Photo Dale Stockton
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Webster's Dictionary defines exigency as "A case or situation that demands prompt action or remedy; emergency or plight." While Webster's is certainly not a law enforcement tactical manual, the above definition clearly fits our needs, because when challenged with getting into a location under exigent circumstances, patrol officers must consider a number of issues.
In an exigent-circumstance entry, there are six basic areas of concern: legal, weapons handling, approach, entry, contact with suspects and the aftermath.
Today, case law in one form or another dictates that law enforcement personnel can only enter a location with a legal warrant, consent or exigent circumstances. In the latter, the issue of imminent danger to life per the U.S. Supreme Court case Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart gives police officers a legal right and obligation to act. This concept is an exception to the Fourth Amendment, and clearly refers to when officers must enter a location to save lives due to ongoing violence. Exigencies involving hot pursuit and destruction of evidence are covered in the U.S. Supreme Court cases Warden v. Hayden and United States v. Santana.
In case you didn't realize it, making an exigent-circumstances entry into a location definitely falls into the realm of a tactical response regardless whether SWAT officers or street cops are involved. Let's review some critical weapons-handling issues. Basically, you should apply the cardinal rules of firearm safety to tactical operations.
- Never assume a weapon's condition. We all should know by now the standard interpretation of this rule, but to modify it for our purposes here, it also means you should ensure a weapon is properly loaded and ready. Instructors at Gunsite preach, "Always take a loaded gun to a gunfight." In addition, when appropriate, make sure the firearm is off safe. In case you haven't heard it before, "Duh stands for dead" if your gun is not properly loaded or still on safe when you try to fire it.
- The Master Grip: Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you make a conscious decision to use lethal force. In a tactical response, the adrenaline dump you experience may be significant. It can only get worse if you ignore this basic rule. In a worst-case scenario, it may lead to a weapon s unintentional discharge that wounds or kills another officer or innocent civilian.
- The Laser Rule: Never allow the muzzle of your weapon to cover anything you don t intend to destroy. In an exigent-circumstances setting, observing this rule is very important. Especially in an active-shooter, immediate-response situation, with innocent, panicked civilians moving close to officers, we must exercise caution with our firearms as we search for the suspect. In some cases, it may even be wise when confronting a potential suspect who is not yet perceived as armed to cover down with the firearm adjusted slightly to the left or right of center mass. This technique will ensure an unintentional discharge will not hit someone you did not intend to use lethal force against. If the suspect does produce a weapon, you only have to shift the muzzle laterally to immediately respond.
- Be sure of your target and beyond. This final rule reflects the fact that you must shoot what you know, not what you think. This means ensuring you engage a hostile subject whose actions justify the use of lethal force.
When you approach a building s exterior, you must remember the suspect inside has a tactical advantage (looking out is a lot easier than looking in). With that in mind, using some form of ballistic protection and developing at least a tactical response or hasty plan are essential elements for an approach. As you begin to plan your approach, make looking for points of cover a priority. Before going forward, think about how you will move from one point of cover to another. As one officer moves, another should provide cover and shoot if necessary to protect fellow officers. For example, when officers move across the front of a residence trying to get to a better vantage point before entering, direct one officer to remain behind, use cover, focus on the location and prepare to respond to any suspect actions, including lethal force. This officer can then move up once the others have reached a new position from which they can now act as cover officers.
Beyond the use of cover, the overall approach should be part of a hasty plan. The overall goal of the hasty plan is to gain access, rescue any innocent citizens and deal with the suspect as necessary. This does not have to be complex. In fact, in such situations, it s better to use simple steps to solve the problem. A hasty plan does require that communication between those directly involved remains relevant and ongoing.
As part of the hasty plan, officers look for possible points of entry, keeping in mind that the most accessible door such as a front door may not be the most tactically sound (a suspect inside may intuitively recognize the same fact and anticipate officers coming in through that door). If an alternate entry point is available, seriously consider using it instead depending on the circumstances at hand.