Safety When Undercover

hsi_badgeWe have harped on this before, but not everybody reads, and it happened again — a plainclothes agent (a Fed from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigations arm of ICE), joined local cops and a smorgasbord of whatever LEOs were handy in responding to a reported active shooter event at a school in Texas. And he was shot and wounded by a US Marshal. CNN (warning, loud autoplay ads):

In the confusion that followed, numerous law enforcement officers rushed to the scene and a US marshal accidentally shot a Homeland Security agent, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said.

Dodson said the agent was in stable condition; he didn’t release the condition of the wounded student. Her injuries didn’t appear to be life-threatening, the sheriff said.

Thing is, by that time it wasn’t an active shooter event any more. One 14-year-old girl shot and wounded another female student, then killed herself. By the time the first cop got on the scene — a deputy who’d been passing by — the shooting was over. Or it would have been over, if not for one Fed blasting another, to the embarrassment of all (and the pain of the wounded dude).

As to the girl-on-girl shooting, so far it beats law enforcement with a stick.

Dodson said the student who died moved about six months ago to Alpine, a community of 6,500 people roughly 200 miles southeast of El Paso. Dodson didn’t identify her or provide a motive but said her family is cooperating.

Mean Girls was not a how-to manual, kids.

Since Columbine, when the massacre rolled on while the cops were running their procedures outside, there’s a new dynamic in active shooter response: everybody goes in, balls to the wall, right down the middle. Fine and good, but consider these things:

  1. There’s little (usually, no) interagency commonality in equipment, uniforms, or — most important — training.
  2. As an armed undercover in the middle of a law enforcement all-call, you might as well be wearing a deer suit on the first day of the rifle season.
  3. As an individual, think about your IFF (Identification Friend or Foe). Raid jacket, at least.
  4. If you have a regional interagency task force, do a little planning now, long before you have to deal with one of the trigger-happy crumbs. For instance, declare a single a distinctive and unmistakeable TF identifying badge or mark, and get the news around to all jurisdictions, but keep the details LE Confidential.
  5. Sneaking through the reported active-shooter zone is a really bad idea if you’re not practically lighthousing “cop!”
  6. Remember that jumpy cops even shoot other uniformed cops. Not just cops, either. Soldiers shoot friendlies all the time, despite always wearing uniforms and pursuing all kinds of control measures.
  7. As an individual, the safest thing to do is wait and stack up with the locals when they go in.
  8. You will never have perfect information. Chaos and Confusion are the handmaidens of combat.

When Army elements used to work the indoor HR/CT mission hard, we had certain control measures we used, most of which are no secret. One key approach was to get and keep the hostage taker talking to the negotiators while the assault leaders planned the takedown. The first thing they did was plan a hasty takedown, which you hoped not to use, but would initiate if the hostage takers started harming hostages.

But the hasty takedown would always come from one direction, in one team, under one command. You might play multiple-entry-points or roof team / ground team in the deliberate assault, but in a hasty assault you kept everyone together. This kept you from killing hostages and each other.

The absence of unity of command in a law enforcement active-shooter all-call is just asking for trouble.

16 thoughts on “Safety When Undercover

  1. RLTW

    Presumably, the undercover LEO who receives an active shooter call and decides to enter the kill zone has made a hasty assessment of the danger to himself versus the necessity to get a good guy with a gun on the objective ASAP. If there’s to be a default setting for these situations, I’ll take Alpine’s balls to the wall approach over the Columbine / Nairobi Mall debacles. God bless the injured officer and the LEO that shot him. Here’s to a speedy recovery.

    T o o b a d t h e l o c a l s d i d n ‘ t t h i n k t o p o s t “G u n F r e e Z o n e” s i g n s a r o u n d
    t h e s c h o o l . . .

  2. Y

    Obviously harder for an undercover but I’ve always been surprised that the US doesn’t copy French flics who carry neon orange police arm bands on them. Weighs nothing, easy to spot, fits in a pocket, lets you stay incognito until needed, quick to put on and visible from both front and back (unlike US cops whose badges are often only visible from the front). Considering the sheer number of US agencies, uniforms etc. it would be a cheap and universal recognition symbol.


    1. Tierlieb

      Companies like 5.11 make all these clothes with fold-out identification hidden in pockets. Seems good, too.

      And a good thing that has worked for everything from airsoft and larp to disaster recovery to civil war has been simply sashes in a bright color.

      For the more tactically minded, hand each participant three of them and communicate which color to use beforehand – even if you cannot communicate during the operation, you usually manage before (otherwise, how’d you show up there?).

      In my personal experience, brightly colored gloves or those 80s sweat bands might work even better, as people tend to look at the hands/weapon first.

      1. Hognose Post author

        In the Vietnam War, use of Roadrunner teams of pseudo NVA, and SOG teams’ occasional use of an NVA-uniform point man, so bedeviled the NVA’s Group 559 (in charge of Ho Chi Minh Trail security) that they issued multiple hats and a Color of the Day order. It was ineffective as their coms had been exploited by friendly forces. But for any tactic, expect a thinking enemy to make a countertactic.

        Police have been fortunate over the years because most criminals are not a thinking enemy, much; they’re mostly from the hard left of the bell curve, with too little intellect and impulse control to see the negative sides of the trade offs one makes in choosing a career in crime. This means that the cops are ill-equipped to deal with terrorists (who often have intelligent leaders, even if their shooters are dim cannon fodder) or the disaffected bright kid like the Sandy Hook shooter.

        There’s really no way for a free society to defend against some average or brighter intelligence guy who, for whatever ate-up reason, decides to kill people and go out in a blaze of notoriety. You can become an unfree society but the would be terrorist or ego shooter will still pull it off, c.f. Chechen terrorism in the former Soviet Union, or Uighur terrorism in China today.

        1. 11B-Mailclerk

          The answer appears to be “herd immunity”. As we 1) raise the “fight back effectively” quotient of the average person, 2) increase the “form pick-up team” capabilities of the willing-to-fight population, and 3) reduce the number of defender-free-kill-zones, we dramatically reduce the overall potential for high-body-count mayhem.

          You are addressing (nicely) item #2. It has been neglected by and large.

        2. Tierlieb

          > There’s really no way for a free society to defend against some average or brighter intelligence guy who, for whatever ate-up reason, decides to kill people and go out in a blaze of notoriety. You can become an unfree society but the would be terrorist or ego shooter will still pull it off

          > The answer appears to be “herd immunity”
          One more point. I think this is the really hard one: Accept death more willingly. And to make it harder, I mean other people’s death. I assume every proper person has already decided for themselves when it is okay to die for a good thing, so that one is easy. But other people… hard.

          There is a price we have to pay for a free society. And looking at it rationally, the price we pay is really cheap.

          We willingly pay the price for swimming pools and motorcycles, horse riding and parachuting. Those things are expensive when it comes to the price in lives. Yet not outlawed. Hognose makes this point at least once a week.

          1. Hognose Post author

            This year in the USA, opiate ODs have killed more people than motor vehicle accidents. It is the first time since they started counting (some time around WWI, I think) that any accidental death has outstripped MVAs.

            Of course, you can make a case that ODs aren’t accidents, but suicides.

  3. Cap'n Mike

    Since Columbine, local Departments have done a ton of Active shooter response training.
    My experience with at least one Federal Agency is that they have not had any of this training.
    In a recent meeting about active shooter response, the Feds where horrified when told what local response procedures were.
    The reason may have been only Administrators where present.

  4. Docduracoat

    You did not mention the plight of citizen concealed carriers.
    When an armed citizen takes immediate action and shoots the terrorist/criminal, he is in danger from the police response.

  5. Loren

    The recent Sydney Australia hostage event is a reenactment of Columbine except that after passing up clear shots at the perp. they finally decided to do the entry and managed to kill another hostage.
    The cops did look all macho and grim looking though so that’s something.

  6. Aesop

    What a relief.
    A US Marshal shot a DHS agent?
    At least no actual law enforcement officers were hurt.
    If it’d been a TSA agent shot, I’d send a congratulatory card to the Marshals for taking another dangerous pervert off the streets.

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