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Features

Ending a Barricade with Heavy Equipment

Faced with barricaded suspects, more and more SWAT teams are making like Joshua and bringing down the walls.

August 24, 2011  |  by Ti Goetz

Photo: Ti Goetz.
Photo: Ti Goetz.

The Biblical account of the Israelites' battle for Jericho turned out to be a pretty easy win for Joshua. His barricade tactics were simple. He and his men marched around the city for seven days, blowing horns, and carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and then stood back and watched the walls of Jericho come tumbling down. The sudden loss of the defenders' main line of defense resulted, of course, in Joshua's unimpeded assault into the city. End result: an incredibly successful and relatively cost-free sacking of one city.

Whether you believe the Biblical version or not, you have to admit Joshua had a pretty good strategy. Why waste precious men and resources trying to fight past the primary defenses when you can simply bring the walls down and walk past them? It's a good question, then and now.

While the Israelites were limited to crude weapons and technology, backed up by a little divine intervention, the modern day equivalent of the tactic-using armored vehicles and heavy construction equipment to tear into structures-appears to be catching on with SWAT operators. Why risk our officers' lives when we can use our own version of the "Jericho Solution" to bring down the walls on barricaded gunmen?

Modern Day Precedent

Israel's military has used armored Caterpillar bulldozers for years to deal with barricaded gunmen and terrorists, with great success, if not in the press, at least on the battlefield. Generally a practical army, the Israel Defense Forces quickly realized that storming structures occupied by fanatical gunmen was often an exercise in wasted lives. So Israeli tacticians developed a heavily armored bulldozer that their troops could simply drive over and/or through the structure, reducing both the terrorist and the building itself to rubble.

Now admittedly, as American law enforcement officers, our ability to obtain armored bulldozers and drive over suspects—no matter how appealing the thought—is somewhat limited. Law, policy, cost, circumstances, and what would most likely be a highly unfavorable backlash from the media and human rights folks make such a tactic impractical. However, some American police tactical teams have adopted a modified "Jericho Solution" that has proven highly effective.

What if your bad guy is a heavily armed and dangerous suspect, barricaded by himself inside a structure? What if he refuses to surrender or fails to engage in meaningful negotiations? Would these circumstances warrant the unusual and possibly very costly tactic of reducing the walls so as to allow visual and physical access to the structure in the safest manner possible?

Barricaded Suspect

A SWAT team combining officers from two Southern California agencies, the Hawthorne Police Department and the Gardena Police Department, faced just that question on Dec. 9, 2009.

The callout began at 5 a.m. when Gardena SWAT attempted to serve a felony narcotics arrest warrant on Michael Hernandez, 31. Hernandez had numerous prior felony arrests, was a parolee at large, and was a documented member of the criminal street gang "Gardena 13" with the moniker of "Villain."

The Gardena PD had received credible information that Hernandez was hiding in the city in a family member's house. Information indicated Hernandez knew he was wanted, did not intend to be captured, constantly carried a 9mm handgun, wore a ballistic vest, and had access to an AK-47 assault rifle, which was in the house with him.

When surveillance failed to turn up any sign of Hernandez, Gardena SWAT was notified and wisely elected to conduct a "surround and call out," rather than force entry. They received absolutely no response to their hails or calls, so the command personnel made a second extremely wise decision, electing to treat the situation as a barricade rather than assuming Hernandez was not home.

Because they needed additional personnel and had worked and trained together on a regular basis, Gardena SWAT called in Hawthorne SWAT for assistance. By 7 a.m. both teams were on scene integrated under Gardena PD's command and working the problem.

Standard barricade protocols were followed with a joint command post, containment, long rifles, and react teams. Evacuations were completed, gas and water shut off, and numerous attempts to communicate attempted.

Gas and Talk

Detectives "pinged" Hernandez' cell phone, which revealed his phone, at least, was inside the residence. By 10 a.m. family members had "mysteriously" arrived on scene and been interviewed. Hernandez' aunt told the crisis negotiation team that Hernandez would not go back to jail and that police would have to "shoot it out" with him. In addition, his girlfriend, though she initially tried to mislead police, eventually admitted that Hernandez had called her on the phone earlier and told her, "The police are here."

Hernandez would not answer his phone. A front window was breached at 11 a.m. and a throw phone was deployed into the residence. Continuous attempts to make contact through PA, house phone, cellular phone, and throw phone all went unanswered.

At 1 p.m. the decision was made to deploy cold gas into the
residence, working from back to front, in the hopes of forcing Hernandez out or at least inducing him to make contact. About 22 rounds of 40mm gas were fired into the house. A male subject exited the front of the residence and surrendered to the React team.

Hot Gas

The male subject was for the most part uncooperative. He did confirm, however, that Hernandez was inside the residence and that he was armed with a shotgun. The subject denied seeing any other weapons in the house.

Cold gas deployment continued until more than 30 rounds were fired into all accessible areas of the home. Despite sufficient "cook time," officers did not hear or see any sign of Hernandez. A gas spear was then deployed to force hot gas into the side of the structure in the area where Hernandez was believed to be bunkered.

One fortunate result of the male subject's surrender was that he left the front door ajar upon exiting the residence. This gave SWAT a clear path to send a robot into the residence to try to locate Hernandez.

Tags: Tactical Gear, Barricaded Suspects, California, Hawthorne (Calif.) PD, Heavy Equipment


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

Bill Augsburger @ 8/25/2011 8:01 PM

Less than 48 hours ago, officers of my Department were fired upon from inside a home. The suspect fired many rounds at perimeter officers and the suspects siege ended after exchange of gunfire. In my 29.5 years of law enforcement, I have seen a growing sickness of criminals willing to violently engage police. As a police chief, this idea entrigues me as a possible "tool in the toolbox." if the use of heavy equipment can save a police officer or innocent civilian, a lawsuit over damage falls into, "Want to sue? Stand in line." I will be studying this option for my Department.

C. Sparks @ 8/26/2011 6:06 AM

Using an armored vehicle with a large hydraulic ram on it the Macomb County Sheriff's Office has been using this technique for years. We would rather control a home from the outside in if possible. It works. It's safe. It's effective.

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