Ambushes have changed throughout every major war or conflict. There are many great pointers for preventing ambushes: raising your alert levels, managing your position in the field better, increasing your awareness and ways to properly identify them. However, when it happens on our own streets, targeting our finest in law enforcement—well, this is a danger we cannot ignore or simply wish away. Living with the mindset that it won’t happen to you is not really an option anymore. One of my mentors, “Coach” Bob Lindsey says,” You can choose to be an if then thinker or a when then thinker–in today’s society it is not if you could be in the middle of an ambush but simply when!”
The media seems to confuse ambushes with assassinations, but these two types of attacks are quite different. An assassination is the preplanned action of selecting a target(s) and the sole purpose is to kill, while an ambush is the sudden or secretly planned attack on a random target(s) or person(s), and while the result may still be death, motivators are often increasing fear and intimidation within an organization or community. An assassination occurs in cases such as an officer sitting in their patrol vehicle, writing a report or showing their police presence, eating a meal, patrolling the street or standing on a sidewalk when someone walks up and shoots them or uses a hidden location with the intent of killing them where they stand.
Ambushes occur in cases such as swatting incidents (when people call the police to investigate false calls) or even when officers are just driving through neighborhoods while on patrol and are suddenly overtaken.
There are really only three basic types of ambushes. The military does a good job in identifying the various types of ambushes and, being a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I have seen and studied many of them. Each of these categories was developed for military action and most of them have recently been modified by violent criminals to be used against police.
Planned Urban Ambush
This type of ambush is typically targeted at convoys or small units possibly being tasked with an assignment to secure a piece of terrain. Tools of a planned urban ambush include explosives, snipers and small teams to attack and terminate or limit movement. In some cases, improvised explosive devices (IED), land mines, trip wires or pressure devices are used, and typically require some substantial prep work and planning.
The most likely LE example would be an attack planned on a police officer in a vehicle on patrol. The attacker would confirm the officer’s route, speed of vehicle and number of traffic lights, intersections and patrol routes along with stop signs, yields and detour on the neighborhood, lighting, number of cars in the street, etc. For a planned urban ambush the location is key and preselected.
Rapid Assault Ambush
This is a rapid and fast set up to target small units or field movement of troops. A rapid assault ambush generally targets the infantry and squads or smaller long range reconnaissance teams or scout teams. Typically, there is not a lot of time to set up and conduct these types of ambushes and they are organized by one leader in the group, and often, roles and areas of responsibility are not defined and will change as the ambush develops.
Typically these types of ambushes are filled with emotion, rage and anger as a response to either defending a specific area or attacking general. A rapid assault ambush on a law enforcement officer might include an incident where an officer has sparked rage in a patrol area and could even be masked as a small gathering for protest, riot or unorganized protest to create the distraction needed to carry out the attack.
This type of ambush works against a known enemy’s movement to create confusion, delay arrival and create injuries and casualties among the ranks during a withdrawal or retreat before vanishing or leaving the area. The size of an ambush team can be any size, depending on manpower and commitment. This type of ambush causes the target to retreat to another defensive position from which the attackers repeat the ambush or have it already booby-trapped.
The goal of a spontaneous ambush is to engage the enemy with either small or large weapons, create as many casualties as possible and quickly leave before the target can decisively respond to the ambush team and fix them. The spontaneous ambush team breaks contact, maneuvers to lose any pursuit from the enemy and then evaluates its next moves. This is the most common type of ambush seen in law enforcement applications today.
All of these ambush teams are methodical and must be able to engage the target(s) to produce the desired effect.
Three Factors on an Ambush
All ambushes have several common factors. Most ambushes have three parts: the initial contact, the kill zones and the fall back location.
1. The initial contact is the first step in an ambush. It can be anything from creating a vehicle accident, street fire or false call for police to respond to. It is designed to have the target go to a designated location that has already been pre-established with lookout points set—allowing the ambush team to have eyes on its target during the initial approach. Distractions are in place and choke points (terrain or surroundings limiting the movement of the target to direct them where the ambushers want them to be) are arranged.
The initial contact can originate as a low-level, non-threatening call about a dog barking or minor traffic violation. But it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as an easy or safe call.
2. Kill zones get their definition because they are areas designed to place the target into a prearranged location within range and skillset of the ambush teams to increase the percentages of kills and the likelihood of accomplishing the team’s mission.
3. Fall back locations are vital for the ambush team, because these are places the targets will retreat to and take a position to return fire during the ambush. Fall back locations can also place the targets in a tactical advantage if not controlled, giving the targets access to additional weapons, cover and escape routes.
Counter Ambush Tactics for Police
The goals of an ambush can be to incite anxiety, fear and panic into a society or group, to spread doubt and hesitation of citizens that their own police or government cannot protect them or even to bring chaos into the ranks of authority. Here are some tips for law enforcement officers confronted with an ambush:
1. When attacked by surprise:
· Remain alert. Keep an eye on your surroundings, even when talking to people or eating a meal alone in your cruiser. Getting intel prior to starting you shift will help you become better acquainted with your environment.
· Listen to your tactical sense.
· Change your routine. Do not be predictable.
· Increase your awareness by being more observant and watching what happens around you at all times.
· No matter where you are, position yourself for the best tactical advantage. Never have your back to an entryway, if possible.
· Adopt a “When” rather than an “If” mindset. Ask yourself, “What will I do when this happens?” and “How will I respond?”
· Pay close attention to the people around you. They may see things you don’t.
· Develop your own counter ambush strategies.
2. When trapped in an ambush and overcome with gunfire (either head on or from the rear):
· Resist the urge to turn and see where the gunfire is coming from.
· Seek cover immediately. Do not hesitate.
· Draw your firearm and listen. You may hear where the direction of fire is coming from. But remember: when you move so do they.
· As you listen, pay attention of the pacing of the fire and try to determine how many threats there are in the ambush area.
· Break apart from your group. Ambush teams want you to stay together. But, before you break apart, try to decide on the location to reassemble when the threat has been neutralized.
· Know your weapon limitations.
3. When you have limited locations of retreat or cover:
· Retreat to cover and defend.
· Immediately flank ambush to safety.
· Push through the attack and go on the offensive.
· Identify what their kill zones are by surveying your surroundings before making a move.
· Listen and watch for where they are firing.
· Remember their kills zones can be yours as well.
· Watch for IED’s
4. When you try to pre-stage cover positions for long range kills:
· You may have to seek an elevated position to cover yourself or your team.
· Watch for snipers or other elevated threats.
· When moving, remember the phrase, “I am up. He sees me, I am down.” When you get up to move, say to yourself, “I am up.” As you take a few steps say, “He sees me, I am down.” Get on the ground behind cover quickly and then repeat this as you move.
Remember that even the most well-planned ambush has the human factor of error. This can mean everything from weapons malfunctioning, low skill levels, lack of communication or even experiencing second thoughts or being a coward. The best response to any attack on police is making sure that you and your team have a preplanned response to these incidents.