A call blasts over the radio or comes across your mobile data terminal: Robbery in progress! And as adrenaline shoots through your veins, tactics fly out the window.
Cases of officers rushing into unknown threat situations are reported almost nightly on the news and documented all the time in the Officer Down pages. But are those threats really unknown? Think about it: Unlike routine vehicle stops where you never know what you’re interrupting or who you’re stopping, calls for in-progress crimes usually come with much more information.
With 21st century technology, chances are greater than ever that you’ll arrive at a crime while the suspect is still in the act or on scene. The dangers inherent to responding to in-progress crimes, however, haven’t changed. Officer deaths from in-progress crimes (robbery, burglary, etc.) still rank near the top of the annual FBI Uniform Crime Reports Officer Killed Summaries. This article will address how you, the first responder, can safely complete your tasks and mission when responding to in-progress crimes.
Objective 1: Locate the Source of the Problem
Part of locating the problem begins with your arrival on scene. Anticipate the unexpected and assume the worst: The suspect is still on the premises, armed, dangerous and in the act of completing his crime. Consider using silent response and invisible deployment tactics. At the risk of annoying the brass again (and to think I use to be one), consider shutting down your lights and siren well before you reach the scene. When you arrive, take it easy rounding corners. (Down here in southwest Florida, tires squeal on hot asphalt even in the winter when it’s sunny and 76 degrees F outside.) Consider hand-closing your vehicle doors quietly rather than slamming them shut. Remember to lower your radio, and of course, silence your equipment.
In addition, take it slow when making your foot approach. If you arrived quickly, you may even encounter the suspect leaving. Stay back and watch the most likely exits. Anticipate multiple offenders, and unless immediate action is warranted, wait for backup. Remember: You’ll guide their response and direct their travel and tactical positioning. Many times, after assuming your tactical position (cover and/or concealment), you can obtain more intelligence by trying to make contact with the scene s occupants.
Objective 2: Isolate the Innocent
Once you’ve located the suspect(s), try to isolate (and if you can, evacuate) victims and/or innocent bystanders. Remember: Bad guys use backups, too. Don’t assume everybody in the Stop ‘n Rob Super Store is a customer.
Next, contain the suspect. Of course, if you can get Mr. Mope out through verbal commands, by all means do so. If not, you and your backup may have to go in. Using a police dog is better than going it alone, for sure, but exigent circumstances may not always permit that. Or, allow for an extended delay while Fang and his partner begin their response. If you do have to enter, keep those tried-and-true search tactics firmly in mind: quick peek techniques with alternating high and low peeks, slicing the pie when rounding corners, leap frogging during hallway negotiations, never forgetting about the fatal funnel and never turning your back to an uncleared door or room.
Slow, cautious approaches are best: Always listen, look up and look straight ahead. Use your senses: sight, hearing and smell. Your nose might not be as good as Fang’s, but you’d be surprised how well scents can be picked up inside a small location, especially at close range. Tobacco and marijuana smoke on clothing and hair can linger for several hours. The same for heavy drinkers. Odors from alcoholic beverages can secrete through the pores for a long time.
One of the biggest mistakes officers make when entering a room is changing the environmental conditions. If you can negotiate the premises with existing ambient light, do so. If you must use your flashlight, maintain it on the button mode. If the stereo and/or TV are blaring, leave them alone.
Keep communications to a minimum. When I was on the job, it really got me fried when officers who took the time to silence their equipment and radios would call out to one another during the sweep rather than using hand signals to get their partner’s attention and direct them to a specific object.
Objective 3: Eliminate the Threat
I just can see the plaintiff attorneys who managed to get their hands on this great magazine licking their chops at the phrase eliminate the threat. Of course, I don’t mean you should cap the dude at first chance. I mean end the danger: Persuade the skell to surrender, remove the gun from his immediate possession or get him cuffed, stuffed and en route to the Gray-Bar Hotel.
There are endless ways to accomplish this objective. Ideally, you should stay behind cover with your weapon at the ready and hopefully get the suspect under control with verbal commands. If that fails, and if Fang and his partner have indeed arrived, let them take over. But control is the operative word here. Standard high-risk tactics are the plan of the day.
OK, so you’ve responded to the scene tactically and arrived safely. You ve conducted your building search with perfect precision and minimum risk. You ve located the suspect, and so far, hopefully, no one has been hurt. Don’t let adrenaline wipe out all those great tactics that got you to this point.
Now that the criminal is controlled and contained, you want to safely take him into custody. Remember the contact and cover principles: firm, clear and concise verbal commands given by only one officer; watch the suspect’s hands: hands kill; and no people belong on the ground.
Assuming this suspect didn’t surrender upon your initial arrival, (and that’s a pretty safe assumption because you’ve had to go in and get him) you’re dealing with a no person. Turn him away from you; get him on the ground, hands and feet spread and head averted from the contact officer’s path of approach. With the cover officer doing his only job, watching with his weapon ready, the contact officer makes the actual foot approach and cuffs and searches the crook. An escort out of and transport away from the scene then follows, in that order. Only then can you relax a little. Until the next in-progress call comes, that is.