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.
Dispatch has received numerous calls about a large house party. Cars are parked in the street, on sidewalks, and in people's yards. The music is very loud and there are several reports of fighting. There is one report of a gun being flashed around. Callers estimate there are well over 100 people involved and say more cars keep arriving.
This area is known for its gang activity, so you may not be dealing with just a group of rowdy college kids. The numbers are not in your favor. "One man, one riot" might be great for Chuck Norris, but not for the rest of us.
Your squad is not going to be enough. You need to hold all non in-progress calls until you get the situation under control. Obviously you need eyes on the ground as soon as possible. You would love to have eyes in the sky and have at least two K-9 units respond, but you know all of that is subject to availability. Assuming there is no gunfire, you hope this is a situation where talking to the homeowners (or responsible party) and a show of force is all you'll need.
Think It Through Questions
- What's your manpower looking like right now?
- How can you get officers there without compromising them?
- How will you handle the other calls for service that are bound to come in?
- If it gets too big for you to handle, what other resources can you call in?
This is a fluid situation where anything can happen. This is where having some structure goes a long way. Your first order of business is obtaining real-time information. You send in a unit to get in as close as possible. They need to pick a safe place to observe the target area and report back. You order lights and siren the whole way and to keep their lights on after they arrive. The effects should help thin out the crowd.
You need to identify ingress and egress points to avoid responding units getting caught in a huge traffic jam. You need a makeshift command post and a staging area. There are no exigent circumstances so far, so keep it simple.
Your knowledge of the area allows you to pick the entrance to the subdivision for your command post and use the neighborhood playground parking lot, located just inside the subdivision, as your staging area.
Think It Through Questions
- Is anything going on that requires a faster response?
- Can you confirm weapons at this point?
- Are there any violent crimes being reported from the scene?
- How do you approach the house, make contact, and show a presence without being overbearing?
Posting your first unit at the entrance to the street farthest away from the party is working. He can see the congestion and reports that since his arrival, groups of people and vehicles are starting to leave. You post a second unit on the other side of the first so people can clearly see you have a presence.
As units start to stage, you have dispatch call the residence. The first few attempts fail but eventually someone answers the phone. You talk to the owner of the residence, explain the situation, and advise him you are on your way to talk to him. You request his cooperation and he agrees.
You arrive with two other units, park your cars away from the party, and start to walk down. How the crowd responds will determine your next step. You confirm that aviation is almost there and ask them to fly over and briefly hit the house with some light and remain in orbit. As you make your way down the street, a few members of the crowd start shouting obscenities and ugly remarks. You can see that many people are moving toward the front of the house as if to block your way in.
You back off and call for the rest of your officers. You have one unit drive up with lights and have the officers follow behind the car. They run up, form a wide horseshoe-shaped perimeter, and hold. You have K-9s visible at each end. Over the PA, you call for the owner of the house to step outside by name. Meanwhile, people are still leaving and you let them.
After a few minutes, the crowd starts to calm down as their numbers and nerve starts to dissipate. Your reasonable show of force is working. The owner comes out of the house and meets you across the street. He apologizes and tells you it's just a going away party for his son who is leaving for the military. He had no idea it would get this big and no one was paying any attention to him. You ask about fights and weapons and he states there have been none.
By the end of your conversation, the party has all but stopped except for family, close friends, and a handful of onlookers. The number of parked cars is manageable. There really isn't any further action needed.
The owner appreciates the way you handled the call. You thank him, wish his son well, and leave the area as professionally as you came in. The remaining friends decide to take the new recruit to a sports bar and continue their party there.
Think It Through Questions
- What would you have done differently if there had been gunfire reported?
- How would you have cleared the area if they refused to leave?
- Are you thoroughly briefed on house parties and what you can and can't do?
- Was your deployment of resources satisfactory?
You do your standard debrief and a round-robin critique. Some of your newer guys did not understand the restraint you showed and why you didn't take a harder stance. You try to make the point that sometimes we create our own problems by overreacting. You advise we can't treat a rowdy house party as if it were a riot. You explain that as a contingency you were always prepared to regroup and step it up if necessary. You also remind them of past training and pertinent policy, and thank them for doing a great job.
First off, you have to thank the call gods because this could have been way worse. All you had was an out-of-control house party. Had it gone another way, you might have found yourself embroiled in the next news cycle with more anti-cop rhetoric. Having a reasonable response and using restraint are crucial to handling situations like this.
Although everything is subject to change, the Reasonable Man Doctrine stays pretty consistent. There are times when citizens and politicians don't find the logic behind what we do. Some of them are quick to condemn us, well before the evidence is in. Fortunately for us, the courts understand what we do, and for the most part their decisions support us when we have done our job properly. There is no need to be afraid to perform our duty; we just need the wisdom to carry it out well.
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.