Undercover Tactics for Law Enforcement

Late last month I had the opportunity to team up with a few other instructors and host an Undercover Tactics course inMaryland.  The class was not only made unique by the officers who attended, but also the way the skills were taught.  Unlike conventional Undercover courses which are heavy on lecture and theory of undercover work, this class was mostly hands on skills and street level scenarios.

The course included lessons in Defensive Tactics: skills adapted specifically to address the unique environment UC officers may find themselves in, this includes skills inside vehicles, in extreme confined spaces, when force escalation options are limited and when back-up may not be readily available.

In addition to the DT skills, the class also covered lessons in Urban SERE.  There are plenty of documented incidents where UC officers were compromised and then kidnapped, we felt it to be important to share with these operators how to defeat restraints, and resist possible torture, ending with means to escape and evade captivity.  Note that the skills were designed for an urban environment and are somewhat different from the military approach to combat zone SERE. As with all of other skills taught throughout the class, the SERE lessons culminated in a reality based drill.

The practical lessons were accompanied by lectures on developing proper “personas,” surveillance, counter-surveillance skills, and a special lesson on the Israeli approach to UC work.  This was of particular interest to the students, as it differentiated between short term operations and long term undercover missions in extreme hostile environment. Sharing these experiences further enhanced the students’ trust in the skills taught.

From the start we identified a few fundamental issues with UC classes, which we aimed to correct: UC work varies greatly, from short term operation to long undercover missions. As such the training should be designed specifically for the needs of the operator.  These differences were extremely noticeable when comparing local police agencies with federal agencies.  Furthermore, “plain clothes” duties were often confused with UC work.  We aimed to correct that miss-conception and to provide the street level operators with the tools they need.

For purposes of this article I will concentrate on the defensive tactics skills covered in this class, which in our belief is the most critical component to Undercover Officer survival should a situation not go as planned. And one aspect of UC training often times wrongfully neglected.

In designing a DT program for UC work we had to account for several variables:

Absence of weapons. Or, better yet, how to incorporate weapons of opportunity into the role the UC is playing.

Back-up: is it near, and what is the extent of it?  Some agencies will have a full tactical team covering its UCs, others, maybe one officer as cover.

Most DT skills depend heavily on space, from edged weapon defenses to restraint and control, and even ground fighting.  Space which may not be available inside a vehicle during a “buy” or in a row-house in downtownBaltimore.  DT skills had to be modified and account for the lack of space.

Often times the officer may not even be “exposed” but may just be a victim of a random crime by virtue of the environment that he/she operates in. Or because they carry money/drugs/weapons on them. Recognizing this potential and preparing to deal with it, was one of the utmost concerns of the officers attending this class.

When writing the curriculum for this class we had to limit our skills to those that fit the specific environment the UC operates in.  We chose not to spend too much time on the basics of self-defense; rather we focused on more scenario-based training.  As the curriculum evolved we notice the following:

The skills needed for Undercover officers had to differ some from skills typically taught to police officers. This was due to the specific situations/environment they operated in, and address topics such as potential carjacking, edged weapon attacks in a bathroom stall and more.

The skills we taught may not be the most graceful. But, then again, neither are the circumstances they operate in.  One must note that it is reliance on principles rather than specific techniques that the officers will find most useful.  For example, if the officer remembers that a vehicle is a 5,000 pound weapon he/she can use, or that the key to a gun defense is to get out of the line of fire and stay out of the line of fire, how they use the car or redirect the weapon is not as important!

Weapons of opportunity are a big force multiplier and momentum changer.  A UC operator dressed as a homeless person carrying a booze bottle has a built in weapon as part of his persona which he could use if the need arises.  Keys, belts, pens, coffee and other everyday items can be transformed into weapons if and when needed.

Much time was spent on defending against threats when inside a vehicle.  From the extensive research we conducted we found a large number of UC work is done inside a vehicle, or when the operator is in the vehicle and the suspect outside of it.  Learning how to defend against car-jacking scenarios, or robberies at gun point was therefore imperative.  Skills included defenses against handgun to the head from outside (through the window), from the passenger side and from the rear of the car.  Skills were then repeated against an edged weapon.

To those who wonder what the skills were like, the simplest way to put it is to “redirect and floor it!”  As with all of the handgun defenses that we teach, emphasis is placed on getting out of the line of fire.  Once out of the line of fire the goal is to remain out of that line of fire.  Most skills involved pinning the handgun against a solid part of the vehicle such as the window frame or the steering wheel (depending on the angle of attack).  Most often, working the vehicle will force the suspect to either let go or be dragged along.  If the suspect is inside the vehicle stepping on the accelerator may throw the suspect off balance and allow the officer to disarm the suspect. If accelerating is not an option, disarming the suspect may be the only way to survive that encounter (look for future articles to further explain handgun defense skills).

It is unfortunate that many UC Tactics classes today only provide officers with the theory of the work, and no practical skills.  As we, the Law Enforcement community, face higher cases of violence and surveillance by the criminal elements is more sophisticated and detection of UC operators more likely, cases of “burned officers” are on the rise.  We must provide these officers with realistic skills they can use to defend themselves when the situation arises.

Written and submitted by Tzviel ‘BK’ Blankchtein

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