Officer-as-Hostage - Tactics and Weapons -


Survival tips



Dave Grossi | From the February 2007 Issue Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pulaski County, Ark.

For nearly an hour, an in-custody suspect, 29-year-old Alonzo Gilliam, armed with a homemade knife, held a Pulaski County sheriff s deputy hostage in the basement of the courthouse. Gilliam was being held on numerous charges, including possession of a firearm, possession of a weapon in jail, terrorist acts and theft. He also had prior arrests for aggravated robbery.

Jones County, Miss.

In 1998, convicted burglar Jeremy Granberry, age 19, and his mentor, Mario Centobie, age 32, a career criminal, managed to overpower two Jones County sheriff s deputies during a transport from the state prison to the county court for a hearing. Both deputies were found 24 hours later in a barn roughly 60 miles from where they started, alive and in reasonably good shape but bound with their own handcuffs. Centobie went on to shoot and wound Tuscaloosa (Ala.) officer Cecil Lancaster, and shoot and kill Moody, Ala., officer Keith Turner.

Sacramento, Calif.

A female California State Prison corrections officer, age 41, was held hostage for more than 10 hours by inmate David Michael Watson, who was armed with a 6" homemade shank. The inmate, a San Diego gang member being held as a maximum-security prisoner, was serving a 26-year sentence at the Sacramento facility for armed robbery and false imprisonment. The incident occurred in the dining hall where Watson worked. After a day of negotiations, the officer, a nine-year veteran, was released.

Rochester, N.Y.

Two imported hoods, John Matarazzo and Dennis Olsen, were surprised by a Rochester police detective who, in a moment of complacency, failed to call out at the scene of a silent jewelry store alarm. Bound with duct tape, the detective was taken hostage and stashed in the back room. After a few minutes, the detective managed to free himself and engage the two suspects in a gunfight. Olsen was taken out on scene as he fled out the door, but Matarazzo escaped and, after fleeing on foot, took a homeowner hostage and held her captive for several hours before taking his own life.

The first three incidents, two of which are very recent, were taken right out of local newspapers. The fourth, resurrected from the memory banks of this author, lives on even though years have passed. I was there. I helped carry one of the wounded officers into the ambulance moments after the first suspect was declared DOA at the scene.

Calibre Press, Inc., the Street Survival Seminar folks, was probably the first training organization to bring officers-as-hostage survival concepts to modern law enforcement. Its 1998 award-winning training video Hostage Officer Survival really raised the consciousness of professional law enforcement to the dangers as well as the survival tactics both street cops and corrections officers alike can adopt to avoid and win hostage situations.

Little has been said about that topic since that time. I ve therefore written this piece to recap the motivators behind people who might take officers as hostages, and to reinforce some of the tactics for surviving hostage-cop situations.

Motivating Factors

Without getting into all the psychology, hostage-takers generally fall into three categories: revenge seekers, power seekers and attention seekers. Motivating factors for each can run the gamut of deriving a benefit (such as an escape), righting some perceived wrong or gaining an element of recognition for some cause. Knowing which type you re dealing with can help you develop dialogue and establish some rapport with your hostage-taker in the event you find yourself in such a situation.

Your first objective: Try and calm the situation by first calming yourself down, and then calming down the suspect. Autogenic breathing, the old stand-by in high-stress situations, will help you think faster and clearer deep, slow, rhythmic breaths.

Next, use verbal defusing skills like those you d use with an emotionally disturbed person to calm your captor to try and find out exactly who and what you re dealing with. Spontaneous hostage situations, such as those occurring during prisoner transports, are most likely committed by power-seekers, subjects looking for a way out of their situation. Slow, quiet, non-threatening dialogue will go far in keeping this situation from turning any uglier than it already is.

The key: Convince your captor that they ve got a better chance of getting their demands met by keeping you safe and alive. The revenge-seeker or attention-seeker might be harder to convince because they probably performed some long-range planning prior to taking you hostage. Again, try to slow things down and buy some time during your dialogue to find out where this person is coming from. Try and get your captor to see you as a human being, not the faceless, nameless lawman standing in the way of their freedom or as someone interfering with the means to their end. The longer you can engage the suspect in dialogue, the better your chances of surviving the situation.

Awareness & Planning

Of course, the best way to survive a cop-as-hostage situation is to avoid getting into one.

Always be aware of your surroundings, both on and off duty. Look at the body language and other non-verbal cues of people around you whenever you re out in public. Mindless dialogue during a routine transport or meaningless exchanges during those sometimes mundane tasks in a jail setting could be the set-up for a hostage-taking.

Think tactically

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Dave Grossi

Dave Grossi is a retired police lieutenant from upstate New York now residing in southwest Florida.


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