Searching For a Dangerous Suspect Can Tax SWAT's Capabilities

When this highly conditioned team emerged from the woods, it was clear how totally spent they were. Nearly non-functional as SWAT, until getting some much-needed rest/sleep.

Obrien 1 Headshot

On June 27, two veteran Tampa, Fla., police officers - David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab - were shot and killed during a traffic stop. The ensuing manhunt for the shooter was one of the most massive and intensive in Florida history. Lasting nearly four days, the manhunt ended July 2 with the suspect's surrender to authorities.

As I watched these events unfold on the news, I started thinking about SWAT's role in manhunts and how tough this duty can be on a team.

In the Tampa manhunt, agencies from throughout the region worked many long hours in a manhunt headed by the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

And here's what that was like for these cops. "Sighting" tips quickly poured into the round-the-clock command post. Police saturated the areas and conducted numerous searches in the areas the suspect was believed to be hiding.

An already tense situation grew even more intense every hour the manhunt dragged on. Some in the search area began openly complaining about "heavy handed" police tactics, while some others openly urged people NOT to cooperate with police. All the while, the double cop killer remained at large, posing extreme danger to every LEO in the Tampa region.

Any of you who have participated in massive, intense manhunts for police shooters understand just how physically and mentally exhausting they truly are. Participants know that every search and traffic or pedestrian stop might bring them face-to-face with a cop killer. Four straight days of such a stressful manhunt is certain to take a heavy toll on participants.

Police shooter manhunts are almost always spearheaded by a tactical unit such as SWAT. The reason should be obvious to everyone. SWAT by its very purpose and design is better trained and equipped to handle missions that pose extreme danger to both citizens and police.

Oftentimes, the mere knowledge that SWAT is involved in manhunts is enough to convince dangerous suspects to give up without confrontation. However, if dangerous suspects decide to choose confrontation, SWAT teams are more than equal to the task.

I have no doubt that Tampa PD's Tactical Response Team), Hillsborough County SO SWAT, Tampa FBI SWAT, and other area SWAT teams worked non-stop for nearly four days, until the suspect finally turned himself in. I also have no doubt that every SWAT search participant was challenged to the hilt, conducting search after search for hours on end, with little or no rest in between.

Which brings up a point every SWAT team needs to seriously consider. And that is how prepared is your team to handle extended, intense manhunts? Most SWAT teams would readily respond they're always ready. But the reality may be otherwise.

Consider how physically and mentally draining an intense manhunt like the search for the Tampa cop killer can be. I recall one Ohio SWAT team that searched a heavily-wooded area for a multiple murder suspect. After more than eight hours, the search was called off, with the suspect still at large.

When this highly conditioned team emerged from the woods, it was clear how totally spent they were. Nearly non-functional as SWAT, until getting some much-needed rest/sleep. My guess is under the same circumstances most SWAT teams would find themselves similarly challenged.

Thus, the vital importance of establishing solid, working mutual aid protocols/practices with other area SWAT teams. The truth is only a small percentage of SWAT teams are self-sustaining enough to competently handle continuous extended missions.

The reality is such callouts can very quickly drain manpower and resources, ultimately turning them into endurance contests. The solution for most teams is mutual aid with other trusted, capable teams who have trained and worked together.

Not that long ago, most SWAT teams were extremely reluctant to "turn over" ongoing situations to another team. Even when their effectiveness might be affected by exhaustion.

Fortunately, this reluctance to work together is largely a thing of the past. Thanks in large part to the increase in mutual aid among agencies-and especially SWAT teams, in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy.

However, for mutual aid to be effective it must be "real," and not merely something that's "on paper." SWAT teams need to train and work together, get to know each other personally, and ultimately be able to trust each other. It is this trust factor that is vital to effective mutual aid among SWAT teams and determines whether the mission's outcome is success or failure.

About the Author
Obrien 1 Headshot
SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
View Bio
Page 1 of 19
Next Page