Tactical challenges and the ability to overcome them are what S.W.A.T. is all about. Take a group of well trained and equipped operators and task them with containing, arresting or neutralizing a violent suspect, and they have the capacity to safely take care of business. Some jobs, however, are more challenging than others.
Take for instance an armed and barricaded suspect ensconced in the upper level of a cheap motel with a good view of the area. What are the tactical issues? What are the tactical options? How was it done in the past and what can you learn from how others have answered these questions? And most importantly, how can you and your team safely meet this tactical challenge?
Motel rooms present many tactical challenges. They are frequently used by the criminal element in the drug trade to manufacture methamphetamine, by dealers to conduct illicit drug transactions or by fugitives attempting to elude the law. From Columbian drug dealers to a situation with a home invasion suspect that resulted in a fatal shooting, I’ve been involved in numerous incidents with suspects in motel rooms. Of particular tactical concern are rooms on the second or higher floor that are accessed off a landing that exposes officers as they make their approach to the suspect’s room.
This kind of location creates several different deployment issues. Arriving on the scene you must: safely move any patrol personnel that are in exposed positions and secure the scene. If the courtyard of the motel is completely fenced, this may be a minor challenge overcome with ladders or bolt cutters. Police scouts/snipers must be positioned to protect personnel and provide intelligence info on the suspect’s actions. Movement of personnel within the courtyard must be done using ballistic shields and/or armored vehicles. Occupants of other motel rooms can be evacuated by tactical personnel or instructed to move away from the windows (evacuation is preferable since gawking will always take place). If phones are available in the rooms this can be done via the telephone. Tactical personnel can sometimes be deployed unseen to covered positions because you can move outside and under the suspect’s view.
Entry into the suspect’s room should always be a last resort. The suspect can easily barricade the inward opening door with furniture to prevent or restrict entrance and then take up a bunker position deep in the room. The defender behind a barricade always has the edge so don’t play that game if at all possible.
K-9 units as well as operators with less-lethal, long-range munitions should be deployed as well should the suspect attempt to go mobile and not present a deadly threat.
What then? Although negotiators can contact the suspect to elicit his surrender, what other options do you have available? Obvious threats include the suspect firing out of the window or doorway. How can you prevent or restrict both possibilities? New tactical options exist to reduce the risk to all personnel and help contain the suspect.
Many motel rooms have only one en- trance door and one window. With new tactics and equipment you can effectively seal the suspect inside.
The Tactical Blanket System by Instant Armor allows operators to safely approach and cover a portal such as a window. With the prop sticks that come with this system, a wall of Level IIIA armor panels can be leaned against the side of the motel room wall. This prevents the suspect from shooting through the glass window and endangering police personnel.
The inward-opening door can be tied off with rope if there is a fence or pillar nearby. However, securing the door with rope can take time and expose officers outside the suspect’s door. Most ropes will stretch somewhat which might give the suspect enough room to shoot from the doorway.
Several years ago the Chicago PD faced a very similar barricade situation involving a murder suspect. One of the devices they came up with after the incident was a slotted steel plate that could be placed over the doorknob. It has adjustable steel angle pieces that hook around the brick or concrete doorway edge. The plate is first fitted and bolted down on a similar doorway so all you have to do is go up and slide the device on the suspect’s doorknob. This type of plate can be produced locally and will drastically improve officer safety.
The suspect, now “sealed” in the room can be dealt with through negotiations and monitored by the placement of spike or window surveillance microphones and under-the-door video cameras. If negotiations fail, chemical munitions can be introduced with large aerosol projectors such as Defense Technology’s MK-46H which comes with a rubber extension tube and metal pipe that can be shoved under the door or through the window (a longer metal pipe giving more standoff distance could be placed on the tube).
Plan, Prepare and Train Now
Prior planning and equipment acquisition can drastically improve your team’s performance should you have a “no-tell” motel frequented by the criminal element in your jurisdiction. Whether you’re dealing with a barricaded suspect after a “shots- fired” call, attempting to contain and arrest a murder suspect, or dealing with any similar call-out, these deployment tactics and equipment options increase officer and citizen safety. Learn from the experiences of other teams that have faced these types of call-outs. Some of these lessons have been hard-earned.
Tactical challenges and the ability to overcome them are what S.W.A.T. is all about. Take…
by Dave Spaulding / Sep 1, 2007