Command & Control – or criminality? A policing tragedy Ukraine

December 4, 2016

The early hours of 4th December witnessed what prima facie appears to be the worst self-inflicted policing tragedy that has resulted in loss of life in Ukraine since the beginning of policing reforms.

6 law enforcement officers from various units are dead – and the official statements thus far indicate that they managed to shoot each other, whilst those they went to arrest for serious crimes were eventually arrested having fled the scene.

The media space, both main stream and social is rapidly filling up with legitimate questions as well as the usual “experts” of the armchair variety despite internal MIA, National Police and Prosecutor’s Office inquiries having only just begun and having released little information publicly.

Ergo, much of what is written thus far is supposition, informed guesswork or in most cases complete nonsense.

The President has called for a full investigation and for those responsible to be held to criminal account.  A murder investigation is under way.  Whether murder ultimately proves to be the correct and most fitting criminal charge remains to be seen – and to be blunt be it murder, manslaughter, or criminal negligence in operational planning does not have any effect upon how the investigation should be carried out.  Such serious crime is systemic in how it is investigated.

It is currently unclear how CORD, CID and police protection units all managed to be shooting at each other – or whether in fact the criminals CORD went after did any shooting either.  They were arrested having fled the scene with firearms.

Naturally most attention is upon apportioning blame – yet just as important for the future is identifying what went wrong and insuring that procedures for operational planning are amended to prevent any re-occurrence.  Even if the SOPs are proven to be first rate and yet have been ignored either negligently and/or recklessly, there is still a need to reappraise protocols and perhaps insert additional “authorities” required to launch such an operation.

Thus it is a matter of reassessing “text book” operational protocol, the “authorities” required to execute one, notwithstanding the briefing, recording and debriefing of every officer from every operation.

To be honest the “text book” varies from nation to nation, and all provide for operational circumstances allowing for a certain limited amount of discretion.  Some things however remain (fairly) constant.

Having made an operational decision to make arrests in a certain manner – on the street, a “hard stop” in vehicle, or at a premises thereafter every operation begins with a briefing.

The briefing includes all of those that need to be briefed – even if they are not directly involved in a firearms operation.  The local police commanders from all policing branches who may have their rank and file inadvertently wandering “on plot”, or who may be running an operation of their own and/or have good reason to be “on” or very close to “the plot”, or who may have to provide an outer cordon to keep the public out or deal with a concerned citizenry when guns are heard being discharged etc.  Obviously the control room of the local police station has to be managed to deal with all such local issues.  Ambulance and perhaps fire chiefs too.

Many an operation has been blown by differing agencies inadvertently getting in each others way and many hundreds of man hours wasted – yet when armed personnel are anticipating coming up against known violent and armed suspects the potential consequences clearly can result in a loss of more than surveillance hours.

This particular incident prima facie displays a spectacular failure in planning and/or the resulting operational briefing.  If there is a reason not to include some in an operational briefing, then reason need be given to justify it and be recorded.

All those briefed are recorded in the operation log – even if they are not subject to the entire operational briefing when it comes to the intricacies of  the plan for tactical firearms execution.

In the case of this tragic incident, the “plot” is a house and would/should have an armed cordon put around it, generally as covertly in its insertion as possible, so that the armed observing officers forming the cordon can “feature off”.

What is “featuring off”?


The sides of a structure (in this case a house) are given a colour.  White for the front, black for the back, green for the left and red for the right – or whatever colours are standard for “featuring off” in any particular nation.

White is generally associated with being the front of the premises.

“Featuring off” then commences.  For example, White 1.1 is the front door.  White 1.2 is a bay window to the left of the front door.  White 1.3 is a bay window to the right of the front door.  White 1.4 is the garage door etc.

Upstairs, White 2.1 is a large window on the left.  White 2.2 is a large window to the right.  White 3.1 is the next floor and so on.

So it goes on around the entire building until all colours have identified all features on their side.

The point of this is so that everybody knows what is on each side of the house and if an officer calls “Light on Black 2.2” – everybody, be they in the containment cordon but cannot see Black 2.2, or the commander who may not even see the house but be sat in a control room, also knows where a light has just come on.  Likewise “Curtains closed White 1.2” lets all know somebody has just closed the curtains downstairs in the room to the left of the front door.

Further “Female, red hair Black 2.2”, lets all know that either a suspect (if identified) or a known resident, or an unknown, is upstairs in the room to the right if the door is about to be put through.  The door and internal searches and/or arrests are not carried out by those in the cordon, for the cordon exists to (hopefully) catch those escaping.

The result is anybody should be able to draw a basic elevation of any side of a structure based upon “featuring off” and track occurrences seen through any windows etc.

A reader gets the point.

Further such “featuring off” is recorded in the operation log together with any observations of movement, and the ID of the officer “featuring off” and/or observing on that side.  The operation log also records any decisions (and by whom) made during the execution of the operation.

“Featuring off” also helps when it comes to not shooting your own, for those on the cordon will identify their location to all via “the clock”.  Thus 7 o’clock is White slightly left of centre.  11 o’clock is Black slightly left of centre.  3’o’clock is centre of red and 8 o’clock is green slightly lower than centre etc.

Having scribbled down the featuring off as a cordon officer, it is not difficult to thereafter plot the location of your colleagues.   “Officer 1234, 1 o’clock, Black 1.1 60 meters”  would tell all that Officer 1234 is at 1’oclack, which is on the Black elevation and that he/she is 60 meters from feature Black 1.1.

Once every operation is completed, there is a “hot debrief” immediately afterward and a cold debrief some time later – both involving all in the initial briefing.

Lessons are still to be learned even from the seemingly most successful and slick operations.  Those lessons are shared across all regions.  And so it goes on.  Every success and every failure has something to teach those charged with the arrest and detention of the most violent of criminality – and also those that support their operations.

Naturally there are incidents that do not provide for the best of preparation – however the protocol is the protocol and even if ad hoc to begin with, sufficient resources should be activated to adopt the “text book” as swiftly as possible – if possible.  Those with the level of “authorities” within protocols are generally far harder to convince that something needs to be done “today” without sufficient planning if nothing is to be lost by way of life and/or the loss of significant evidence by taking the time to plan properly.  Careers ending and/or criminal responsibility that may result is meant to concentrate the mind.

This very brief (standard) outline of something that will probably have a reasonable resemblance to Ukrainian protocols (albeit it will not be exact).  It is therefore likely to be close to the benchmark that this tragic operational outcome will have to be measured.  Errors have most certainly been made.  There are definitely lessons to be learned.  Most certainly a full review of protocols and the “authorities” within will have to occur.  There may well be disciplinary matters regardless of any criminal culpability at the end of internal reviews and the prosecutor’s investigation.  It is vital that placing the blame on somebody does not prevent all of this from happening if such a seemingly self-inflicted tragedy is to be avoided again.

For now, given the currently limited official discourse a reader is left to ponder whether this tragedy is a result of poor command and control, criminality – or both.

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