Tactical Patience and Improvisation: Observations on Yesterday’s Dundalk Avenue OIS

Yesterday, an armed robbery suspect was killed, and a police officer and bystander were wounded during a shootout in Dundalk Maryland.

Police said the man robbed two people in a shopping center parking lot, then proceeded towards his getaway vehicle, the No. 10 MTA bus. After a short pursuit, police stopped the bus and a firefight erupted.

From the cell phone footage below, the suspect (light colored clothing) is seen hanging out from the the side of the MTA bus and randomly firing at the police. From his posture and actions it appears he did not intend to get in a shootout with police. However, when he departs the bus and proceeds to the white passenger van, it becomes apparent that he has made the decision to fight.

Throughout the video, an exchange of gunfire is heard and the camera periodically switches back and forth between police shooting positions and the robber’s movements.

Although the full report for yesterday’s incident has not been released, the bystander’s cell phone footage of the incident serves as a worth while training tool.

The officers involved did a great job exercising tactical patience and allowing the situation to develop. After stopping the bus, rapid decision-making occurred that presented the officers with multiple problems.

Are there still passengers on the bus?

Is he going to barricade himself?

Did he intend to shoot it out, and is he prepared?

Can we end this now by immediately closing on his position and catch him by surprise?

When the robber flees the bus, any improvised plan the officers had formulated needed to immediately change to address the new circumstances of the firefight. Before abandoning the bus, the suspect lays down hasty covering fire to protect his movement. At this moment, we notice the suspect’s posture changes from indecisive gunman, to that of an individual that is determined to shoot it out with the police officers.

Once he arrives at his new terrain, we seem him instinctively keep his posture low in order to mask his silhouette while also maximizing the van’s ballistic protection. The rate of gunfire increases, and the video cuts out as the bystander filming finally decides he’s a bit too close to the action.

The suspect’s actions in the video are a reminder of a threat’s ability to adapt, and how a situation can immediately change. We can assume the suspect had no formal tactical training and was instead relying on natural instinct the moment he exchanged shots with the police.

In close quarter fights in and around vehicles and in general, it feels completely unnatural to stand up. Our brain instinctively tells us to stay low and reduce our silhouettes. The quality of our terrain and rate at which we are receiving fire and its effectiveness will determine whether we can adjust to more upright postures. The few times that the police are seen in the video, they are crouched low, underneath mid-line of their patrol cars in order to maximize their ballistic protection while also masking their silhouettes. This was textbook use of available terrain to create a fighting position.

But what about shooting underneath their patrol cars? When the suspect moved to the white van, the angles of the fight shifted so that a center lane concrete median would have obstructed any undercarriage shots taken by the officers. Regardless, the suspects unpredictable movements could have placed the officers in an exposed position. Shooting underneath vehicles significantly reduces our situational awareness. In the time it takes to get into position for an undercarriage shot, the angles of the fight can change and our reduced situational awareness puts us at a greater disadvantage.

Yesterday’s events are a reminder that we might be better trained than our adversaries, but an amateur’s ability to adapt should not be discounted. Natural instinct and improvisation allows even the most ill prepared threat to put up a serious fight.

Solid work Baltimore County PD and we pray for the speedy recovery of the officer wounded in yesterday’s shootout. 

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