LE use of NVG for Warrant Service – One Cop’s opinion.

I have been a SWAT dude for over 20 years, during that time I have seen huge advances in tactics, techniques and procedures as well as gear and supporting equipment. Indeed, I tell new guys that I wish I was starting my SWAT career today versus being at the end of it. We have come a long way since Balaclavas, Command Jac vests with K30 plates and MP5’s. A big reason for this growth and increase in skill is directly related to the GWOT. America’s heroes in foreign lands have discovered that technology, when used correctly, is a force safety multiplier unlike anything else. This is particularly true of night vision capabilities and supporting gear. It is far past the time that domestic LE catch up.

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As I said earlier, I’ve been kicking in doors since 1995. Since NVG technology was nowhere near where it is today, and the cost was also extremely prohibitive, SWAT teams in America were simply conducting warrant service with flashlights when conditions were such that you had to see in the dark. Many different white light techniques and team tactics with white light have been developed and used over the years. During all that time, many SWAT teams encountered armed subjects that required the use of deadly force. In some cases, the bad guy was shot and in others cops were shot and/or killed. One of the most popular defenses to these events from plaintiff’s attorney was that their criminal did not know it was the Police. How could this be? The officers were properly marked with Police placards visible, they announced they were the Police while entering and in a lot of cases, Knocked and Announced they were the Police prior to forcing entry. One of the responses has been, “The officers used extremely powerful flashlights that were directed at my criminals eyes, so he could not verify they were who they said they were”. In other cases it is simply that they did not hear the officers announcing Police. This is important for a few reasons which I will expand on later.

The result of these cases is wide and varied, in some cases criminals were not charged with the murder of a police officer since the jury was sympathetic to the issues above. In other cases, charges were filed, agencies paid civil penalties, officers were and were not granted qualified immunity and a host of other outcomes. Some of these cases occurred during daylight hours and others at night. The following is speculation since I have not interviewed any of the suspects involved, but I would guess that they either fired weapons at or near the white light source or at noise to indicate where officers were present. Regardless, they used something as a means to try to observe, orient, decide and then act.

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So now let’s get to the heart of the matter, using NVG to serve warrants. My team uses NVG for both slow and dynamic clears. There has been some consternation at the command level about using the NVG’s and supporting equipment for the faster clearing methods. “What if they can’t ID you as cops?”, “What if they think it’s a robbery?”, “What do other teams do?”. We all know what a Frog would do if he had hips, what is really being said in my opinion, is that concern about unknown risk supercedes concern about the teams safety. NVG’s allow me to take away one of the factors bad guys use to engage, and that is their ability observe (no white light transmission). They might be able to get past that and still orient based on noise, but blind firing will generally result in a win for LE.The same concerns about bad guys not knowing we are the cops, and plaintiff’s attorney mounting that very argument, exist without NVG. So for the love of god, quit worrying about that which has already been done. It’s predictable behavior from criminals and attorneys. It’s not whether or not it will happen, it is accepting that it is going to happen. Because it already has.

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Like it or not, I am a risk manager for the team, for the agency and for myself. So to mitigate and manage risk as much as possible, the following recommendations should be considered when planning an NVG hit, especially when using dynamic tactics:

  1. You should absolutely Knock and Announce prior to forcing entry on the target. Get creative, I can knock and announce on the side of the house, breach two entry points simultaneously, hold one and enter the other. There is no legal requirement that I enter through the door I knocked on.
  2. Once action is placed on the target, consider having police vehicles activate overhead lights near the target AND use their PA system to continue to announce Police presence.
  3. Officers need to recognize that while they can see perfectly fine, occupants may not be able to see at all. In the case of armed resistance from criminals, get busy shooting. For fighters, get busy fighting. For complaint persons, make sure officers communicate to people in a calm voice that they are indeed the police, that they are going to be restrained temporarily, and THEN they put hands on people. If need be, they can take the extra step of closing the door to the room and then activating white light so the occupants can actually see.
  4. Be cautious about using NVG for EVERY service. This will likely take care of itself since missions occur at all times of the day, precluding the benefit of NVG. In addition, Surround and callout tactics may result in NVG use, but typically this would occur after occupants have complied and surrendered, robots have been introduced, K9 has been used and potentially OC/CS has been deployed. The likelihood of mounting the defense that they didn’t know we were cops after all that has occurred has been extremely diminished.

These things are suggestions that might help with civil action and possibly even criminal action against individual officers and organizations. They are not necessarily TTP’s and I will not go into specifics here due to the possibility of unchecked sharing.

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Last is that the NVG SYSTEM must be in place for all officers. Each man must be outfitted with NVG, Aiming laser, IR Illuminator and IFF. If you lack any of those critical components, your team is not capable of Dynamically clearing or slow clearing. You must have it all, non-negotiable. It also goes without saying that many hours of training must be logged using the equipment so officers are comfortable doing their job with diminished field of view and depth perception. Officers need to be able to do all the basic skills under NVG that they can do on a sunny range, breaching day, or combatives training. If they can’t, your team is not capable of clearing a structure under NVG.

Outside trainers bring their knowledge of the product and how to fight with the equipment. As the recipient of that training, you need to figure out how it applies to your team TTP’s, training tempo and mission requirements. This requires forethought and planning. Don’t rush it. In my case we trained for well over a year with the equipment; dry runs, marking cartridge and live fire shoot house before we considered a live NVG Dynamic hit. We had already used them for slow clears, the next step to the faster clears was a long road. For teams with a HR responsibility, it goes without saying that multiple warrant service missions at speed is a requirement prior to ever considering a hostage rescue with NVG. I don’t want the super bowl to be the first game where they have worn the gear. Repetitions in training and missions will keep speed of movement in check and will allow discretion to be cleaner and faster.

I truly believe that the use of NVG by SWAT teams will keep them safer than continued white light use. I also believe that it will keep suspects safer. The technology and training is out there, neither is cheap, but neither is an officer’s funeral or the claim from plaintiff’s estate.

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Bill Blowers
Bill Blowers has been a police officer for over 20 years, prior to that he was in the US Army for six years. Bill is currently a Sergeant for a Municipal Agency in Washington State. He is assigned to his agencies training unit and is also a team leader on a large and active regional SWAT team. He has been assigned to SWAT since 1995 and has held positions such as Sniper, Ballistic Shield Carrier, Entry Team Member, and Assistant Team Leader. He has planned, or participated in, over 1000 missions and has in excess of 5000 documented training hours.

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