In every call for service, you should think things through before you begin your response. Each call can be broken down into three phases: pre-response, response, and post-response. The following scenario is designed to help you think things through rather than give you a specific way to handle the call.
Your victim calls 911 to advise that someone has broken into her beauty salon. The salon is located in a popular strip mall off of a well-used secondary road. She stated that when she used the rear entrance she didn't see anything unusual. But when she went to the front, she noticed the place had been ransacked and the glass front door was shattered, and she saw what she thought was a grenade lying on the floor, in the middle of the salon. She backed off, left through the rear entrance, and called 911. It's 07:30 and the strip mall will be coming to full life at 08:00. Traffic is getting heavier as people go to work and start dropping their kids off at school.
From your military days you know a grenade has a kill radius of five meters (16 feet) and an injury radius of 15 meters (49 feet). That means that anything inside will be toast if it goes off. It also means there is a good chance the adjoining businesses would also be affected by a blast, though to a lesser degree. You also know that since the front door is essentially gone, anyone walking past the front of the salon could be injured as well.
You need to control pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the immediate area. You also need to set up a perimeter to control the crime scene and keep it clear for the bomb squad. You're hoping it's a fake grenade but you can't take that chance. Though you want to go in and check it yourself, your past training reminds you that some people lay booby traps expecting curious people to take their bait. You also keep in mind that a dead hero is still dead.
Think It Through Questions
- What do I need to do in order to stem the flow of pedestrians?
- What do I need to do in order to control vehicular traffic in the immediate area?
- What bomb disposal units do I have available to me?
- What distances do I need to maintain in order to ensure the safety of everyone involved?
Obviously you have to secure the scene including businesses two doors down from the salon in either direction. You also have to secure the same distance in the back. You need two to four officers just for that. The front has priority so you assign to that job the closest two officers responding. The next two who arrive will be assigned the back. You need to make sure that EMS has been alerted and that they stage nearby. You're going to hold off on calling the bomb squad until you can verify what you think the "grenade" actually is.
Think It Through Questions
- Do we need CID to respond?
- At what point do we notify the chain of command?
- If we have to wait long for the bomb squad, do we call our PIO to respond to handle media?
- Is there a way to ID the device or take a picture in a safe manner?
- Do we shut off our radios in case of remote detonation?
The first officer gets there and he immediately clears the front of the strip mall and secures the left side. As the second officer arrives, he takes on the right side. You call for more help and have more units on their way. Eventually you get the front, back, and parking lot secured. You also redirect traffic away from the strip mall. You hold what you have and move on to try to identify the device.
It looks like an old WWII or Korean War-era pineapple grenade. You note the spoon (handle) and pin are missing. It could be inert, a dud, or a souvenir available for sale on the Internet. A member of the command staff happens to be in the area and starts pushing you to go in and get a closer look because he thinks it's a fake or it would have gone off already.
You point out to the commander that picking it up is not a good idea for multiple reasons. He keeps insisting, so you agree and invite him to lead the way. You tell him that if he feels he has the training and experience, you'll keep the area clear for him while he goes and does his thing. In response, he gives you a look and says that any complaints about why the call took so long will be on you and he walks away.
Lucky for you, your request for help from another agency yields an EOD crosstrained motor officer. He shows up within 30 minutes of being called and tells you that his bomb squad sergeant told him to take a look first and get back to him before he called out the entire team. He starts by taking a quick look around and then enters the building from the front. After taking a closer look at the grenade from multiple angles, he picks it up, looks at it closely, and concludes it's harmless.
Shortly thereafter, your commander asks you why you didn't just pick it up and look at it yourself. You very politely explain to him that you're not on any bomb squad and if the bomb squad guy wants to walk in, pick it up, and start playing with it, he has the training, experience, and certification to do so. You also remind him that if he was so sure it was fake, he could have assumed command of the incident at any time, walked over, and picked it up himself. It's not a politically correct answer, but it does end the discussion.
Think It Through Questions
- Is there any mutual aid paperwork that needs to be filled out?
- Can I get the EOD officer to fill out a supplemental report for me?
- Am I going to process the scene or call out some evidence techs?
- Am I going to include the major in my debrief?
Once you determine that the grenade is a fake, the rest of the call is handled like any other burglary. You thank the EOD officer for helping. You debrief everyone who responded and talk about how the call was handled and what could have been done differently. You take advantage of the situation and use it as a training vehicle to do better next time. You explain that it is always better to be safe than sorry unless an exigent circumstance forces your hand. You assign the remainder of the call to the responsible zone car and eventually cut loose the rest.
A few days later, detectives make an arrest and find out that the "grenade" was part of the suspect's car's shifter and he used it to break the front glass door to gain entrance. It was the heaviest thing he had at the time to throw through the glass door.
If you think it's a grenade, treat it like one, and let those trained in explosive devices handle it, no matter who puts pressure on you. When you handle a call for service like this, it's better to take the slow and steady approach than to take chances. In today's world, even a fake grenade can be turned into something harmful.
Don't ever forget that the Internet is a portal for good and evil. You can just as easily find recipes for chocolate cake as find a way to make homemade plastic explosives. If nothing else, a call like this is an opportunity to train in real time. There are always multiple possibilities and potential responses. Thinking it through now saves you time later.
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He has over 28 years of law enforcement experience and is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve.