Consider for a moment responding to a 911 hang-up call in one of your middle-class neighborhoods only find out that when you arrive the suspect you are about to encounter is a recently discharged military service veteran home from Iraq or Afghanistan. Your suspect in this incident (probably a domestic) could be a battle hardened combat veteran who has spent the last year, if not more, surviving hyper violent firefights in an urban warfare setting. Worse yet, the suspect had been trained by the military to not only survive the urban battlefield, but to shoot, move and communicate with extreme efficiency. Has the hair on your back stood up yet? To complicate matters, the veteran has been psychologically conditioned (due to combat) to fragment their personality so that they can hug and kiss their children one moment and then very quickly respond violently to kill someone they have identified as a threat as if functioning robotically. He or she pulls a trigger without hesitation and doesn't worry about litigation, politics or Use of Force Continuums.
The media doesn't talk about it, the Pentagon quietly tries to address it and the President last month directed the VA to better treat our soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines for it. We are talking about PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and according to the U.S. Veterans Administration there will be approximately 300,000 of our servicemen and women being re-integrated back into our society who suffer from PTSD with varying severity.
Vets are special; they have earned our respect and admiration while at the same time it would be in our best interest to treat them a little different than everyone else, because they are different.
There They Go Again
You know what I am talking about here; that cop we've all worked with that would respond to a call in-progress and simply walk up to the front door as if making a delivery instead of deploying invisibly. How many times have you said to yourself, "One of these days...", you know it's coming. The positive relationship between poor tactics, or no tactics at all, and the officer who is killed or injured does not just affect the lazy patrolman or woman. All of us suffer from those moments occasionally where our head is not firmly fashioned where it needs to be and the best do dies sometimes, because as human beings we were engineered to fail. When the chips are down and Mr. Murphy is stacked against you then only thing that will save your backside are good tactics. By the way, our military members are taught to expect Mr. Murphy and overcome and adapt. In other words they are trained from Day One to succeed in an environment when nothing is thought will go right. Are you?
Get Better (because someone else is)
Basic patrol officers are venturing into a stage of police history where violent encounters are dramatically worse then they have ever been. Uniform officers are being tasked with more tactical roles and responsibilities, because the threat has evolved to be more militant then ever before. Waiting on SWAT can be a long wait when your adversary is trying to close in on you for the kill. Most jurisdictions in the U.S. do not have full-time SWAT so from the point the call originates until the heavy weapons platoon arrives can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Until SWAT gets there, it's up to the patrol units to handle the critical incident. The blending of general patrol functions with traditional SWAT capabilities is tragically in response to cops, and others, dying. This blending, I believe, will continue, as does Patrolman Matthew Wintrick of the Lakewood, Ohio, Police Division and operator for the Westshore Enforcement Bureau SWAT.
Wintrick was the architect of recent training that was provided to his fellow officers after his unit recognized that the uniforms should have been the first tripping point to initiate a SWAT call-out, as they were handling highly dangerous tactical incidents. However, they were not calling SWAT due to several reasons, some of which were identified as a training deficiency. Wintrick felt the officers needed to be briefed on what is often regarded as SWAT tactics since they were fulfilling a tactical role once it becomes apparent that a suspect refuses to exit their home or other location of defensibility.
Cops know that it can hit the fan quick. SWAT knows that when it hits the fan it is usually preceded by a few phases first. Wintrick taught the officers that if a suspect does not immediately exit a home when asked by the police to do so, then it would be prudent for the officers to immediately consider the event as a potential ambush. According to Wintrick, the initial responding officers should react by -
- Taking solid cover
- Request additional uniform elements
- Perform an observational function to gather intelligence and never give up gathering it since the value of intelligence changes moment by moment.
- Relay the intelligence gathered to SWAT elements forming up; provide continual updates.
- This phase of activity is known as the Observation Phase.
Once sufficient manpower arrives, the Observation Phase now turns into the Containment Phase. During this stage officers should:
- Establish an Emergency Action Team (EAT) as quickly as possible.
- The EAT, minimum of two officers, needs to serve an immediate counter to a threat posed by the barricaded suspect. If the suspect attempts to flee, the EAT element will make the apprehension and should be prepared to do so regardless of the method the suspect may use (foot, bike or car). Advanced planning is required here to surmise options. If the suspect presents a lethal threat then the EAT will address the threat. Less lethal capability should also be deployed to the EAT if possible.
- Once the EAT is in position, then other officers need to further seal off the perimeter and continue to gather intelligence. An on-scene commander should consider delegating an officer to quickly interview neighbors, family members and friends if possible. Desirable information to obtain would be the suspect identity, hostages, suspect capabilities, weapons available, drug usage, mental issues, combatives experience and any other information you would want to know if you had to violently confront someone.
- Placement of initial responding cruisers is vitally important too. Officers, depending on suspect/weaponry threats (distance varies), need to deploy their vehicles tactically to block off roads, but at the same time be able to move them once SWAT arrives of if EMS is needed.
Generally the first person to speak with a barricaded suspect is not the Hostage Negotiator, but rather the basic patrol officer. This fact highlights the need for all officers to have at least a minimal amount of training for understanding the hostage negotiations process, with the goal of not making the incident worse prior to the arrival of a negotiator. An incident extending beyond an hour quickly necessitates the need for mutual aid among agencies, especially when most police departments in the U.S. average around 10 officers per agency or less!
Spending a few minutes in roll call discussing the positional roles of how patrol officers can better handle their response to a barricaded subject could mean the difference between life and death. As more and more troops rotate home at the end of their overseas tour of duty, the likelihood of police officers encountering a violent, out of control, service-or former military service member continues to grow. As I said earlier, our servicemen and women are special in many ways and they should be treated as such.