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.
You are on patrol when you get a call for assistance from the local PD in your jurisdiction. Apparently they have a "frequent flyer" who threatened his mother, took the phone away when she called 911, and won't let anyone talk to her. He has been drinking, has been known to resist with violence, and a firearm has been implied. The suspect has advised that if anyone comes near his mother he "will take them out." In past clashes with law enforcement, he has thrown around officers as if they were rag dolls.
The requesting agency has formed a perimeter and one of their officers is talking directly to the suspect. They are requesting support in the form of your agency's less-than-lethal 40mm multi-round launcher. Since you are on SWAT and have the launcher, your sergeant sends you. He is busy on an in-progress call so he confirms mutual aid has been approved and to respond.
You have dealt with the suspect one time before. He is generally not a problem except when he's been drinking. This is the first time a weapon has been implied. You are concerned that it's in a mobile home park, as overpenetration of rounds is a big concern in this environment. You also know the sergeant asking for help uses poor tactics and will count heavily on his personal relationship with the suspect.
Think It Through Questions
- Is the scene secure?
- Do they have a command post set up?
- Do they have a staging area?
- Has SWAT been notified?
You switch radio channels and speak to the sergeant at the scene. You need to confirm what it is they want and authority from their side for use of the 40mm has been granted. You find out there is no command post, no staging area, and SWAT has been ruled out. The sergeant tells you to come and meet him at his car, which is parked near the suspect's house.
Think It Through Questions
- What are my options if I don't like what I see?
- What can I do as an officer to help the situation?
- If I have to use the 40mm, what's my best angle for the shot?
- What if I'm forced to take over the call?
You drive into the mobile home park and see the sergeant has parked just to the right of the suspect's location. He is not behind cover as he talks to the suspect, who keeps coming in and out of view from the front entrance foyer. There is another officer in the same close proximity but on the left side. You park across the street and set up at the club house, which is not a mobile home. You have a clear view of the suspect, the two officers, and the distance between you and the suspect is well within your 40mm capabilities.
When the sergeant meets with you, you suggest that they have parked too close and need to move. You also ask for someone to secure the rear. You explain that your support depends on the tactics he uses and that you will not be held accountable for poor decisions on his part. The sergeant tells you he knows the suspect and has dealt with him many times in the past. You remind him there might be a firearm involved.
This banter of good versus bad tactics goes on for a few minutes and the sergeant finally acquiesces. Rules for engagement are established. It's made clear that if the suspect steps out from the foyer and into the open, you are to engage with your 40mm. The sergeant makes the necessary adjustments and continues to follow your lead.
The sergeant keeps a dialogue going with the suspect. From your vantage point you have a hard time making out what it is the suspect is keeping held behind his back. You have to assume the worst but hope you don't have to transition to a firearm. Shooting into a mobile home is never a good idea unless forced to do so. You call your sergeant and keep him posted.
The back and forth with the suspect continues for another 30 minutes. Dispatch has not been able to speak with the mother because the suspect has turned off her phone. The suspect decides to take one step out of the foyer. He turns toward the sergeant's position, while still holding something behind his back. You take the shot with your 40mm launcher and the suspect falls to his knees and then fully onto the ground. The sergeant handcuffs the suspect without further incident. The suspect starts crying for his mother and starts apologizing.
Think It Through Questions
- What do you do about the PD's lack of tactical planning?
- Should you have just taken over the call since you have jurisdiction?
- Should you get your chain of command involved?
- Who is ultimately responsible during mutual aid?
There is a need for debriefing with those involved. You explain your concerns one by one. You cover officer safety, perimeter set-up, and a few other tactical considerations. Those from the other agency seem to take it well. Even the sergeant admits they don't train enough and they get lax with people they know. He also says their lieutenant is anti-SWAT and only calls them when advised from higher up.
You report back to your sergeant and request a meeting with your lieutenant. You want to discuss this situation and emphasize this wasn't the first time mutual aid had been requested during questionable tactics. You know politics plays a role but you want to establish clearer guidelines for mutual aid in the future. You also want to suggest some joint training with the agency and offer to help.
Mutual aid calls involve many dynamics. Some are more complicated than others. Working with other agencies can be seamless or it can be problematic. This scenario was designed to make you think about how you will handle a support call that involves poor decision-making by another agency. You have to make some tough decisions about what you will and will not be part of. Orders may be orders but not when you know they will end up getting someone unnecessarily injured or killed.
As with anything questionable, make sure you keep your supervisor posted, have dispatch place notes in your call history, make sure you say things over a monitored radio channel, and if you are making phone calls, make sure they are on a taped line. These days officer survival means so much more than walking away from a call unhurt. Office politics and political correctness can hurt you just as much as any weapon.
There are always multiple possibilities and potential responses. Thinking it through now saves you time later.
Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 29 years of experience. He also retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant. He holds a Master of Political Science degree from the University of Central Florida.