by Bill Lewis II
Armored police vehicles have added an extra layer of defense for patrol-related deployments, rescues and tactical operations like never before. The ability to “get up close and personal” during an operation with an armored vehicle while providing a higher level of safety and position of advantage is unparalleled. The new armored vehicles have enabled law enforcement to be more offensive and aggressive in certain situations when justified instead of being defensive and reactionary.
The names we associate with these vehicles are as varied as the tactical options they provide – armored rescue vehicle (ARV), armored police vehicle (APV), tactical armored vehicle (TAV), and tactical armored response vehicle (TARV). A few of the model names associated with some of these vehicles are becoming as synonymous as the acronyms – the Bear, the Bearcat and the Peacekeeper.
Regardless of manufacturer, the APV continually proves to be a great tool – but just like every tool we newly acquire or latest tactic we consider – it’s necessary to undergo the proper training before a real-world deployment.
I was recently invited by Integrated Tactical Concepts to attend a 3-day “Tactical Armored Vehicle Operations” class they conducted in California so I could observe the training. During the classroom portion on the morning of day one, we had a brief discussion about the best ways to deploy a K9 team from the APV which started me thinking about the tactics and training required to do so because there were a few different opinions expressed in general terms but nothing specific.
During the three days, I also participated as a hostage during a few scenarios and was allowed to provide some input during a few training incident debriefs. I watched and learned and also began evaluating the different ways that a police dog could be deployed from the APV.
I’ve learned quickly that the environment and risk level along with the control and search ability of the police dog will vary greatly and can rapidly change within an operation in a split-second. As you well know, every dog tends to search a little differently based on its training, drive, experience, search area and the control of the handler. For these reasons, this article will not be a lesson plan how to specifically deploy the police dog using an APV – the article will serve as a guideline to suggest some training that will prepare you to deploy under real-world circumstances.
Your training will depend on your experience and skill level – as well as your support team’s – as you together create exercises and scenarios to introduce this tactic, start evaluating the dog’s performance and determine the most effective ways to deploy safely. Each approach and strategy will be determined individually by the real estate you encounter – rural open area, rural forest, vacant flat land, residential driveway, public park, carport, apartment complex, parking lot, or “the alley from hell.”
Before you begin, it’s recommended to familiarize the dog with the inside of your APV and its occupants. A part of your training should include some downtime in the APV – parked and driving – with the dog, handler and involved team members. As you might imagine, some police dogs are not comfortable in close quarters with other officers and can get a little restless and stressed when sitting on the floor of an APV crammed with officers and equipment – particularly during a long (and maybe bumpy) drive or extended standby at a staging area. If your APV is really noisy, get your dog accustomed to the noise. In time, the dog should feel as comfortable within the APV as its own K9 car.
It’s important to choreograph and rehearse the exits from the APV many times during training and maybe a few times before each actual operation to make sure the handler, dog and team members are confident and comfortable before proceeding through the doors. When commanded, the dog should learn to exit on its own and behind officers or operators exiting first. Depending on the height of the APV, you may not want your dog to jump out each time in training – increasing the chances of injury. So, lifting and carrying the dog by other team members – not always the handler – from the back or side of the APV should be conducted as both a “social exercise” and injury-prevention application. You can use a muzzle if necessary when first introducing the concept.
Essentially, there are two primary ways to deploy from an APV with the police dog; every one inside the APV (with the possible exception of an operator in the turret) or a contact team (handler and cover officers) working outside the APV. It’s important your driver be an experienced team member and not learning to operate the APV for the first time.
INSIDE THE APV
You might be thinking a good way to observe and direct the dog for a search would be from the turret – either the handler or another operator – if the risk level and unknown location of the suspect makes it unsafe to be outside the APV. However, that assignment conflicts with the presence of a cover operator with a long gun for over watch responsibilities. And, unfortunately, there’s only room for one in the turret so the priority should normally be long gun cover, not watching the dog specifically. The turret operator could be used to verbally recall the dog without having to look specifically at the dog if directed by a team leader or the handler.
The challenge of sending the dog from within the APV out the back or side door is the ability to direct the dog toward a specific area to be searched – generally the left or right side of the APV – and control the distance. You may need the dog to search directly in front of the APV if the driver is not able to get a better angle for the initial deployment of the dog.
Repetitious training may be required initially to assist in launching the dog left or right with or without a verbal command. Placing a decoy on the driver’s side out of view with a “search right” (or simply “right”) command (or something similar) will allow positive reinforcement as the dog exists out the back, goes right and immediately sees the decoy. The training should progress with a decoy a little further from the APV but still visible and eventually the decoy will be hidden accessible and inaccessible at varied progressive distances. Bottom line; You don’t want your dog going off to the left side to search when you are being directed to send the dog to the right side.
The handler and other operators can watch the dog through the windows to determine if the dog is searching the right places within a designated distance and provide verbal direction if the dog is trained to react accordingly. It’s difficult to give clear commands through the port holes as the voice is muffled (not quite as bad as a gas mask) and depending on the distance, the dog may not hear or understand the commands. The PA system could be used by the handler – but again – it might not be effective unless previous training proved otherwise. Another option allows operators to watch and report to the handler at the open back door (but still within the APV) so the handler can give louder commands without barriers.
The ability of the dog to search away from the handler for a short distance and/or a prolonged period of time is an essential tactic when using the APV if team members are confined within the APV. Handlers have been encouraged to watch their dogs during a search whenever possible – for the safety of the dog as well as the safety of others who may or may not be the suspect – and it’s becoming more of a control and liability issue. In doing so, some dogs are often reluctant to search if they are not able to look back and see their handler. Your dog should be comfortable and productive when searching away from the handler and accompanied by the APV.
Depending on the search area and potential obstacles, a long line might be effective for some short-distance searches closer to the APV. However, the standard lines are usually 30 to 40 feet in length. You could attach two long lines together or consider getting a long line that is minimally 100 feet in length.
OUTSIDE THE APV
As the situation develops, risks are assessed and a more specific area to be searched is determined, the handler and other officers should exit the APV and use it as their cover while the handler watches the dog and the officers provide cover and watch for a suspect.
The number of operators used as a contact team (or search team, cover team) depends on the situation and personnel available. Ideally, the contact team should minimally consist of the handler and three officers or operators – and I know a handler would rather have eight. Areas of threat should be addressed – and the handler should ideally be watching the immediate area where the dog is searching, looking for any behavior changes that may indicate a suspect is nearby. A contact team may be supplemented with a pre-designated arrest team who remain in the APV until a suspect is located. Or, the contact team may assume the role of arrest team if needed.
During training, the “outside team” (contact team) should walk around and assemble in the many locations next to and around the APV to get familiar with the various positions of cover based on a direction of the threat. The handler should move within the contact team to view the dog work if possible but not get exposed to a potential threat.
The handler should be in a better position to give verbal commands outside the APV. If the handler is not able to view the dog and verbal commands are necessary, other operators should be able to do so without delay. Recalls by and returns to the handler and other operators should be practiced so that the dog becomes comfortable returning to the APV and doesn’t hesitate doing so. And, if your APV is very loud and noisy when its idling or being driven, practice some of your verbal commands and recalls outside the APV with the engine running.
The APV can be used for mobile and progressive searches by the dog with the dog in front of or to its side during training as the contact team walks alongside, maintaining cover and a visual of the dog.
If a suspect is located by the dog and a bite occurs, will the APV be able to navigate closer to the suspect – if that suspect is not able to come to the arrest team or presents further risks if that were to occur – to continue providing cover for the outside team during an approach? “Verbal outs” being called from within and outside the APV as options should be practiced during training.
The APV can be driven up to or directly alongside a vehicle containing a barricaded suspect. The ability to send the dog on a deployment behind cover from a close distance reduces the risks to the handler and cover officers when the opportunity is right and justification appropriate.
Ideally, the positioning of the first (and maybe only) APV should be to the rear of a barricaded vehicle for three reasons minimally; 1) forces the occupant to turn and look from the interior of the vehicle to the back instead of a front view, 2) allows team to prepare for a vehicle assault from rear of the vehicle with or without the dog, and 3) provides the dog (and other team members) a better view of the occupant as doors are being opened in the event of a deployment with or without an immediate assault.
The APV can be driven onto the front lawn of a house where the front door may have been left opened or soon will be – forcibly or not – and the nose of the APV placed within feet of the entrance. The police dog can be deployed into the house if needed without unnecessarily exposing the handler and other operators and drastically reducing the distance the dog will travel to prevent any roaming or misdirection that could occur en route.
Obviously, two APV’s are better than one in some situations – but your agency budget (or recent grant) probably will not accommodate that type of investment. Agencies with an APV should reach out to a neighboring agency with an APV to establish a reciprocal agreement that initiates a response by either agency with its APV upon request to support a tactical effort with two armored vehicles – and conduct training together in advance.
After each training exercise or actual deployment, it’s critical to debrief the event thoroughly with respect to the APV. What lessons did you learn? Did the angles of the APV and its positioning provide adequate cover for the officers outside? Did the police dog perform well outside the APV? How could you have done better as a team? And, if you learned that you could have performed better or think a safer tactic could have been used – discuss it – chalk it out – and then go physically practice, practice, practice.
If you have not trained or deployed a dog from an APV, you will realize there may be some initial challenges – but there are absolute benefits once your team has mastered the tactic.
Bill Lewis II © August 2013
This article was originally published in “Police K-9 Magazine” (November/December 2013) and also published as “K9 Deployment from an APV” in the “CATO News” (Spring 2014).