Barricaded suspects and the positive effects of time
The first-arriving patrol officer can set the tone for the negotiator’s actions, including using time to his advantage
I got a call a few days ago from one of my buds up in New York. It seems some officers from my old agency were welcomed with gunshots when they responded to a domestic call about 2030 hours on a hot Friday night. They quickly disengaged and called for back-up. They continued to receive fire from the suspect who moved from room to room trying to draw a bead on their cover positions. One officer suffered minor injuries from broken glass during the tactical redeployment.
I’m going to make the long story short because the long story covered 22 hours — in sum and substance, after releasing his wife, the shooter saved the state a ton of money by turning the gun on himself at some point during the standoff. When SWAT finally made entry, they found the suspect, who had a long criminal record, in the basement with an apparent self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound. A happy ending from a tactical standpoint.
Positive Effects of Time
One of the standing rules during barricade situations is “make good use of your time” and most tactical commanders recognize that time is one of their most valuable tools. The bible for such situations is Crisis Negotiations by McMains and Mullins.
“Time decreases stress levels, increases rationality, allows for rapport and trust to be established between the police and the suspect, clarifies communications, fatigues the suspect, and increases the probability of any hostages being released unharmed.”
It is also suggested by the authors that “all patrol officers be trained in handling hostage situations and stalling for time until negotiators arrive.”
I’ve been retired from my agency for more than two decades, but I can tell you that almost all of the officers in my agency have been so trained, at least they were when I was there; and from this past incident, it appears that’s still the case. The evidence being that during the 22 hours of this standoff, no one fired into the home, the wife was released by the moron with only minor injuries, and the tactical scene was contained perfectly, all homes were evacuated in a safe and timely fashion and three rotations of inner and outer perimeter officers, tactical operators and negotiators were accomplished during the night and following day. Here’s the “how.”
First, please understand that this short piece is not meant to be a training course in barricaded suspect tactics. All police commanders, regardless of assignment, need to seek out formalized training in that field. My agency sends bosses to Tactical Command School as soon as possible after they make command rank. However, what I do want to point out in the following paragraphs are some of the positive aspects of what both the brass and rank and file troops at the scene of this standoff accomplished, based on that training.
Some Important Elements
It was the third week in July. It had been hovering around 100 degrees all week. At half past ten o’clock at night, it was still in the low 90s. Our folks knew that shutting down the electricity and AC would have a profound effect on the suspect. And it did. It took a few minutes to get the local power company to narrow the grid down and isolate it to the one residence, but by that time, the FD had enough lights up to create a favorable work environment outside while our brass and the negotiator were housed in the mobile CP.
Investigative personnel started researching the address and occupants for prior police contacts, weapons permits, criminal histories, and the like. Other brass began to initiate a call-out. About 30 homes were evacuated and the residents escorted to a local fire house where food and water were provided. When the standoff progressed into the early morning hours, one of the bosses made arrangements with a near by hotel to put the residents up. The local Red Cross set up at the outer perimeter and provided relief to the officers going off — and coming on — duty.
In this case, all attempts to make contact with the suspect proved unsuccessful but intel on the mutt was provided just in case he decided to respond to the on-scene negotiators’ calls. When it appeared that negotiations had stalled, the scene was turned over to the Tactical Unit who employed both video surveillance and gas options, until the SWAT team finally entered and located the suspect DOA in the basement of the home.
My Chief was quoted in the newspaper as commenting about the cost of the tactical operation. I guess that’s what Chiefs think about during extended ops (and he’s right... a lot of OT was paid out during those 22 hours). But knowing how the local rags from my hometown operate, they probably edited out the other comments from our PIO about the fact that “no citizens were hurt and all the displaced residents’ housing and food needs were taken care of. The only injuries reported were to the wife prior to the officers’ response and the one cop who received some cuts from broken glass returned to duty.”
Every police commander, whether assigned to tactical operations or not, needs to attend some type of tactical command management course. I went through my first program as a baby lieutenant; a three-day course taught by the FBI. Next, every patrol officer needs to have some level of training on what to do (and what not to do) when faced with a potential barricade/hostage situation simply due to the fact that they will very likely be the first responders to such an event. They should learn how to manipulate time. The initial minutes (15-45) of any barricaded suspect or hostage-type situation are the most dangerous, along with the surrender. The initial responding officers can mean the difference between a successful operation and an unsuccessful one. The first-arriving patrol officer can set the tone for the negotiator’s actions, including using time to his advantage.
The two first responders in this case didn’t fire back. Domestics usually involve at least two people. They showed restraint in their tactical response. They called for backup, notified SWAT, contained and isolated the scene, and set up an inner perimeter. When backup arrived, an outer perimeter was established and the evacuation of neighboring homes began. The on-scene commander, a captain who I know personally because he worked for me as a young patrolman, assumed command.
In short, everyone did their jobs properly, and while the press may have felt that 22 hours was too long to delay the weekend edition, the “positive effects of time” worked.
Crisis Negotiations (3rd Ed) Michael J. McMains and Wayman C. Mullins, Anderson Publishing, 2006.
Tactical Commanders Course, 2006. Team One Network, Fredericksburg, VA