5 more tactics for preparing for correctional warfare

Understanding tactics that inmates might use can help you be prepared for anything

In my last column, I wrote about the first four of English General J.F.C. Fuller’s Nine Principles of War and how they relate to corrections.  The importance of maneuver (maximizing ours and minimizing our opponent’s), objective (the master or controlling principle linked to end state), offense (there is no defense in the Nine Principles of War: objectives are not obtained passively), and simplicity (know your terrain and keep your tactics simple), were discussed.  In this article, I will cover the remaining five principles: economy of force, mass, unity of command, security and surprise.  

Economy of Force & Mass – These two principles are connected and are best discussed together. 

In corrections, unlike patrol, numbers are almost never in our favor.  All inmates are potential adversaries.  The concept of economy of force is one mulled over by scheduling personnel on a daily basis.  The terrain of our facilities helps determine how these routine economy of force deployment decisions are made.  In a corrections disturbance this concept takes on a different dimension. 

In a disturbance, employing our limited resources quickly, efficiently, in appropriate attire and in a well-disciplined fashion is a force multiplier.  To do this, however, often means that an incident commander must deplete less vital or threatened areas to bring this force to bear.  This is the principle of economy of force in action.  The corollary principle of mass also dictates that we maximize these redeployed troops in the appropriate place.  A dozen or more well trained personnel wearing helmets and black response gear while carrying an array of less lethal weapons gathered at a strategic point is what is needed.  It is hoped that the limited number of personnel left behind will be able to handle the areas depleted by the redeployment of response personnel.

Economy of force and mass are principles that should be self-evident to any corrections officer who has ever responded to a jail or prison riot.  Understanding these concepts is critical to the efficient running of our facilities and the handling of disturbances within them.

Unity of Command – All the other eight principles can fall to dust if the question of command is not answered. 

There needs to be one leader.  And there needs to be no doubt who that leader is.  By definition command is defined by a job title:  the team leader, the watch commander, the platoon leader, etc.  The problem with this is that in order for there to be unity of command, the one in command must also be in control.  The military considers command and control to be inseparable.  Sadly, in law enforcement and corrections this is not always the case.

The ranking officer on the scene may be in command, but is he also in control?  We have all seen weak commanders allow subordinates to run an operation.  They stand back and give tacit approval to what is being done, but have relinquished all control to someone more dynamic or more experienced.  But even an experienced and strong commander can be undermined by someone in higher authority.  Unity of command “is achieved by vesting a single commander with the requisite authority to direct, coordinate and control the actions of all forces employed in reaching the objective.” (Heal, The Tactical Edge, Summer 2001)

Several years ago, one of the outlying jails on my department experienced a large riot in the middle of the night.  The watch commander in charge, a lieutenant, called his captain to inform him what was happening, what he had already done, and what he planned to do.  Instead of supporting the lieutenant’s actions, the captain issued the following order, “Do nothing until I arrive!”  The unit commander was in his pajamas over forty-five minutes away when he gave this order.  All on scene command broke down.

Commanders delegate authority, but they do not relinquish control.  Team members may be in control of a particular non-lethal weapon, for example, but the team leader oversees them and the incident commander oversees him. 

This does not mean that a commander micromanages every facet of an operation. Commanders empower their subordinates and give them clear orders and directions.  They let squad leaders manage squads and element leaders manage elements, but they are in overall command of the operation.  They do not tolerate squabbling.  They determine the end state.  They articulate the commander’s intent. 

Security & Surprise – These last two principles are linked just as economy of force and mass are.  The success of a tactical plan often relies on the stealth maintained prior to its implementation.  The adage, ‘plans known are plans defeated,’ applies here. Maintaining security is vital to all terrorists.  Without it they are doomed to fail.  How easy would 9/11 have been to thwart had al-Queda’s cloak of secrecy over their plans been penetrated by American intelligence agencies? 

The Nine Principles of War in Action

Several years ago, when my department still fed inmates in mess halls and housed them by gang type, two hundred Blood gang members simultaneously jumped to their feet in the mess hall and rushed the deputies supervising them.  The deputies were all massed near a slam gate that led out onto the main hallway.  Close to 1,500 inmates were housed on this floor.  This planned disturbance was a carefully kept secret.  The key piece of terrain in this incident was the slam gate.  It was a race to see who could get there first and control it.  Fortunately, the deputies were faster and made it outside.  One of their number was also a former NFL lineman.  Using his strength, the deputies were able to slam the gate closed and confine the inmates inside preventing them from spilling out into the hallway and taking over the floor.  Thwarted in their effort to take the slam gate, the inmates seized a food cart and began using it as a battering ram to break out and complete their takeover of the floor.

All nine of the principles of war were present in this incident.  The inmates employed maneuver as they raced for the door.  Their actions were offensive and had a clear objective.  It was a simple plan employing mass and economy of force.  There was unity of command as they all followed the orders of their shot callers and the plan’s security was maintained so that surprise could be achieved. 

So how did we respond to this uprising?  We countered with our own use of the nine principles.  When the deputy secured the slam door the inmates’ maneuver was thwarted.  It was clear to the watch commander that the inmates’ efforts to break into the hall needed to be stopped and a team employed to deal with it.  Assets were redeployed accordingly. 

At the time of this incident less lethal options were extremely limited.  The only less lethal tool available was a number of long riot batons.  Realizing that equipping a handful of deputies with riot batons as two hundred inmates burst out into the main hallway would probably have limited effect, the watch commander decided that something with more force was needed.  He conceived a bold but simple plan:  The lieutenant ordered a dozen deputies to arm themselves with shotguns loaded with lethal ammunition.  He then massed these deputies outside the slam gate and ordered six of them to kneel and six to stand behind them facing the inmates.  It looked like a scene from the Civil War. This surprising tactic got the inmates’ attention.  The watch commander then announced that if the inmates succeeded in breaking down the slam gate, he would order the deputies to fire.  Faced with this overwhelming firepower, the inmates surrendered.

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