Just when we might think all the innovative SWAT tactics have already been tried, a SWAT team comes up with an imaginative, simple and exceptionally effective tactic. It comes under the heading of "why didn't someone else think of this before?"
The tactic was used in San Rafael, Calif., which is a mixed residential and commercial city located in the North Bay of the San Francisco Bay area.
At 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 17, police in San Rafael began searching for Peter James Thomas, 38, who was wanted on a warrant for stabbing, burglary, drugs, and weapons. Thomas was spotted at an extended stay hotel, where he fired shots at police. He also fired in the direction of the nearby, busy I-580 freeway, and equally busy Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Fearing for the public's safety, police shut down the freeway and bridge, as well as established a tight perimeter surrounding the hotel. Mutual-aid reinforcements are requested, including the SWAT teams from Marin and Sonoma counties. In all, 75 LEOs participated in the ensuing barricade. The five-story high hotel rests on the high-ground, and the suspect was isolated in a room on the second floor. It was initially believed he was holding his girlfriend hostage, and threatening to kill her.
As with most hostage-barricades, after the initial flurry of activity the San Rafael situation eventually settled into a waiting game with the Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT) attempting to negotiate a safe resolution. Sonoma County SWAT deployed its Armored Rescue Vehicle (ARV). Police evacuated the hotel guests, and ordered surrounding businesses to "shelter in place" for their safety.
As the situation dragged on, the freeway and bridge remained closed during the afternoon commute, creating a traffic tie-up nightmare of gargantuan proportions. Negotiations continued, while SWAT and uniformed officers continued their tight perimeter, rotating teams and officers as needed.
That's where things stood when the late-night news ended. Things were about to dramatically change, as SWAT employed a uniquely innovative, highly effective "game changing" tactic.
Shortly after midnight, SWAT employed a large construction crane, and from a safe standoff distance, lowered an 8-by-10 foot, one-inch thick, steel plate that completely covered the suspect's hotel-room window. This effectively blocked the suspect's ability to shoot at and endanger officers or the public. This allowed both the freeway and bridge to be reopened again, after being closed for 12 hours.
Negotiations continued throughout the night, and officers continued to rotate personnel.
A day later, after not hearing anything from the suspect for several hours, SWAT officers drilled holes into the walls of the suspect's room and inserted cameras. A SWAT entry team discovered Thomas dead on the floor. The female was found unhurt in another section of the hotel.
Tactics are SWAT's true specialty and sometimes we need to think outside the box. This team's "game changer" was using a construction crane to block the suspect's only window with a steel plate, effectively isolating him to his hotel room. As tactics go, I doubt anyone will find this one in any SWAT manual.
This SWAT tactic is the epitome of "improvise, adapt, overcome," the Marine Corps slogan popularized by Clint Eastwood's drill instructor in "Heartbreak Ridge."