During the last part of my uniformed service, I found myself developing as a leader.
For the longest time, I wanted to continually grow, learn more, and be an ever-evolving agent for change and betterment in my community.
When I became responsible for other people, I understood innately that I needed to help others advance.
So, I focused on working with my deputies and honing their skills. I had a good team of folks with diverse backgrounds and levels of experience.
Some were solid on law and procedure; others were strong in the ways of tactics. But planning traditionally had been left up to me.
I was big on commander’s intent, a practice that gives subordinates guidelines to work within but does not necessarily stifle creativity on how the person achieves that objective.
Often, I would tell the deputies the end objective I wanted to see, maybe communicate something that needed to be strictly avoided, and cut them loose. And I was often impressed with what they did.
It’s true in life that things do not always go according to plan — and doubly so in law enforcement.
So, when it came to SWAT missions, I was a lot more hands-on at first.
These operations are often high risk, and there was no vicarious liability at my level because I was in the stack, going through the door.
Any responsibility for mistakes on a mission was mine and mine alone…
Boots on the Ground
We served a warrant on an accused child molester many years ago.
The workup was brief because investigations wanted to pinch the guy in a hurry.
We got a floorplan from county planning and quickly rehearsed roles and routes and how we would clear the home.
The minute we went in, things changed – the home looked nothing like the plan we rehearsed.
This threw the whole stack off. We bunched up just inside the fatal funnel while everyone’s minds tried to figure out what to do next.
To complicate matters, there were kiddos everywhere.
Had I known this upfront, I would have opted for a different course than storming the house with a SWAT team.
While a couple of deputies broke off in different directions, I quickly bent down next to a little girl with enormous blue eyes and asked, “Sweetie, where’s your daddy?”
Her startled face told me much of what I needed to know. She pointed a shaky finger down the hall to a bedroom.
I directed a couple of deputies down, and within seconds, they emerged with the arrestee in tow.
This confirmed I needed to be present for critical situations.
All my folks were 40-hour SWAT trained, and many had been part of a team for years. In this small jurisdiction, though, teams were not a full-time option.
Much like a muscle that does not get used, atrophy is always a concern. The level of risk was highest on these types of call-outs or services.
As we worked together, our mutual trust grew.
Toward the end of my tenure with the sheriff’s office, we received some warrants on some bad dudes.
During planning, I often stood at the front of the room and briefed the team. But I realized I had never asked them to plan one.
I usually got their input and implemented it in the plan, but this time they would build the plan.
My only contribution was to remind them to designate a recovery point if things went to hell. With this implemented, the plan was set, and we went out to serve the warrants.
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men…
I don’t mind telling you I was a little nervous. But I kept my word, watching intently as they worked the plan they developed.
The intent was to sneak up in the dark, enter the home, and secure everyone inside before anyone could wake up and offer resistance.
We drove up with our vehicles blacked out and made the approach to the house undetected.
The plan called for me and another deputy to enter a door to the rear of the house.
I know, I know. To you SWAT folks out there, a nighttime op with multiple entry teams might seem unduly complicated. That said, there was something about the bottom floor of the house that made it tactically advantageous for another team to come in the back.
Besides, short of clear and present danger, I was going to work my team’s plan.
When I stepped up to that back door, I looked at it contemptuously, like an opponent I had defeated many times before.
I knew I was going to absolutely own it.
When the call “BREACH BREACH BREACH” went out over the radio, I stepped forward and threw one of my favorite Muay Thai kicks called the teep.
This kick is a type of pushing blow that chambers the leg in front of the kicker. It shoots the foot straight out at the recipient with the ball or bottom of the foot striking.
The teep is marvelous to throw at the hips, chest, and even face of your opponent if you’re limber enough or have the inseam. I had both.
I kicked that damn door with enough force to do some real damage, and I heard this enormous thud…but nothing moved.
Odd. I’m 6-foot-4-inches and also weighed around 260 pounds with all my gear on at the time.
Not to mention, for the seven years I was gone from the sheriff’s office, I had fallen in love with Muay Thai. I trained in it religiously and even attended a seminar taught by eight-time World Muay Thai Champion Ramon Dekkers.
Through the wall, I heard my primary team make entrance and spread throughout the house on their assignments.
I felt almost frantic now. I needed to help my deputies. So, I took two steps back and came at the door like the Incredible Hulk with another teep.
I swear the house shook, but that door did not move.
Quickly swallowing my ego, I sprinted to the front door at top speed. I could hear my deputies giving commands upstairs and flew to check status.
When I got there, all the suspects were in custody, and no one was hurt. My team had pulled it off flawlessly.
I was a proud lieutenant, and I learned some humbling lessons from that mission.
First, plenty of people can plan and execute (even high risk) skills when given a chance.
Second, if you don’t see a door commonly used as an entrance or exit, that door is suspect.
With the scene secured, I investigated what the hell had resisted my Herculean blows.
Not only had the door been screwed shut in multiple places, but a bookcase had been mounted to the wall in front of it. Sheesh.
Adapting Under Pressure
I never forgot the lessons of that day. Even now, I find myself adapting to accomplish my mission while facing various forms of resistance.
If there is no clear way forward, sometimes you have to switch directions and attack from a different angle.
That holds true to this day. I recently left the fabled halls of law enforcement after 22.5 years of service.
I have seen things in this field from the viewpoint of a volunteer reserve deputy, a patrol deputy, a patrol sergeant, a patrol commander, and that of an investigator at a district attorney’s office.
It’s been fascinating, infuriating, fulfilling, heartbreaking, and a slew of other adjectives. I have enough wisdom now to know it’s time for change.
This is not a scenario where I ride off into the sunset, though!
I have helped many people over the two decades I served, and I intend to continue in that noble effort — just in a very different way. In fact, you will be seeing a lot more of me around here at Pew Pew Tactical. Stay tuned, folks, and thanks for the read.
What are your thoughts on policing and its effects on the modern office? Sound off in the comments below. For more on LE, check out back issues of The Blue Brief.