Stephen is jealous. He told me so on Facebook.
On Thursday I took the day off from writing (the day—not the night!) and participated in drills with the FBI. FBI Swat has a training program for agents and local law enforcement, and generally has a good mix of cops. The training program is for established and new agents to improve on their tactical procedures and includes class work, lectures, and drills. The more training a cop receives opens up more opportunities down the road for advancement or special assignments, so these type of programs and generally popular.
And I got to play this time!
The call (via email) went out on Tuesday asking for volunteers to play bad guys during tactical drills. Of course I replied, “Pick me!” On Thursday I headed over to the former McClellan Air Force Base for my assignment. I parked, so a bunch of firefighters training, and went that way . . . it was the wrong way, but a chivalrous fireman escorted me to the opposite end of the structure to where the feds run their drills.
I met up with Brian Jones, the FBI SWAT Senior Team Leader and Trainer (whose motto is “Failing to Train = Training to Fail.” I’d first met Brian when I participated in the FBI Citizens Academy last year. He let me blow up stuff, so he’s one of my favorite people. He’s also a fan—I gave him and his wife a book last year, and they have since bought my backlist.
The set up is multiple stations where teams of eight are run through life-like scenarios in order to improve their tactical response to common situations. The four stations this day were the “House of Pain” which is a hostage situation; traffic stops (which I believe is the most dangerous for law enforcement); searching; and serving warrants (my drill!)
I was able to observe all the stations except the hostage drill because I couldn’t see it from my vantage point on the catwalk during our “break.” But I learned tremendously from the other drills.
The guns involved all discharge paint bullets (I’m sure there’s a technical name for these, but I forget) and we’re all required to wear protective gear because being hit by the projectile hurts. There were two air force MPs running the drills with us, and they took the brunt of the hits. Both had torn shirt sleeves and bruises by the end of the day!
The searching drill—for lack of a better name because I missed the initial set-up—had a team going into a house searching for a known felon. There were two or three people hiding in the “house” and the primary purpose was to teach the team how to expeditiously and properly search the facility and stay safe. Whenever cops go into a residence with minimal intelligence, they put themselves at risk. So the drill was to give them a practical experience. Each team went through each drill twice under different scenarios (for example, the role players may be told by the trainer to be compliant in one drill, but in the next resist, or hide—or in one drill be unarmed, but in the next be armed.)
One drill had a girl hiding in a couch hide-a-bed. Just a month before, the trainer had been involved in executing a search warrant where two prostitutes hid in a hide-a-bed for three HOURS before they were found. The room they were in had been declared clear—but obviously it wasn’t. In another drill, a bad guy was hiding behind a door that was open. There was another suspect in the open room, who was dealt with appropriately, but the agents had intelligence that there were two men in the facilities, so they went down the hall to search the last room . . . then the door slowly opens and the “bad guy” (Air Force Raven Jeff) opened fire. (NOTE: I learned all about the Ravens, a special security unit in the Air Force that has only been around for about ten years. It’s going in a book someday . . . )
Every team was caught with multiple injuries (probably fatalities) before the bad guy was taken (killed.)
I was up on the catwalk and I couldn’t see the bad guy, but I could see that there was space behind the door and I wanted to shout, “Look behind the door!” Don’t these guys ever go to movies? LOL.
Every drill we ran had elements taken from real-life tactical situations, so these weren’t just classroom fantasy scenarios.
Okay, now the fun part—my drill.
My group had four role players. In Drill #1, the agents had an arrest warrant but not a search warrant so they had to talk themselves into the house. In Drill #2, they had a search warrant.
I played the belligerent, white trash wife. My “husband” Larry was a drunk known pedophile. The arrest warrant was for “Billy” who was a pimp who transported an underage prostitute across state lines (a federal crime.) The prostitute was played by an 18-year-old- FBI intern, and “Billy” was really another Air Force MP.
The cops had to talk their way by me, and I didn’t want to let them in. My orders were to make them “work” for it, so they had to try different approaches. I made the first team really work for it, and it was fun. In the middle of my demanding ID, complaining, not wanting to let anyone into my house, and asking if they wanted Larry, my good-for-nothing husband (using appropriate profanity along the way), Larry would come out of the back and start swearing and stumbling and ordering me to shut the effing door. I’d push him and tell him not to effing tell me what to do (which is probably what I would do if my husband acted the same way—before I packed my bags and left. Hmm, but if I knew he was a pedophile, I’d probably be on my way to prison because he’d be dead or castrated. But I digress.)
It was usually this point that I’d swing open the door and tell the cops to go ahead and do whatever they damn well pleased, while still fighting with Larry—they had to deal with a domestic situation before the primary arrest warrant could be served. I was cuffed, searched, and questioned about who else was in the house and who had guns.
The second situation, Larry and I were in bed (asleep!) and the cops had a search warrant. We didn’t get up—they had to break in. And then search, not knowing how many people were in the house. This was a little scarier than the first scenario, and I was also cuffed, made to lie on the floor of my “bedroom” because of the unstable situation in the hall.
I learned later that our drill was also a deadly force drill. In the second scenario, “Billy” came out of hiding after the prostitute escaped from him, and he had a gun to his head.
Do you shoot him?
The primary exercise is to help cops learn and understand deadly force policy, but to ascertain their personal deadly force policy in different situations.
Do you shoot a man with a loaded gun to his head?
Because action beats reaction every time.
During the last rotation, the trainer told the group that every time they ran the scenario where the agents were told not to shoot until the muzzle moved from the suspects head, an agent was injured (shot with a paint bullet.) Every single time. Because the suspect has the intent and “inside knowledge” so to speak, and the agent is reacting to the movement, which delays response.
The best part of the scenarios was listening to the trainer after the drill go through and tell them what they did right and wrong. For example, one team didn’t cuff or search me in my first scenario, which puts a potentially dangerous people (if I had a gun hidden on me) behind their line.
They only do this once a year in my hometown, and I hope they invite me back next time! I might be willing to get shot then.
What’s valuable for me, as a civilian, is to see first hand the pressure and split-second decisions that cops have to make in the field. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but when things are happening now and an innocent life is in danger, they have to rely on their intel and their training to obtain the best possible outcome.
I didn’t think anything could beat the morgue, but the SWAT drills surpassed it by far. And I can hardly wait to go to Quantico this fall.
For me, as an author, I gain a lot of insight not only into practical situations, but into the people involved. It’s invaluable. And a hell of a lot of fun.