The murder suspect was seated behind the wheel of his car in the church parking lot. The police supervisors never called S.W.A.T. to the scene as they let church goers enter the lot to attend services. The patrol supervisor “negotiated” with the shotgun-wielding offender while standing directly in front of the vehicle with his pistol holstered. He would later say that if it had been necessary to draw and defend his life he would have had a hard time because the weather conditions had made him cold and stiff. But instead of surrendering, the suspect turned the shotgun on himself.
Suicide vs. Homicide: Make no mistake, the only difference between homicide and suicide is the target. How easy it would have been for this felon to turn his slug-loaded shotgun on the police and take one of them out prior to turning the gun on himself. Sadly, this is a true story, with only the suspect and his decision to end his own life saving the police from further tragedy. The fundamentals of training and tactics are that it is better to bet your survival on your training than on Lady Luck—so fickle a friend is she.
We live in a vehicle-born society. People and their problems move with automobiles throughout our country.
The Mobile Problem: Regardless of how the call originated—a suspect caught in the commission of a violent crime behind the wheel, perhaps the termination of a vehicle pursuit of armed suspects or a subject threatening suicide—these vehicles must not be allowed to roll. The problem is that cars are hard to stop. It has become commonplace to see suspect vehicles on TV cop shows with one or more tires flattened by spike strips creating tails of sparks as they continue to roll down the road on rims.
To prevent the vehicle from moving, it must be blocked by other vehicles.
Negotiations: Oftentimes, negotiators can be so focused on their talks that they expose themselves to risk. Obviously, standing directly in front of an armed suspect behind the wheel of a car is foolhardy in the extreme. Most teams have public address systems, bullhorns, cell phones or by which communications can more safely take place.
Remember the rule of negotiations: They can only take place when the suspect has something to offer or actual two-way communication is taking place. The question is what does a barricaded suspect have to offer?
Deadly Force: If the legal parameters of Tennessee vs. Garner (fleeing felon rule—consult your legal advisor for parameters) have been met, deadly force may be used against the suspect to stop them from moving the car. There are, however, some practical issues to be considered.
Vehicles are not homogenous, so shooting through a car door or vehicle may or may not result in penetration into the driver’s compartment. Additionally, laminated safety glass and the angle at which a bullet strikes the glass windshields will sometimes deflect rounds fired. As you fire into a car, the rounds will tend to follow the perpendicular plane of the glass. If there is any great distance between you and the vehicle, it may be necessary to compensate for this deflection. If your agency carries carbines, they should be tested against vehicle glass and cover such as car doors to check penetration ability. Side windows are not laminated and make a better point of entry, but vehicle location and the situation faced will determine angles of fire.
Less-Lethal: The effectiveness of a Taser and pepper spray are too dependant on proximity to the target. If the suspect is still in the car, chemical munitions can be deployed using barricade-penetrating rounds. In their 12-gauge version, 2.20 grams of OC or CS can be delivered from a safe distance. Using the 37mm or 40mm gas gun, 4.48 grams of OC can be delivered or 7.48 grams of CS. Fired through the front or rear windows, these rounds may not penetrate as might happen when fired through the side windows. This may complicate matters as the windshield will become fractured and your ability to see the suspect clearly may be affected. If the side windows have been broken, muzzle-dispersion powder rounds may also be deployed. Never forget that CS, flashbangs or OC grenades may be tossed under the car.
If the suspect attempts to leave the vehicle and does not present an obvious deadly threat, impact munitions such as the 37mm or 40mm sponge rounds can often stop the suspect’s. When possible, a K9 team should be on hand to stop the suspect from running away.
Arrest Process: The only safe way to conduct the physical portion of the arrest if the suspect agrees to surrender is to have them leave any weapons in their vehicle, then move away from their car following the directions of the officers on the arrest team. Types of verbal commands may include doing a 360-degree rotation, lifting their shirt to expose the waistband, assuming a kneeling position with hands on the head, or getting down into a prone position. This arrest team is often composed of a cover officer(s) capable of delivering deadly force and prisoner handlers armed with less-lethal devices such as the Taser while taking physical control of the suspect. If time and circumstances allow, a quick plan as to who will give orders and who will perform specific tasks will improve performance dramatically.
The Final Lap: Many of the tactics that work for suspects barricaded in structures will work with a suspect(s) in a motor vehicle—techniques and methods just need to be modified and training conducted. Understanding the dangers and problems associated with suspects barricaded behind the wheel will drastically reduce the threat to officers. With the incident having been safely concluded by sound tactics, the only thing left will be towing the car.