5 years, 10 months ago
In The Jose Guerena Raid: A Demonstration of Tactical Incompetence we saw the helmet camera video released by Sheriff Dupnik of the raid on the home of Jose Guerena. I observed the following.
First, Mr. Guerena’s weapon, contrary to initial accounts by the SWAT team, was never taken off of safety. The team took no shots from him. Second, the team mills around for a while before breaching the home. Third, they don’t form into a stack. Fourth, absurdly, they knock and allow only four seconds for a response. Fifth, one of the members falls in the doorway. Sixth, upon shots being fired (by the SWAT team), more than one team member begins backing away from the incident. Seventh, one of the team members who initially backed away moves forward to fire shots over the heads of other team members who are in the home (it’s a wonder that SWAT team members didn’t get shot by their own team). All the while, several team members are standing aimlessly outside the home, doing nothing. Then to top it all off, even though medical responders arrived within minutes, they weren’t allowed into the home for one hour and fourteen minutes.
Since then Bob Owens has done a good job of outlining in more detail why this was tactically a bad incident. But I also received a note from a Police Department Captain (his name and city will remain anonymous). He responds to the raid.
I am curious to see what the investigation reveals and interested in what information comes out. Civilian police are not nearly as well-trained as military personnel going to war. In higher risk situations, it is preferable to have a team with a little more training and equipment than street officers. The somewhat casual appearance of the officers indicated they probably didn’t anticipate armed resistance even if higher risk. In a forced entry raid, if the homeowner displayed a weapon, he may have been hit with automatic weapons (accounting for the large number of rounds.) The homeowner was obviously deceased immediately so there was no need to allow the paramedics in to contaminate the crime scene. Medics may have been sent in later to make a legally-required pronouncement of death if Arizona requires a medical professional to do same. My primary concern would be: what did the officers see when they entered, did they have the correct house and how reliable was the information used for the search warrant? If the homeowner displayed the weapon as they made entry, they probably had no choice but to shoot. If the first shot is not yours in that type of situation, you don’t go back home that day.
My friend raises a number of important questions and issues, so let’s go into more detail on the raid and why this was not a good choice of strategy or tactics. First, the tactics.
To begin with, the failure was set into motion by their confusion as to procedure, and their setup of the operation. This was neither a no-knock raid nor a knock-and-question visit. It was the worst of both worlds. The “tactical team” turned on the siren for a moment, whether by accident or intentionally, and then knocked on the door. They could have used the element of concealment and surprise by not announcing their presence, but they chose to give at least a cursory announcement of the team’s presence on the grounds of the home.
Next, they didn’t allow that announcement to take effect and perform its intended function, i.e., to persuade the home’s occupants to come to the door and take questions, allow the police into their home, view a warrant, etc. By doing what they did, the police set up their own failure. They gave Mr. Guerena long enough to grab a weapon from a sound sleep, but not long enough to ascertain what was going on. It is well known that decisions within 30 minutes of waking are worse than those made in a drunken state, and driving is not advisable just after waking. In this case, they forced Mr. Guerena to decide whether to defend his family, a decision he ultimately made well, where he noticed that they were police officers and never took his weapon off of safety. Unfortunately, the police were not as disciplined.
Next, they breached the doorway, but stayed in the “funnel” far too long. In fact, most of the officers never left the funnel, causing unnecessary hazard to themselves and the balance of the team. Next, they were not well-trained enough or disciplined enough to withhold fire when they saw Mr. Guerena with a weapon. They used what I will call Fallujah tactics. Think Operation Al Fajr, or Operation Alljah. Every home in Iraq was allowed at least one weapon, and it was usually a Kalashnikov. The number of times that Soldiers or Marines entered the homes of Iraqis only to find that they have weapons, perhaps at their fingertips, cannot be counted. Yet they did it, and they learned military operations on urban terrain (MOUT). They became accustomed to the threat and risk, and they learned that split second decision-making that accomplished the mission.
In this case, Sheriff Dupnik’s tactical team made no such judgment. They used an “if anything moves kill it” mentality (Fallujah, Iraq tactics). Except this isn’t Fallujah, Iraq. This is Tuscon, Arizona. This is completely inappropriate for homes in America. Finally, it they had stopped shooting at two shots and allowed medical aid, Mr. Guerena might have been saved. As it was, he was their last concern. In this case, it was supposedly a drug related raid, and no drugs or contraband were found in this home. And Mr. Guerena is dead.
Now for the strategy. The police department could have decided to wait until Mr. Guerena was headed to work and accompany him with several units until they found a safe place to stop and question him. They could have executed a search warrant of his home, with him absent, at the same time, where there would have been no decision to be made regarding defense of life and family. In this case they would have found that whatever reason that justified the search warrant to begin with was ill-conceived and mistaken. As it is, Mr. Guerena is dead. There could have been a thousand such options other than a day-time raid with automatic weapons. But they didn’t choose any of those options.
If police department wish to implement military style tactics in situations that demand such tactics (e.g., hostage situations), then they need to become skilled in such tactics and fund and train the tactical teams in a manner worthy of the tactics in use. Things such as parallel deployments with the military to various theaters around the world comes to mind.
Otherwise, police departments are simply going to have to be wiser and more sophisticated regarding their strategic approach to what they believe to be dangerous people, and corral those people to locations where the risk is minimized to the potential victims, the police, and innocent bystanders. Any other approach is simply malfeasance on the part of the police.
Last, I call on the House Subcommittee of the Constitution or the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security to investigate the militarization of police tactics within America, and whether such tactics comport with the constitutional rights of the citizens of the United States. While I am sympathetic to my friend’s concern about going home at the end of his shift, that sympathy is mitigated when I witness awful tactics and even worse strategy.