, explosions, confusing and blaring radio traffic, undetonated IED’s, and screaming victims.

Read the full article on