Waiting For SWAT

A couple of back-to-back incidents happened in my old jurisdiction recently that prompted this Tactics column. Both resulted in SWAT callouts. So I’ve decided to focus on what you, as a street dog, should be doing while waiting for the TACT Unit or SWAT troops.

The Incident
At the risk of showing some bias, let me outline the details of how the first incident at my old agency went down. By all accounts, the initial responding officers did everything right. This standoff lasted 22 hours, so I’m going to have to give you the Readers Digestversion.

Moving past details of the incident itself, I’m going to focus on the response. Priority one is to isolate and contain. Thought they were being shot at, the first two officers on scene didn’t fire back. They knew that domestics usually involve at least two people; and even in the heat of a “shots fired” call, they showed restraint in their tactical response. They disengaged, with one officer suffering some cuts from a shot-out window.

Next, they called for backup and requested SWAT and a boss. When I was with my agency, we didn’t have a full-time SWAT team so it took some time to muster the tactical troops. When the first wave of backup arrived, an inner perimeter was established. When sufficient officers showed up, they formed the outer perimeter and traffic points were set up.

The evacuation of neighboring homes began shortly thereafter. We have a reverse 9-1-1 system in my old hometown, so telephone notifications went out to the surrounding homes. About 30 homes were evacuated and the residents were escorted to a local firehouse where food and water were provided. When the standoff progressed into the early morning hours, one of the bosses made arrangements to put the residents up at a nearby hotel.

The local Red Cross set up at the outer perimeter and provided relief to the officers going off and coming on duty. The on-scene commander, a captain who I know personally because he worked for me as a young patrol officer, assumed command. Investigative personnel started researching the address and occupants for prior police contact, weapons permits, criminal histories, etc.

When SWAT showed up, they took up their tactical positions while the crisis negotiators tried to initiate contact. 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 SWAT/tactical unit took over the scene and employed video surveillance and gas options until they finally entered the house and located the suspect in the basement. The suspect was DOA from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The only injuries reported were those that occurred to the wife prior to the officers’ response and the cuts the aforementioned cop received at the time of the initial response. In sum and substance, the mutt saved the state of New York a ton of money by turning the gun on himself at some point during the standoff.

Standoff Strategies
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, Crisis Negotiations by McMains and Mullins states: “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.” The authors also suggest, “all patrol officers be trained in handling barricaded suspect and/or hostage situations and stalling for time until negotiators arrive.”

Lessons learned: Every police supervisor 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) while awaiting SWAT’s arrival. Very likely, patrol will be the first responders to such an event and need to know how to manipulate time. Along with the surrender, the initial minutes (15–45) of any barricaded suspect or hostage-type situation are the most dangerous. Responses by the initial responding officers can mean the difference between the failure and the success of a tactical operation. The first-arriving patrol officer can set the tone for the negotiator, and by establishing the perimeters and redirecting traffic they can also make it easier for the SWAT team to deploy and make their way to their tactical positions.

Let’s sum it up. Protect the perimeters, isolate and contain, and gather as much intel as you can on the suspect. Initiate the reverse 9-1-1 program, re-direct traffic away from the area, and start to arrange contingency plans for perimeter relief and displaced residents.

McMains, M., & Mullins, W.: Crisis Negotiations (Third Edition). Anderson Publishing: 2006.
Tactical Commanders Course, 2006. Team One Network, Fredericksburg, Va.

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