Category Archives: tactics

tactical preschool 66

This lesson is going to cover a basic counter-surveillance technique called a Surveillance Detection Route, otherwise known as an SDR.

Counter-Surveillance is, simply put, the art of preventing people from seeing what you are doing. This can cover techniques as simple as alternating your daily movement patterns to as complex as sweeping your bedroom for electronic listening devices.

This lesson covers a simple technique for detecting if you have a “tail”.

Law Enforcement Officers should always have their “head on a swivel” when they get into their personally owned vehicle (POV) at the end of shift and head home. You never know who you may have pissed off and it’s wise to take measures that prevent someone from following you to your residence. Even if you are not LE, you may have irate exes, stalkers or your spouses PI (LOL!) trying to follow you.

Most often, picking up a tail will be while you are operating a vehicle. The basic concept of an SDR applies while on foot as well, but for this example lets say you have a nice suburban home:


Your normal trip home from the Supermarket is something like this:

home 2

Say one day you notice a car follow you out of the parking lot and something starts to “tingle” in your head. Nothing serious enough to call 911 or start driving to the nearest police station, but a “better safe than sorry” sort of thing…

home 3

Take a turn. This is when you start your SDR. Which, simply put, is just taking a little trip and seeing who follows you and for how far.

home 4

In Narcotics parlance this is sometimes called “squaring the block”. If you see the same vehicle following you turn-for-turn, or if it turns off then re-appears behind you later, assume you are being followed.

Of course, if you think you are being followed by “professionals” they are going to have multiple vehicles following you with communications between them, and maybe even air assets and stationary posts along your known route. One car may turn off while another that was on a parallel street picks you up. But that’s Jason Bourne style $@!# and unlikely to be something the average reader should be concerned about.

However, If for some reason you think this incident requires a bit more caution, you can park in the vicinity of your home, but not right in front of it:

home 5

Sit in your car for a bit and look around for anything out of the ordinary. Are there any occupied cars parked on the street? Any people you’ve never noticed before walking the dog, or jogging around the block?

A pair of binoculars in your car can be a handy tool.

You could then get out and walk the sidewalk to the corner and back..or all the way around the block if you are up for some exercise.

What I would warn the reader to avoid is simply using SDR’s as part of their daily habit. I’ve seen a number of people pull SDR’s simply as habit while not really paying attention to if anyone was actually following them. Alternating your daily route as “habit” is fine. An SDR is a highly conscious thing that requires your full alertness and concentration.

tactical preschool 64

This lesson is closely associated with tactical preschool 5 and the geometry of cover.

Your distance from cover will dictate how much area behind cover will open up when you move sideways away from it.

If you are close to cover, a larger slice  of area behind that cover will open up….



…than if you are farther away from cover, where a smaller slice will appear.



Magpul “Action Sport”

Magpul PTS Dynamic Action Sport from john lawrence on Vimeo.

A nicely put together video that shows the training options/benefits available with Airsoft equipment.

While I’m not sold on the competition aspect due to “training scar” concerns, the target systems and equipment can provide many man-hours of training in a shoot house environment without the expense of live ammunition or the safety concerns.

two man drills, good stuff or misunderstood?

I have seen, practiced and even operationally utilized some two man movement techniques similar to these but they sometimes left me thinking about the wisdom of them.

I can see the utility in “nuts to butts drills” when used doing building clearing and other situations where you need to maneuver in tight quarters and keep a 360 deg security. Similarly I can see their advantages as immediate reaction drills where you make contact while in a stack or while approaching a scene/suspect with a partner close by.

However, once the bullets start flying I can’t see an advantage in standing close together and slugging it out. One, you present a big target and two, you fail to present the opponent with the attention dividing distraction two people can present. I would think that it would be better to split up and find cover that would allow you to mutually support each other with fire.


sometimes there is nothing you can do

Despair (Photo credit: fakelvis)

I recall reading a post over at Hell in a Handbasket that discussed this disturbing video of a Mexican police Captain, his wife and two innocent bystanders being gunned down in a jewelry store by members of a drug gang. Apparently it was  in retaliation for attempts by the police to clean up the drug problem in the area. The video is graphic and disturbing so be forewarned.

As is natural, such a visceral image causes a person to put themselves in the situation and think..”thank God it wasn’t me”…”thank God its in another country”….”thank God that doesn’t happen here”…various things that may or may not be true, but cross your mind anyway. I think its a natural attempt by a person to make themselves feel secure. A defense mechanism to reassure themselves that being gunned down by AK47 wielding drug gang members is unlikely. Which for the most part is true.

However it also set me to thinking that sometimes there is just nothing you can do once you pass a certain point. If you are standing in a public place with one available exit, trapped in between display cases and a group of men with automatic weapons and a plan are coming to get you, they will get you. The only way this man and his wife could have avoided this is if they knew that they were at risk (which it looks like they should have, another police leader had been gunned down previously) and took protective measures way beforehand. Bodyguards, secure locations, not going out…even then, if the opponent is determined enough and there is not an active counter effort against them, it would just be a matter of time.

When we train, we have to keep in mind what we can realistically accomplish. Being armed, trained and aware is often just “the best we can do”, its is never a guarantee. In some ways it’s simply a pacifier that holds the specter of helplessness at arms length. Any person who says they can train you to save yourself and your loved ones with a pistol and your martial arts moves in a situation like this should be avoided at all costs.


think ahead

English: Samurai wearing kusari katabira (chai...
English: Samurai wearing kusari katabira (chain armor jackets) and kusari zunin (chain armor hoods) with hachi gane (forehead protectors). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a samurai in service accompanies his lord on a journey and they arrive at post-station it is most important that he should before sunset take care to make enquiries of the people of the locality, and note any hill or wood or shrine or temple and take his bearings by them, and find out in what direction from their lodging there is an open space and what is the condition of the road. This should be done so that should a fire suddenly break out during the night and it be necessary for his lord to retire he will be able to lead the way and know where to guide him. And when he accompanies his lord on foot, to remember to go in front of him on a hill and behind him on a slope may seem a small matter, but it is one a retainer should not overlook. For it is the duty of a samurai to be vigilant and careful at all times to think out how he can render any possible service in the calling to which he is appointed. – Daidoji Yuzan

This passage brings to mind how we should not be just “going through” the motions when we carry arms for a living. How many coppers have been caught flat footed when that “routine call” turned to shit? Think ahead…find those points of cover in your environment…have some sort of mental “what if” plan that covers as many options you can think of as you approach that car stop.

never confuse movement with action

Action (supermarkets)
Action (supermarkets) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past.” -Karl Von Clausewitz

I’ve seen/heard/read variations on this sentiment over the years and I agree with it on a conceptual level. If you hesitate when you need to act it can mean the difference between mission success or failure…or life and death.

What I’m less clear on is what happens with this saying on a practical level. WHEN is it better to act quickly? Always? Is it always better if you don’t hesitate? Will your boss support you if your actions result in an unsuccessful outcome? Will the military, the media, the government back you if your act on the battlefield results in civilian casualties?

I’m not asking if they SHOULD back you. That’s an entirely different matter.

I think this concept is situation dependent…if bullets are flying and you have to move, that’s different from considering your next step in a barricade call-out.

I also think that this idea can be expressed in a metaphor of a street fight. There are always two considerations in a self defense situation…the immediate issue of survival and the need to act within the scope of the law. While the first should always take precedence, failure to consider the second can turn survival into a Pyrrhic victory.

In my opinion the only way to approach crisis decision making is to have a solid grasp on the “higher order” concepts; tactics, law, ROE, etc and ingrained physical skills that don’t overburden your thought process. Hopefully you get to road test these skills enough so that experience will allow you to adapt your training to the chaos.

everyone loves a hero…

Fred Leland Jr. of Law Enforcement and Security Consulting just made me aware of this quote of William F Owen’s:

“Popular military history (and especially regimental or unit histories) constantly fail to recognise that outstanding courage and sacrifice are not the same as good tactics. It could even be said that, if you have to resort to courage and sacrifice, tactical skill is lacking. More often than not, heroism gets advanced to cover up poor tactical conduct. Thus the understanding of what creates successful tactics is largely absent from a lot of modern doctrine. With confusion as to tactics, something called the ‘operational level of war’ seems alluring. It might even be suggested that commanders are drawn to describing themselves as working at the operational level, because it allows them to avoid responsibility for bad tactics.” ~William F. Owen

I agree. While we all admire the hero, I’d rather carry out 100 uneventful but successful operations than be remembered for bravery in a @#%$$’er where everything went sideways.


know your enemy


English: Essa-queta, Kiowa Apache chief.
English: Essa-queta, Kiowa Apache chief. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let it be distinctly impressed upon my readers, that the Apache never attacks unless fully convinced of an easy victory. They will watch for days, scanning your every movement, observing your every act; taking exact note of your party and all its belongings.

Let no one suppose that these assaults are made upon the spur of the moment by bands accidentally encountered. Far from it; they are almost invariably the results of long watching – patient waiting – careful and rigorous observation, and anxious council…

-John C. Cremony “LIFE AMONG THE APACHES, 1850-1868,”

When I read this quote it made me think about work. When you coppers out there are putting together a case, planning a warrant service or a tactical operation, are you putting in as much intelligence work as you possibly can?

Do you know the players? Do you know the addresses they frequent? The cars they drive? Their girlfriends/boyfriends and their “down low spots”? Do you put in the hours of observation and surveillance that you should?

“Never attack unless fully convinced of an easy victory”.

Good advice.


tactical preschool 25

Im re-posting this older tac-preschool lesson because this part of the blog has become more popular lately. This topic in particular was one that I was hoping to get more discussion on.

The tactical world is full of various debates.

.45 vs 9mm, 1911 vs Glock, point shooting vs aimed fire, you suck vs I am high speed.

Another issue that crops up is how to engage multiple opponents. There are various schools of thought on the best way to deal with this situation.

One method is known as “boarding house rules”. Which is stated as “everybody gets firsts before anybody gets seconds.” What that basically means is that, starting with the most immediate threat (which usually is the closest bad guy) you “serve” one shot to all opponents then go back and deal with the first target if it’s still there. A common training method is to hit the last target with two shots then go back and give the other targets one more. So in the illustration below the sequence would be: 1, 2, 3, 3, 1, 2 repeat as necessary.

A different version of this engagement sequence calls for you to “double tap” each target from near to far then back again. 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3….

The biggest problem I see with this idea is the presumption that you have actually hit the first targets before moving onto the next. Range/competition shooting at plates, poppers, silhouettes etc. isn’t the same as dealing with moving and shooting human beings.  I am a decent shot, but I’m not fooling myself into thinking that I can guarantee hits like that when the SHTF.


Another school of thought is that due to stress, tunnel vision and the natural human reaction to combat; that a better solution is to shoot each threat, in order of severity, until it no longer is a threat. In the illustration below this is shown as: 1, 1, 1, 1 then onto 2, 2, 2…and so on till all threats are dealt with.


I tend to side with the second approach, but what dogmatic people fail to acknowledge is that there is nothing saying that you cant mix these approaches up. Perhaps I may go: 1, 1, 2, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3, 3, 3, 3 depending on what the hell theses guys are doing.

What I find troubling in most training of this sort, regardless of the method you like,  is the “training in” of standing still in the midst of multiple armed opponents and shooting it out. What I think should happen is that you should be MOVING. Move to cover and deal with the closest threat. If he gets behind cover deal with the next available threat. And be thinking about your next move. If they are maneuvering on you or decide to keep shooting it out you are in a loosing proposition. Think about bugging out.