"Time is on our side." "Time, talk, tactics." "We'll wait as long as it takes."
These and other similar sayings regarding the element of time during critical incidents have been around for years. Sayings often echoed by many LE commanders, and accepted unquestioningly as fact, without documented proof.
Commanders subscribing to the "time" theory order "no offensive action" until all other options are exhausted. This is considered the "safe" resolution, and is why so many barricades last many hours or even days. SWAT teams working under these conditions are often labeled "Sit, Wait, And Talk."
Let's take a closer look at the element of time itself. There are times when time appears to speed up or slow down, depending on the situation or circumstances. However, time is always constant, marching to its steady, relentless beat every second of every day. Instead, it is our perception that appears to change the speed of time.
Experienced tacticians come to understand that time can work for or against both the good guys and the bad guys. No better example is found than with active shooters, who shoot and kill as many people as they can in the shortest amount of time.
With active shooters, and snipers before them, time is on the bad guys' side, not ours. With lives on the line, every second counts. This lesson about time wasn't fully learned until the deadly Columbine High School attack. Since Columbine, LE active shooter response throughout the U.S. and Canada is now immediate deployment to stop the deadly threat.
Yet, as successful as immediate deployment has proven against active shooters, many LE commanders remain reluctant to "take action" in other tactical operations. Preferring instead to wait…and wait…until what – luck or until it's too late?
Sid Heal, LASD Commander (ret) addresses the issue of time in his article, "Time is on Our Side and other Fairytales" (CATO News spring 2009, pg. 9). Heal talks about how LE commanders often offer the old adage "time is on our side" without supporting factors. And that more experienced commanders recognize that time belongs to no one. That only commanders recognizing and understanding the significance of events as they are occurring is capable of determining whether time is an ally or adversary.
Ron McCarthy refers to this as good time (good for you) and bad time (bad for you).
Two recent incidents illustrate how time can affect outcomes.
Toledo, Ohio – 5/24/09 0754 hrs:
TPD receives a shots fired call at a residence. Patrol units are dispatched, and upon arrival, learn two people have been shot and a third lies critically wounded inside the house, along with two unaccounted for young children. And the 32-year-old suspect, a neighbor with two handguns, is still inside with them.
With the clock ticking off precious seconds, lives hang in the balance. Patrol officers make their move, and exchange gunfire with the suspect for 10 to 15 minutes. Additional officers rescue the two young children from a rear bedroom and rush them to safety. A sergeant and officer enter the home; the sergeant shoots and kills the suspect. The critically wounded person is rescued and all wounded are rushed to the hospital, where they are all expected to recover.
The entire incident is over by 0821 hrs—only 27 minutes after the original call to dispatch.
Mentor, Ohio – 2/5/09 1638 hrs:
Paramedics are dispatched to a residence for a 72-year-old male possibly having a stroke. The male argued with paramedics and refused treatment, then shoved two medics, who subsequently called for police backup (per protocol). The male then threatened to get his gun and shoot the paramedics. At which point, the paramedics fled the house with the wife.
Responding Mentor (Ohio) PD officers arrived and established a perimeter, and attempted (unsuccessfully) to establish phone contact with the male.
Shortly afterward, the male stepped outside the house with a shotgun, and then walked along the driveway. When he shouldered and pointed the shotgun at police, a cover officer inside a nearby house fired a single shot, killing the male.
The time was 1721 hrs—only 41 minutes after paramedics were first called.
Although not officially a SWAT callout, five of the on-scene officers were Mentor PD SWAT, including the cover officer, a SWAT sniper.
This is the first fatal police shooting in Mentor Police history. For normally low-crime suburban Mentor, this incident was shocking to residents and sparked controversy in succeeding weeks.
On 4/30/09, the coroner released a report the male had a .23 BAC. Then, on 5/8/09, the Lake County prosecutor ruled the shooting "justifiable."
In both of these incidents, the clock started ticking even before police arrival. To those who say "time is on our side," the opposite was true in Toledo and Mentor. Time for both was an adversary, and the officers responded accordingly. Because the reality is time is on the side of those who understand how time works—either for or against you.