AAR - NTOA Advanced SWAT 23 - 27 Feb / Harrisburg, PA

Myself and three teammates attended the NTOA Advanced SWAT course from 23-27 February in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The class was instructed by Steve Mescan of Pittsburgh PD (NTOA Eastern Director) and Dan Murphy of Fort Collins PD (NTOA Western Director). Pennsylvania Capital Police was the host agency. The classroom portions took place at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission building in Harrisburg, with practical application exercises taking place at an abandoned hospital and a couple of older residences.

 

I attended the NTOA Basic SWAT course in 2013, and this is (obviously) a progression of that. It's hard to go in depth with specifics for this sort of class, mostly for OPSEC reasons, so I'll generalize for anyone contemplating hosting or attending this course. I apologize in advance this is sort of disjointed and rambling, I'm just rattling off what I remember and from my notes.

 

Some background: the regional tactical team I am on does not use ANY of the tactics the NTOA is teaching as far as conducting threshold assessments, pieing off doors, or using slow and deliberate clearing techniques. Our two speeds are "covert" and "dynamic", and even when covert the "cross/buttonhook" mentality rules the day. Yes I think this is dumb, and yes there is an uprising underway to start doing things a smarter and safer way, but we have large ego's to contend with. We don't come close to operating in a "tactical laboratory" as Steve put it, and sadly there isn't much critical thought taking place with how we do business (yet..).

 

I mention this to give a frame of reference for how I went into the course. I went into the Basic SWAT class having only USMC, police academy, and limited SWAT experience in the tactical world. When I came back from that class, I told the team commander that it was all but a waste of time, because the NTOA is teaching a different set of tactics and skills that don't really translate well to what we do. Naturally I was told to hush, and carried on. 

 

Enter the Advanced SWAT class. Both Steve and Dan said right from Day 1, this is a thinker's class. The stated goals of the class were to develop thinking SWAT officers who make tactical decisions based on logic and a prescribed set of philosophies (for example, "getting in a gunfight is best done from outside the room"). The course was more about doctrine and how to choose tools and tactics that fit within the doctrine, than it was about teaching new skills. 

 

If anyone is familiar with the Basic SWAT class NTOA puts on, this builds on that and their "high/low" approach for clearing, except in hostage rescue. If you aren't using high/low tactics at your team, you will probably be like me and not get as much out of the course as you would if it was similar to what your team is doing. 

 

What I really enjoyed about this class was the incident debriefs and real experience the instructors brought, challenging us to think through problems. They weren't afraid to point out where their teams have made mistakes, and they explained the "why" of what they teach very well. They pointed out, and I 100% agree with, young officers like myself need to know the Why behind doing something. This helps me to buy in and make good decisions on my own, because I understand the mission and what the purpose of my actions are. 

 

We conducting numerous officer down drills,to include self aid with a TQ, which I thought was excellent. Steve and Dan mythbusted the "pretty" downed officer drill where everybody is in formation and guys step over the casualty and lay down fire while others drag him/her out. Creativity was encouraged for this, including querying the casualty if possible to determine if there was any useful intel he could provide.

 

The instructors fit in a live fire portion of the class, which I understand isn't usually a part of the course. The Capitol Police graciously provided ammunition, and a couple guys from Baltimore County shared their stash with those of us who didn't bring ammunition. The indoor range facility was really awesome, it's located at a community college and I can't imagine having a better place to shoot. The live fire wasn't ballistic masturbation, we built on the doctrine and drills we'd been learning the previous 3 days while including the live fire to help validate the lessons.

 

I remember reading a while back on here about Capitol Police going to Tavor rifles. I didn't see any of those with optics, and at least two had multiple malfunctions on the range. I was a few slots down so I couldn't tell exactly what the problem was, but one of their guys said they have issues with accidentally dropping magazines out of those. The malfunctions I saw didn't seem to be magazine-drop related, as the mag was still in when the guy was trying to fix it.

 

The classroom facility was excellent, clean and new. Everything you need to concentrate on learning and not dealing with substandard facilities.

 

I also recall a discussion about NTOA pushing "only" slow and deliberate clearing for all situations, this was definitely not true at this class and for crisis entry or hostage rescue evolutions, it felt more like the "dynamic" tactics I'm used to (used to, not necessarily good at). The other thing both Steve and Dan harped on all week was that they are teaching "a" way, not "the" way. It was very clear to me that they were both open to opinions or questions about how to do things better or different. When classmates asked questions, I heard Steve say multiple times "that's a 'good' way, now consider this maybe 'better' way". 

 

As is par for the course, on day 3 I was able to conduct a successful secret linkup challenge and pass with another LF'r from Philadelphia, as usual the world seems small when you come across people from this forum. 

 

OVERALL: If your team uses the tactics NTOA is teaching, or something similar, this is a good class to attend. I'll stop far short of saying it isn't worth it to go if you're like us and stuck in 1995, because the debriefs and information sharing are beneficial regardless of what you actually do. I struggled with the practical exercises somewhat because it is hard to change your instincts and habits from doing it a different way, and slow down to do it the way the course teaches. A good divining rod is to attend the Basic SWAT class and if you feel completely out of place, you probably would be better served with something other than the Advanced SWAT class. The instructors were top notch and if your team has kept up with the times and taken hard looks at how you do things, you'll probably enjoy this class and find something to put into practice. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joined:      14 January 2010                Location:     Lobster emoticonMAINELobster emoticon

Original Post

 

"Some background: the regional tactical team I am on does not use ANY of the tactics the NTOA is teaching as far as conducting threshold assessments, pieing off doors, or using slow and deliberate clearing techniques. Our two speeds are "covert" and "dynamic", and even when covert the "cross/buttonhook" mentality rules the day.

 

The NTOA taught Basic and Advanced SWAT to my team way back in 2000. I was a brand new member at the time and was in the same boat as Lobsterclaw. we lost two guys (Steve Reeves and Stephen Gilner - had to mention their names- RIP) on a hostage rescue in 1999 and as part of the fallout, NTOA was contracted to give us training. Sounds like they are teaching the same stuff now as they did back then. The lead instructor was from LASO SWAT and they REALLY harped on the "if you get in a gunfight, do it from outside the room" concept. 

 

I looked at the training as tools for the toolbox, but after the class, our team immediately tried to change from running the walls to the NTOAs way of doing things. It caused big problems for us and I remember dudes getting into shouting matches during training about whether to use " the old way" or " the new way" of moving through a building. amazingly it never affected us in a real world mission but one of my best friends ( who got on SWAT the same time I did and is now in a leadership position on the team) feels that the training set our team back for years...

 

I specialize in Bird Law...

Originally Posted by caldws:

 

"Some background: the regional tactical team I am on does not use ANY of the tactics the NTOA is teaching as far as conducting threshold assessments, pieing off doors, or using slow and deliberate clearing techniques. Our two speeds are "covert" and "dynamic", and even when covert the "cross/buttonhook" mentality rules the day.

 

The NTOA taught Basic and Advanced SWAT to my team way back in 2000. I was a brand new member at the time and was in the same boat as Lobsterclaw. we lost two guys (Steve Reeves and Stephen Gilner - had to mention their names- RIP) on a hostage rescue in 1999 and as part of the fallout, NTOA was contracted to give us training. Sounds like they are teaching the same stuff now as they did back then. The lead instructor was from LASO SWAT and they REALLY harped on the "if you get in a gunfight, do it from outside the room" concept. 

 

I looked at the training as tools for the toolbox, but after the class, our team immediately tried to change from running the walls to the NTOAs way of doing things. It caused big problems for us and I remember dudes getting into shouting matches during training about whether to use " the old way" or " the new way" of moving through a building. amazingly it never affected us in a real world mission but one of my best friends ( who got on SWAT the same time I did and is now in a leadership position on the team) feels that the training set our team back for years...

 

 

That is interesting brother. I had thought the push from dynamic to "slow and deliberate" was more recent than 1999, but I was 14 years old then so I'm willing to be wrong 

 

Did you guys end up staying with "non dynamic for everything" (I wish there was a better way to describe this collection of ideas rather than calling it "NTOA way") or did your friend/team leader guy change it back to running walls?

 

Honestly I've bought into what the NTOA is saying. We hardly ever test our stuff with live fire or FoF and when we do, our shit falls apart, and the team leadership gets pissed about it. I think that's a clue. We also end up shooting role players with sims who shouldn't have been shot, and it's amazing how non-eye opening that is for some people. Scary actually.

 

I prefer to move at a speed I can see, process, and react better, if there's no or limited threat to hostages or innocent citizens. The fact that a lot of SWAT training at places like mine seems to take place in empty or abandoned venues with no furniture and limited places to hide doesn't help. Add in a complicated floorplan, darkness, furniture, and multiple unknowns in a target.... I'm at a loss how "cross/button hook" is good for anybody, unknowns included. (< when not doing hostage rescue or similar)

 

ETA: These are my thoughts and I am trying to be open minded, I hope making declarative statements doesn't come across as not being humble, I'm very very aware of my place on the tactical hierarchy... 

 

ETA ETA: I can't remember who it was in the class that spoke up and said their team used to do dynamic movement for anything and everything, until losing a guy was the catalyst for change to be more cognizant of speed, and slow way down if speed isn't required. It was more recent than your loss I believe, but it sounds like teams are learning the same lessons over and over but things still don't change permanently.

 

 

 

 

Joined:      14 January 2010                Location:     Lobster emoticonMAINELobster emoticon

Lobsterclaw, it seems we are in very similar situations in regard to age, experience, etc.  Our team is bringing in instructors for advanced NTOA sometime this year.  We have adopted the NTOA method so I'm glad the advanced class was looked at in a positive light, regardless of the previous operational tactics.  We have a bunch of guys on the team that are very used to the FBI/buttonhook/running walls but thankfully we have all assimilated into the same way of thinking (chest thumping and dick measuring not withstanding).  It works out during FOF because even with sims, you tend to not be so "dynamic" when rounds are going to be coming back your way.  People just naturally tend to slow down a bit more.  I love the mantra "The brass lands in the hall".  Thanks for posting this.  

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Don't look at me in that tone of voice

 

Rev. Trop
Ordained Dudeist Priest at Dudeism, the Church of the Latter-Day Dude

 

You were out of class I'll when the loss was discussed.

It was Jason Schneider of Baltimore county swat. Killed during a search warrant. The team member briefly discussed the use of dynamic (speed,surprise and violence of action) being the way they did business at the time and this loss being the catylist for change to the "mission based tactics". The dynamic method was not blamed directly but we discussed why things are done the way they are done.
caldws - thanks for your post. I was at the class with lobster and police medic and am on the same team as lobster. Makes me think about the possible consequences for changing or moving toward a new set of tactics. I could picture it causing a large divide with our group or a lot of people being told to "take a cup of shut the fuck up."

Much like lobster said, I also can't see a benefit having just left the NTOA class and being a newer "operator" (I hate that term), of the run in to fight in a room in many cases. It seam like much of the room can be cleared quickly and safely from the outside and this may provide the most safety for us and the people in the room depending on the mission.

The big thing I learned was mission based tactics. Knowing what the mission is and why we're are doing what we are doing.

I can't picture is doing a high low as a team but think we would benefit from a change to slower speed in a barricade or warrant service. A slower simple cris cross with one member depressing at entry may be a happy blend. The high low seems very clunky and would require a ton of practice.

I can't picture our teams single method ( the "hammer", speed, surprise and violence of action) changing until someone gets hurt much was discussed in class.

If you google "Cobb County Police William Paul Drive", the first link will be to an article from Policeone that's a pretty decent overview of the incident where the two Steves were killed. The sister of one of the officers was a bigwig with Georgia POST and she put a lot of pressure on the county to have an outside, independent agency conduct their own AAR. Ron McCarthy (retired LAPD SWAT) from the NTOA came to town and eventually produced a pretty scathing review of tactical operations in general and the William Paul incident in particular. The report ruffled a lot of feathers and McCarthy still isnt the most popular guy in my old neck of the woods but I think the report speaks for itself. The NTOA used to sell a copy of his report but I'm not a member anymore so I don't know if it's still on their website.

 

At the time, Cobb was probably one of the best agencies in the state - almost to the point of being arrogant about it. As a CCPD officer, It was hard to get advanced training from any source outside the the county's own instructors, and that's one of the things McCarthy gigged us on. After the NTOA released the report, we hired them to teach basic and advanced courses to us. Since I was a brand new member of the team, the NTOA classes were my first exposure to SWAT training.

 

At that time, we ran at 3 speeds, covert, warrant service, and hostage rescue. Covert was totally done the NTOA way, warrant service was a hybrid of NTOA and the old way, and HR was strictly running the walls. for my first year on entry I was the camera/ mirror/shield guy and frankly , we could clear 80 % of a standard sized room from the hallway at covert speed and we got pretty good at it. We had problems with the NTOA method at warrant service speed & when confronted with jacked up hallways with multiple rooms or doors. We always tried to get guns facing every danger area and would trip over each other and end up being 33 different flavers of fucked up. 

 

Ive  been off the team for a long time so I can't say when or how the transition away from the NTOA way took place. Essentially a new and much more aggressive TL took over and DX' d most of the NTOA stuff from the SOP. However, losing two guys the way we did really caused us to slow down which I believe is fairly typical. Time is on our side if the situation is contained so our bosses would have us wait the bad guys out until/unless it was absolutely necessary to go in. 

 

Sorry for the long post, but I thought I needed to explain my opinions on this. I don't think it was the training or methods that caused problems for our team but it was our implementation of it If that makes sense.

I specialize in Bird Law...

We have had Dan Murphy for both Advanced SWAT and Tactical Team Leader, I highly recommend him for both. We like you were doing a lot of dynamic stuff entry stuff on ops we didn't need to be doing it on. We now have changed that due to Dan (and others) influence. It is a thinker's class like you said. I recommend it at least to get you thinking, some day you may be in a position to change how your team does work.

Originally Posted by caldws:

 

 

Gotcha.

 

 

Originally Posted by Mick Williams:

We have had Dan Murphy for both Advanced SWAT and Tactical Team Leader, I highly recommend him for both. We like you were doing a lot of dynamic stuff entry stuff on ops we didn't need to be doing it on. We now have changed that due to Dan (and others) influence. It is a thinker's class like you said. I recommend it at least to get you thinking, some day you may be in a position to change how your team does work.

That's pretty much how we took it, good exposure to different schools of thought even if we can't win them over. With the addition of more and younger team members, the tide is slowly turning and we'll have more of a voice if they keep sending people to NTOA courses then doing the opposite of what we are taught there...

 

 

 

 

Joined:      14 January 2010                Location:     Lobster emoticonMAINELobster emoticon

Originally Posted by MooseKnuckle207:
It was Jason Schneider of Baltimore county swat. Killed during a search warrant. The team member briefly discussed the use of dynamic (speed,surprise and violence of action) being the way they did business at the time and this loss being the catylist for change to the "mission based tactics". The dynamic method was not blamed directly but we discussed why things are done the way they are done.

 

http://www.lightfighter.net/to...officer-fatally-shot

 

 

 

 

Joined:      14 January 2010                Location:     Lobster emoticonMAINELobster emoticon

I went to NTOA Advanced SWAT last spring in State College PA. Instructors were Chris Fishel, Bill Yelton and Greg Hall. I would say that a course that causes you to examine and scrutinize your TTP's is a good course. Take what fits your team and apply it. Our guys all went to NASTA Basic SWAT (Jim Scanlon from Columbus OH) and I thought the NTOA course was a really good contrast to that. I'm actually glad we got the opportunity to see different looks from a handful of great instructors between the two courses. Good AAR 

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