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Moving from Riot Troopers to 21st Century CERT Operators

Joseph Garcia

With more than 3,000 CERT teams in the US and 1,000 teams internationally, this article discusses what it means to be a 21st Century CERT Operator. I’m writing this article in response to a number of inquiries I’ve received from the field by clients and attendees who have heard me speak or have been trained by US C-SOG SOU teams.

What Is a 21st Century CERT Operator?

The next time you see a picture of a “CERT Member” who looks like he is wearing an updated version of gladiator armor and weaponry, ask yourself how he can hear, shoot properly, or quickly move in and out of areas. Then ask yourself what tactics is he using? Are they new or old? The point is a picture never tells the whole story.

Over the years, we’ve called these kinds of teams “hat and bat” or “goon squad.” In the past, I’d just deride and dismiss these teams. I was wrong to do that. Very wrong. I’ve since come to the realization that these teams are even worse: They’re dangerous to team members, to the administration, and to staff and inmates.

Let me explain: Tactics that call for a team to stand in formation and wait on inmates who throw liquids, objects, shanks, and etc. at this supposedly powerful line are dangerous. What do you think is happening to the team member on the other side of that shield, getting pelted with liquid that oh by the way is sure to include bodily fluids which carry blood borne pathogens. While they’re standing in formation, the fluid is soaking into their gas mask filters and uniforms, unnecessarily exposing themselves to life-threatening heath hazards. Ask the countless members over the years who’ve suffered from using such “tactics.”

Who in their right mind would volunteer for a team when they know the odds are stacked against them? Some of you reading this article really need to scrutinize how you view your team and – if necessary – bring on new leadership to raise your performance level.

New leaders who understand that the team brings the fight to the rioters on the team’s terms—not vice versa. New leaders who aggressively and confidently seize the initiative and deploy with the latest gear, using the latest techniques.

When you consider that the majority of riots that take place in US corrections systems occur inside a closed environment, the “hat and bat” or “good squad” approach is dangerously obsolete. Today’s situations demand a new type of response. Do Numbers Count?

I have heard commanders and trainers brag about how large their teams are. I once heard a commander say proudly that he had a team of more than 100 members… Until he was asked a question about what kind of weapons do his team members have: The response was “a couple of these and a couple of those and one of this.” He was then asked what type of protective gear his team members use, to which he responded, “they use turtle vests or ballistic vest.” As if these stop attacks by knives, shanks, razors, picks, etc.! I just shook my head and walked away.

If you think numbers mean a lot, honestly consider these questions and facts:

1) How long does it take you to assemble your unit or squad? The larger the team the more time it is going to take.

2) Are your tactics based on large numbers? If so you are restricted right out of the box.

3) The larger the team, the more it costs to train and equip them.

4) The larger the team, the higher the potential liability.

5) The larger the team, the more training funds and time they require over time.

Just because your team is large doesn’t make it better. In fact, it just may make it worse. Larger teams require more managing, more paperwork, more resources. They’re tougher to deploy, tougher to train, and, most importantly, they take longer to get in the door at the critical moment.

I understand that some people justify their existence with large teams. Even if they do, it still doesn’t excuse carrying on with old school tactics. Not Robots. Operators.

Operators, Commanders and Administrators, pay attention: Your team members are not punching bags, nor are they expendable in any way, shape, or form.

The true 21st century operator doesn’t need to be micromanaged. He is trained in Close Quarter Riot Control (a term and tactics that was developed by US C-SOG more than eight years ago), and skilled in multiple disciplines including Correctional Hostage Rescue, High Risk Inmate Transport, Officer Recovery Operations, Dynamic Cell extraction, High Risk Security Patrol Operations and many more.

I have said this in the past, and it bears repeating here. If there are members out there that learn there are better tactics, weaponry and techniques that can save their lives and reduce their liability, then why would you stubbornly stick to the old routine and continue gambling with their lives?! It’s only a matter of time.

I recently had a conversation with a couple of commanders and the issue of equipment came up. One commander on the West coast told me that he was about to go into another battle with his administration. He said, “I fight the carpet battles so my men can fight the cell battles.” That’s a commander! Your men are worth every battle regardless of size. At the end of the day their lives are on the line.

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