Op-Ed

The Dundalk Gunfight – Multiple Perspectives

This op-ed was brought to you by 88 Tactical, a member of JTF Awesome…and one that provides some damn good training too.

The Dundalk Gunfight – Multiple Perspectives

David Reeder

A compilation video of the gunfight between Baltimore County Police and Blaine Robert Erb in Dundalk, MD is making the rounds now (kudos to whoever put it together, by the way). We discussed that Officer Involved Shooting here, as you may recall. Now we can see a little more, including footage from inside the bus.

It’s a long video, but worth watching. In fact it’s worth watching more than once to pick up all the little things, good and bad, that happened that day.

As always, there will be those who accuse us of armchair quarterbacking. To them we say, you’re damn right we are. Any event like this, caught from multiple perspectives, is a priceless opportunity to learn.

What did we do right? Let’s make sure everyone sees it, recognizes it for what it is, understands the whys and wherefores of it. Let’s drive that point to our next batch of rookies.

What did we do wrong? Nobody does it all right, not ever. Sometimes we just flat fuck things up, badly. How do we preempt those things from happening in the future? Do we change SOPs/TTPs? Alter our equipment? Fire someone and make an example of them?

LEO, military, PSC, PMC,  any armed professional at all — if you cannot understand the necessity for (and the advantages of) scrutinizing these sorts of things every single time, you’re in the wrong line of work.

We’re well aware of Graham v. Connor, and we understand Illinois v. Rodriguez. Neither one should be an excuse not to improve ourselves, even if someone must become an object lesson to do.

88 Tactical COO Trevor Thrasher, below, is currently deployed with a Special Forces Group to a CENTCOM AO. Thrasher is also Director of Training. 

This was the bystander video we previously saw:

The most obvious equipment takeaway remains the need for agency-wide rifles. There are a number of constraints that might hinder this in practice, but in our eyes a responsible agency will overcome or at least mitigate them.

In fact, the argument could likely be made that patrol rifles will eventually be subject to the same sort of litigious scrutiny less-lethal devices and munitions once were. Some of us are old enough to remember when agencies were sued for not having a sufficient alternative to lethal force readily available at the patrol level. Like failure to train lawsuits, failure to equip will be a thing at some point (if they haven’t been already).

The most obvious performance takeaway, in my eyes at least, is a need to improve comms and movement. I don’t know BCPD’s P&Ps, nor have I dug through any precedent the Fourth Circuit might have set down, but a strong argument could be made that responding officers should have moved directly to end the threat (i.e., as in an active shooter or hostage rescue situation). To be fair, I have heard others contend it should have been treated as an armed and barricaded situation — though I’m not entirely sure that could reasonably be expected once Erb left the bus and took cover behind the van.

There are some kudos to be given here, and some WTFs also. Let’s be ruthlessly critical of the events, without being unnecessarily condescending toward/protective of the officers involved, in order to learn as we prise out both.

Discuss.

Note: there are those who have asked why we have only seen one officer’s body camera. There are at least two possible reasons for that. One is simply that not all officers have one. BCPD has nearly 2,000 sworn officers; they’ve advised in an official statement that issuing body cams to every patrol officer is an ongoing effort. A second reason could be that at least one undercover officer (that we know of) was at the scene. It’s possible that affected the disclosure reasoning. There could be other reasons as well.

Follow 88 Tactical’s newsroom for recommendations, news, and just some general things to consider.

 

Find 88 Tactical on Facebook, /88.Tactical/, or follow them on Instagram, @88tactical.



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Reeder Profile Picture 5About the Author: It might not be too surprising that David Reeder, who never met a $50 word he didn’t like, one of the “leaders” of the pedagogic and frequently obstreperous Breach Bang Clear team — insomuch as they have a leader (the terms orchestra conductor and rodeo clown are equally apropos). A former POG who tastes like chicken, Reeder cannot play the harmonica. He founded Breach-Bang-Clear quite accidentally at his young son’s behest several years ago. He is the Mad Duo’s Chief Wretched Flunky and Breach-Bang-Clear’s HMFIC. A LEO for many years and former AF Security Forces SNCO, he was an O/C at the National Homeland Security Training Center for many years and a longtime MOUT instructor at the Bold Lighting UWS. Reeder has appeared on Fox News Business and written for a number of publications, from US News & World Report and Military.com to RECOIL Magazine and Soldier Systems Daily. All of that sounds way cooler than it actually is. You can read more about him here. Follow his banality on Instagram, @davidreederwrites.

“I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left for me” Hunter S. Thompson
“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.” T.S. Elliot
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin

 

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11 Comments

  1. I’ve taken some heat here before for questioning LEO SOP’s but I have no experience with this type of situation and therefore will not question their response to the situation. Personally I think they did pretty well. Others with far more experience than I have already given their opinion on that and I won’t question it. I don’t think it was perfect but under the conditions I think they did pretty well.

    I note two things, one of which was covered in a comment and one of which was covered in the video.

    First is the lack of reloads on that shotgun. IMHO, a rifle or a shotgun being carried in a car, whether carried by a civilian or a LEO is for a “HOLY SHIT WE’RE HAVING A GUNFIGHT!!” type of situation so a set of spare shells for a full reload or two makes sense the same way you’d want an extra mag or two for a patrol rifle. Bandoleer, Side Saddle whatever, just have some spares for that shotgun or however you choose to do it for a rifle where there are some other options.

    Second, the call for scissors at the end where they’re trying to take the leg off of the downed officer’s pants with a knife. I can’t speak for LEO’s nationwide but but around me they carry a TQ, Combat Gauze and some other gear on their patrol belt. Slap a pair of EMT sheers on there FFS! Simply in my car I carry an IFAK/Blowout kit and a major bag. Both have EMT sheers. Grab either one and you’ve got at least one set of sheers. They’re light, they cut real good. Carry them.

  2. Is it just me or is 15 seconds into a GSW a little premature for tourniquet?

    Why wasn’t she just driving around with it already on her leg?

    1. Training on when to apply tourniquets has changed a lot recently. It’s still considered a last resort, but the assessment is pretty much “Pressure and elevation ineffective -> tourniquet now.” The risk of limb loss is much lower than was previously believed, so a tourniquet is an efficient, effective, and safe method of controlling blood loss.

    2. She got hit around the 9:00 mark, when the suspect broke from the bus and ran to the van, so she was bleeding for a minute or two before other officers got to her. The did a good job getting that TQ on in a timely manner.

  3. A couple things. We are approaching this from a military mindset. Fighting mindset is fine, military is different. This is downtown USA not Fallujah. Just because you have a lookout on a perp that doesn’t mean the one you have on that bus is the right one. Someone has to go in and check it without Breaching and banging a bunch of civilians on the wrong bus. Cops have err on the side of caution and be right every time. Entering and then fleeing gave EVERYONE the opportunity to flee. If they cordoned off the bus and surround it you have a Law Enforcement initiated hostage situation. That is ALWAYS a bad idea. Once the perp got off the bus only the officers immediately around the bus could see the bad guy. If you look, there is a bit of a defilade between the van and the grass behind the bad guy. Cops approaching from that direction would have no point of reference to look at other than the bus and would not be able to see the perp. Cross fire was potentially an issue but you have to understand on a scene like this help is coming from every direction and not all of them can see where they need to be before they are too close. Lastly cops are not trained in movement to contact. After Dallas that training has started but like active shooter, it takes time. Also the perp was moving from cover to cover seeking to improve his position. The Police Dept has to justify every round fired so fixing him in position using fire and then moving to contact is fine as long as all ends well. If not then they are cowboys and made bad decisions.

    1. I’m looking at at from the perspective of a cop on the street. If I was looking at this from a military point of view, some things might change. I’m not arguing with you per se, but it seems to me from reading the evaluations that most of them are coming from cops, and I’m assuming from your remarks you are as well. You make some valid point regarding the terrain and cross fire but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say we (cops) aren’t trained in movement to contact. I’m making a sweeping generalized statement here, but fire and maneuver is fire and maneuver, regardless of .mil or .leo. A rose by any other name, and all that….

      From all the information I know (and I might be wrong, perhaps you have more/better info) the responding officers knew their suspect was on that particular bus. Setting aside their tactics or lack of in how the initial contact was made, once the suspect engaged, the fight was on. We would all love to imagine we will respond well under fire, not all of us always do, fact of life; having said that, screaming and running away might not have been the best course of action or even what we should expect from our officers. Fight’s on, get to fighting.

      If the suspect had decided to start shooting people or simply hold everyone on the bus hostage instead of letting everyone off, we would perhaps not be so forgiving of the officers who ran for cover instead of taking the fight to the bad guy. A fighting mindset is a job requirement whether you’re patrolling Fallujah or Fish Bite Falls, USA.

  4. The initial contact was conducted poorly. Considering they were looking for an armed suspect they should have been clearing the bus from the get go. After first asking and knowing their suspect was in the rear of the bus the front have should have been cleared out. I don’t have an issue with going small arms in the bus because swinging a shotgun or patrol rifle would have been cumbersome to a point with all the handrails.

    Once the situation went sideways, I don’t have a problem with the retreat to cover because the doorways off the bus offered little to no cover and you’re on the low ground. That being said, scene control was poor. They stacked up 4 officers to the front of the bus with nobody taking cover behind the van gen eventually ran to. Cover taken to the rear of the bus was poor as well because the patrol car was parked improperly behind the bus thus not offering adequate cover, as evidenced by the officer taking a round in the leg to the rear.

    Once he exited the bus, their failure to take up good tactical positioning around the bus made an advance on the van tactically unsafe because they had too much open ground between the patrol cars and the van.

    As far as the shotgun, did I count 4 rounds fired from it before it was discarded? No extended tube?

    When the suspect went down, was that an officer running around in the background or a civilian? If that was an officer back there, the cross fire potential made that movement a poor choice with the suspect still in the fight.

    Back to scene control, poor patrol car positioning initially led to that intersection being a danger zone for civilians still turning. Nobody thought to block that intersection and force oncoming cars to turn right, instead of left through the intersection. That same scene control and lack of positioning led to civilians being behind that van when the suspect made his run, putting them in immediate danger instead of them being removed from the scene at the onset.

    Radio discipline was poor, and communication on the ground was extremely poor. Nobody knew where the suspect had retreated to.

    From my experience in law enforcement, there is little to no “unit” training, or training as a shift. So it’s left as a free for all instead of acting as a cohesive unit where everyone’s knows their specific job.

  5. I don’t have any experience or training to speak from but I have question: why wasn’t a LEO behind the front of the van? That may have given them position to cover both doors of the bus.

  6. I was surprised to see the shotgun discarded after discharging the first time. You’d think if you’re carrying a shotgun, you’d want to have at least one full reload either on the shotgun stock or in a bandoleer stored with the shotgun.

    Also, the “Officer 42” seemed to be firing at the suspect from some distance, with a building of some sort in the background. The potential here for penetration into a civilian area would seem significant.

    The question to be raised is how did the suspect manage to run some distance from the bus without being interdicted, which made the situation much worse given his mobility and access to cover (the van). As long as he was penned in the bus, he was essentially under control. Losing that control was a major problem.

    As an aside, it appeared to me that he had extended tactical magazines in one or both of his handguns, which speaks to a bit more preparedness on his part than the usual armed robber. He appeared to be relatively in control of himself despite his situation, apparently firing for suppressive effect on the police while he considered his options, eventually opting for abandoning his untenable position.

    All in all, a very interesting video.

  7. I agree with Jack’s assessment. Now here’s my 2 cents. This incident was fueled by a lack of training, and to a lesser extent a lack of experience. Graham v. Conner aside, complete lack of aggression / decisive action / complacency by the first officers on scene gave this guy his opportunity. They knew they were looking for an armed robbery suspect. This lack of aggression, decisive action, complacency is probably driven, at least partially by a lack of training and or unit integrity. By unit integrity I simply mean that maybe these officers may not work / train together often. They may be responding from overlapping shifts or patrol areas and not know each other well. This of course is not an excuse but, if accurate, is a reality.

    Patrol rifles would, of course have been an asset to end this encounter more quickly. Especially once it went sideways. If the initial responding officers had boarded the bus with long arms (rifle or shotgun) and a decisive / aggressive disposition this would have been shut down much earlier with much less risk to the general public, responding officers and possibly even the shooter. They knew they were looking for an armed robbery suspect. More force now = less force later. However, you could make the argument that lack of funding / political will to initiate and maintain a patrol rifle program is the same driving force behind their lack of training in general. Also, just a guess here but I bet the officer with the shotgun wished he had more shells.

    Finally, how much of this extended situation points to the Ferguson effect? The answer, we’ll never know. I am in no way mean to drag the officers involved or the PD as a whole through the mud. Their courage is obvious in this video. Thank you for hanging it all out there to help keep this country safe.

    Just my 2 cents worth, stay tactical.

  8. Sustain: Handgun accuracy seemed effective once Erb left the cover of the van. Tourniquets were readily available.

    Improve: Officers did not seem to have a plan for contacting the armed robbery suspect on the bus. When confronted with an armed suspect and then fired upon, officers did not display a fighting mindset, running for cover and leaving potential hostages behind on the bus. Officers went into “bunker mode,” hunkering behind cars and did not seek to improve their positioning at any time. Use of cover was poor or non-existent, especially for the officer who was shot. Patrol rifles would have probably ended this faster and would have been more effective than handguns and a shotgun. Additional shotgun ammo should be available. Radio discipline was non-existent, especially by the air unit, and made the situation worse. Communication and coordination between officers in the fight was poor to non-existent.

    There’s a huge difference between a group of knowledgeable professionals examining an incident with a critical eye in order to gain lessons learned, and MMQ’ing by people who have no relevant scope of knowledge to understand what they’re talking about.

    We owe it to ourselves and our fellow officers to critically examine these types of situations. It’s fine to find room for improvement and it’s fine to point out where performance was lacking. It’s how we learn. There’s quite a difference, however between evaluating the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force and declaring that force was unreasonable when that declaration is based on facts not known to that officer at the time (and personal opinions rather than facts) and examining the same incident by the legal standard of Graham v. Conner.

    Regardless of how we might feel about any one particular incident, I believe in my heart that we all want the same thing: To improve as officers in order to better serve the public and safely go home to our families at the end of shift. To that end, critical self evaluation is a must.

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