There I was, watching the news when an alert came in about a “hostage situation” at a bank somewhere in the midwest. The bank was out in the open with a pond adjacent to it and a large parking lot around the rest of it. The bank was well surrounded and a SWAT team was crawling across the grassy area next to the pond in order to get to a staging point closer to a point of entry. Even the K-9 was down on his belly.
What went wrong in the above incident? I don’t know, but there should never have been a hostage situation in the bank unless the suspect(s) went to the bank for that very reason. That’s highly unlikely, as 99.9% of bank robbers are “professional” criminals in that all they want to do is get the money and leave. If they end up as hostage takers, it’s almost always because law enforcement got there before they had a chance to leave the bank.
Nobody should enjoy berating aggressive young officers for wanting to rush to a bank robbery alarm and catch the bad guys in the act. They’ve seen it in the movies for decades, and there’s a good chance that this is what they were taught in the training academy, even in this day and age. However, in this day and age, law enforcement has to work smarter than ever before and that means no hostages.
It also means better officer safety. How many times have you learned about a responding officer deploying at a bank alarm only to be killed by the suspects inside the bank, or other suspects waiting outside? Money has no value in a bank alarm. It’s insured by the FDIC, and they’ll print more of it before you finish your report. What’s important here are the lives of the officers and the innocent people inside the bank, but don’t get me wrong. I want to catch the robbers too, but on my terms, not theirs. Here’s how it’s done.
When an alarm is broadcasted officers acknowledge, give their locations, and immediately draw up a plan of deployment. They then quietly approach, but take positions as far away from the bank as is prudent in order to have good observation of at least one side per officer (another reason you carry binoculars). In the meantime, dispatch attempts to contact the bank to verify the status of the alarm.
What if you’re right in front of the bank when you get the call? You should keep driving until you can turn into the driveway of a business far enough away to appear routine, and then observe the bank from a hidden location if possible. Consider entering the business to do this. Use your imagination.
If the bank reports the alarm as false, an officer meets the person in charge away from the bank, eventually re-enters with that individual and clears the call, first by phone and finally by car radio. You should know this drill by now.
If dispatch cannot verify a false alarm, or worse, the officers stand by, as perimeters are bolstered or additional ones begin to be formed concentrically. There will either be no news, news that the suspects have fled the scene, or that they are still inside. In the latter case it is vital that the suspects not be aware of the officers’ presence around the bank. We want them to leave the bank peacefully!
Once the suspects exit the bank, officers can keep them under surveillance until they get a relatively safe distance from the bank, or reach their getaway car. The bank doors will have been locked by this time, and the officers can begin to move in. Injured/dead cops and hostages, or cops waiting for the advantage to deal with the robbers? You decide. Oh, yes, this response plan isn’t just for banks.