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In The Raid Van: April 2008

By Capt. Tom Dresner

No matter what you think about police tactical teams, or whether you share the anxiety of some about the militarization of the police, I want to try to give you some perspective in the coming months of what it is like to walk in our shoes, and to tell you about what it is like to be on a tactical team, and to carry a SMG for a living. Though the below account was stylized for interest and readability, it was not a work of fiction.

Small Arms Review is a serious publication about serious guns. Those of us who read it are way beyond the magazine rack pap that is rehashed every year. This gun vs. that, this caliber vs. that, what is the best home defense load, what is the best shooting stance, it is all the same. I could never be a full-time gun writer because I have found that in the course of 13 years in police work, and a lifetime of interest in shooting, that not much of that matters. It probably doesn’t matter to those gun writers either, but it pays the bills. I, as others who write for this magazine, won’t try to give you more of that, a whole lot of nothing.

I do want to try to get you, the law abiding gun owner, into the head of the modern tactical police officer, and to perhaps convince you that you have nothing to fear from us. Though we gain a lot of valuable operational experience from the service of search warrants, we are preparing for a Super Bowl, which may come on a date that we cannot know. A date when all of our training, and equipment, and ability, both as individuals and as a team, will be tested to the maximum. It may be a struggle where the winners will live, and the losers may die. And where lives will be changed forever. My commitment as a team leader and training coordinator on the Columbia, Missouri Police Department STAR Team, is to make our team as ready as possible for that Super Bowl. Because it can happen anywhere, and I want more than anything, for the good, and the innocent to win.

There is very little that we do on an American SWAT team that is or should be secret. I hope to show you over the coming issues, some of what makes us tick, and why we do what we do. I hope you will join me.

The officers looked more like soldiers than civilian keepers of the peace. Kevlar PASGT helmets with navy blue fabric covers, load bearing vests with pockets for extra MP5 magazines, flash bangs, leg holsters, kneepads and combat boots under bloused BDUs. They silently sat across from each other in the back of the raid van, looking at each other, and occasionally to the slung MP5s pointed at the ground between their legs, with their Nomex gloved hands on the forends keeping the guns steady, and the muzzles under control. No laser violations here. Cops for the late 20th century. I wonder what Wyatt Earp would think to gaze upon us now. Except for the pistol strapped to the leg like those in his day, he would surely think we were from outer space.

“Goggles down,” I say as the driver counts down the street addresses out loud until about three away from the target location. An officer pops the back door in preparation for the exit. The driver stops the truck and yells, “Go!” We depart from the safety and anonymity of the unmarked van, toward the house the judge told us to invade, not knowing really what or who is on the other side of the door, and what they will do when we confront them. It always makes me wonder. We are there for crack, and if it goes well, there will be a little blurb in the paper about where we went, what we found, and who went to jail. But what if this time, it doesn’t go well? What if we have to shoot? What if we get shot? I just want to go home in one piece. This warrant will only be a success if everyone comes out unhurt. It may not mean much in this “war on drugs.” Just another battle. One that I participate in willingly.

We approach the house trotting silently together as we pass the houses of the neighbors who will undoubtedly be glad to see us. The MP5s are coming up to the shoulders now, at low ready. Before, in the pre-raid briefing, when the guns were removed from their Eagle discreet cases we each went through our well practiced ritual: Check the rear aperture—large—for close up, and low light, the conditions for this warrant at 9:30 p.m. Retract the bolt and lock it open, check the chamber—empty. Check the magazine, third hole from the top, see a round. Look at the top of the magazine—top round on the left. 30 rounds exactly. Insert the magazine, slap the cocking handle and pull out the magazine. Top round on the right. Good. Properly chambered. Insert magazine to stay. Hit the pad on the forearm mounted Laser Products Model 628. Light up the wall. Nice, bright white. Batteries still good.

As we get closer, I can hear the other selectors click twice—safe to full—on our Navy groups. I do the same with mine. Thirty-124 grain +P Gold Dots wait in the post-ban, Bill Clinton “large capacity feeding devices.” If we do it right, they will all be there when we are finished too.

Approach to the front porch. I look at the numbers on the house one more time, for final reassurance that this is the right place. Just like in the pre-raid video. We’ve never gotten it wrong, and to do so would be the worst thing in the world, not only for those in the wrong house, but for us as well. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We should get it right. We MUST get it right.

Officer number two has the NFDD, the “Noise-Flash Diversion Device” out. He is bending the pin almost straight, the spoon of the flash bang firmly against the web of his Nomex gloved hand. Officer number six gains on the line as he brings the ram to the opposite side of the door, where he will do what the judge told him to do, on my command. The intel said that there were no children, but that there were guns, and lengthy rap sheets with convictions for violent felonies for the residents. As we get to the front porch, we are seen, the ram officer hears the deadbolt fly home. I order, “Knock!” Number one instantly responds. “POLICE DEPARTMENT—SEARCH WARRANT!” I hear the pitter patter of big feet—away from the door. I throw my weak hand down in my best Kansas City Chiefs Tomahawk Chop that the ram man sees, and reacts to. Then the door is open, by our “master key”, and number two quick peeks to make sure no one is dangerously close to where he will place the flash bang. In it goes, and we all tighten a bit, waiting for the huge blast. But those inside don’t know it’s coming. About 1.5 seconds later it does, and we are in. Through the door as quickly as possible, guns up, forearm lights on, fingers off trigger, finding the occupants, looking at their hands, telling them not to move, then ordering them to lay down with hands behind their heads. They do as they are told, silently. Totally frightened by the flash bang, they do not offer any resistance. Our throats hurt from breathing the flash powder smoke. Wish I had brought some gum.

After they are all handcuffed, guns back to safe, evidence techs in, Miranda read, we relax a little, until the tech pulls out the MAK-90 with a 30-round magazine from under the bed. A reminder of what we are up against sometimes. Kind of ironic, me with my “For Law Enforcement or Government Use Only” MP5 magazine, and he with his thumbhole stock. We are both playing by our President’s rules. We are going to take away his non-assault rifle, and he can’t have my hi-cap magazine. For him to possess it would be some unspeakably horrible federal crime. Yeah right. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair. We find drugs as expected, and make three arrests.

The team loads back up in the truck, and we head for the station. Another one is in the history books. Back at the station, the team puts their equipment away, usually saving the MP5s for last. They are the only things that we have in our hands at the moment we breach the door, that may save our lives. We trust them completely.

If you are reading this, then you have a serious interest in automatic small arms. I do too, almost completely with HK. I also have a submachine gun for work, issued to me. Civilians now must pay almost $5000 for one. Mine was free, but cost the PD about $1000 at the time. I have to give it back when I retire from the tactical team. A day I do not look forward to.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N7 (April 1998)
and was posted online on July 7, 2017

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