The National Tactical Officer’s Association National Conference has concluded in Kansas City. One of the courses I was able to attend was a 4-hour session covering lessons learned on barricaded subject calls. Although tailored for tactical officers, the training brings light to difficult situations faced by patrol officers as well. This will be the first in a series on the class.
What is a Barricaded Subject
A barricaded subject can be defined as a person or persons in a location that provides a means of spatial separation that assists them in avoiding apprehension from law enforcement. In short, a barricaded subject is in a position that inhibits law enforcement from easily taking them into custody.
Typically a barricaded subject is armed or has the means to cause harm to others before they are classified as a barricaded subject. Joe Drunk who pissed his neighbors off with noise and profanity would not be a barricaded subject just because he refused to answer his door for responding patrol officers.
A barricaded subject does not necessarily mean the person has boarded themselves into a location, or placed furniture in front of windows and doors creating a fortress to be sacked, though those situations clearly apply. A barricaded subject could simply be armed and refusing to leave their residence. They could be held up in an office with limited access, having the means to do harm to others. A barricaded subject could also be in a vehicle, which is a particularly difficult situation as the subject could go mobile to escape or use the vehicle as a weapon.
In an area that is becoming very hotly debated, armed suicidal persons have been labelled as barricaded subjects. However, recent Supreme Court decisions question the use of traditional law enforcement methods to manage the mentally ill. This is not to say that a barricaded criminal who then threatens suicide is the same matter. Criminal actions trump their suicidal threats.
However, a person who gains law enforcement attention simply from their mental health status are viewed differently by the Courts. This does not mean that law enforcement should lower their safety measures in any way, but the manner in which officers respond and handle the call may be seeing dramatic changes. I’ll cover more on the legal trends in following articles.
Understanding the Barricaded Subject
Recognizing the warning signs before its too late is one of the fundamental skills that a successful officer has to acquire in their career – sooner rather than later. Often the officers responding to a call only have the information that is relayed to them from the dispatchers. As hard as they try, the dispatchers can only relay the information they get from the callers. Often that information is incomplete or inaccurate.
Not all barricaded subject calls are known from the initial dispatch. In some situations the response of police causes the person to flee from apprehension including barricading themselves in a location that they feel will shield them from arrest. These are particularly dangerous situations as the responding officers may be unprepared for such a drastic action from their response. Obviously having an armed person in a stronghold position is about as bad as it can get. The only thing worse is when a suspect has a hostage with them, or can still inflict harm on victims or innocents from their barricaded position.
Some barricaded subject incidents are known from the beginning, as the callers are reporting that a person is making threats, acting unusual, and have blocked themselves from others in some manner. Even having this advance information may not prepare responding officers for the proper course of action once they arrive.
Fortunately law enforcement is learning from previous experience giving officers an advantage to future calls. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has created “HOBAS” within their Critical Incident Response Group. HOBAS is a database driven research source gathering statistical information involving police responses to hostage takers and barricaded subjects across the country. This information has allowed officers to get a better picture of what they are facing in an increasingly dangerous situation, even before they get to the scene and make contact with the suspect.
The study of empirical data has revealed that outside of high risk warrant service, barricaded subject calls are responsible for nearly 50% of all SWAT call-outs. Of the barricaded subject calls studied over 90% of subjects that barricade themselves are males, and 58% are white. Similar to general criminal statistics, 68% of barricaded subjects are between the age of 18-45. What may be different with barricaded subject calls is that the majority (40%) are between the ages of 30-45.
The mid-life crisis takes on a whole new dimension when viewed from this perspective. Societal pressure to succeed can be a burden too heavy for many to bear, especially if you have succeeded in the past only to find failure in your present. Failure is one of the greatest fears of mankind, and those who push for success can be particularly susceptible to its outcome.
People who were happy and successful members of society can quickly fall into the dark morass of despair when their means of control and providing for their families is suddenly stripped away from them. Actions that would have once been unbelievable from a person, may grow to a serious armed threat. That threat may reveal itself in self-destructive suicidal behavior. However, in some cases that threat may turn far darker, as a person takes family, business associates, or even strangers hostage in a desperate act.
These acts may be coupled with criminal activity, such as holding people hostage for ransom or other benefits. Some other situations may be a distraught person taking family, friends, business associates or even strangers hostage with revenge or grievances in mind. These are particularly dangerous situations as the person rides the roller coaster of emotions that could lead to the thought of murder-suicide. I will do a more in depth article on hostage situations in another article. For now it is sufficient to say that anytime someone is barricaded, and has the potential to harm others, law enforcement is under a serious time constraint to see things resolved successfully.
The Impact of Alcohol and Drugs
The study of HOBAS data has revealed that nearly 30% of all barricaded subjects were under the influence of alcohol during the incident. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and in combination with the depression suffered from failure or crisis, or the rage of perceived injustice, can add to the desperation of someone not accustomed to their grip. Alcohol can alter a person’s natural ability to cope, and as most cops know – there are silly drunks, and there are angry drunks. Though not impossible from the first group, the angry drunk may create an even more dangerous situation as the alcohol enhances to potential for violence and resistance.
An additional 19% were under the influence of controlled substances. Combining this number with alcohol shows that nearly 50% of all barricaded subjects are under the influence of chemicals which are likely multiplying the effect of their despair. Depending on the type of drug being abused, can drastically increase the likelihood that the situation can turn violent. Psychedelic drugs, whether legal or illegal, can create a delusional reality for the suspect that weighs heavily in their instability and unpredictable responses. Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine can not only amp a suspect up but in excess use can also have mild altering effects. On the other hand, depressants and narcotic analgesics (pain killers) can have the opposite effect, delaying a resolution because the person is too out of it or even asleep to respond to police requests or inquiries.
Understanding the needs and the effects of persons under the influence of these substances is crucial in planning the successful resolution of a barricaded subject. Agencies who have officers trained in the Crisis Intervention Team concept would do well to have them present and involved in dialogue. Obviously trained negotiators should be prepared for these situations, but prior to their arrival the CIT officer can be of great assistance.
The Unplanned Barricade
Thankfully, the statistics show that 71% of barricaded subject situations are not planned events. This provides a huge benefit to law enforcement, as an unplanned event can often provide multiple opportunities for resolution, and the target location of the barricaded subject is most likely not fortified.
Understanding the concepts and conditions mentioned above, can also provide a great insight to responding officers in a proper course of action for the resolution of the barricade. With unplanned barricades it is far more likely that communication with the subject will eventually be successful in bringing an acceptable resolution. Not that any situation is a given, but recognizing the differences between a planned and unplanned event can quickly change a dangerous situation into a positive outcome through communication and negotiation.
None of these suggestions are meant to steer law enforcement into a “soft” approach that would compromise officer safety. In fact, having a strong and tactically sound response from law enforcement can have the positive effect of closing down alternative plans that the subject may come up with during the barricade. Knowing that escape is not an option, knowing that officers are prepared to defend themselves and the innocents nearby, and having positive communication are all likely to steer a person who is only temporarily overwhelmed to see the error in their actions and surrender.
Since most of the barricaded subject calls are unplanned the duration of just over 60% of these events are resolved within 4 hours. Just over 25% are ended in 0-2 hours, while 35% are resolved in 2-4 hours. This would clearly indicate a person who is desperate for help, has made rash judgements and actions, and given a little time will reflect on these matters and often surrender.
Not all unplanned barricades will end this way, but proper assessment of the situation can provide officers a better idea of what the situation involves. Ultimately law enforcement will have to gauge the threat of the barricaded subject, the availability and alertness of resources, and the potential disruption of normal community services caused by the situation. In some unplanned barricades the use of alternative means to persuade the subject to surrender may have to be employed. These methods include chemical agents, turning off power and water, loud announcement on a public announce system, and less lethal munitions. Although the Taser or similar electronic control devices have proven to be incredibly effective in some law enforcement use of force situations, in most cases a barricaded subject poses too great a danger to officers to require them to get within the short proximity required to deploy them.
The Planned Barricade
Unfortunately as many as 23% of barricades are planned events, with the remainder of events falling under “unknown”. The planned barricade is an extremely difficult situation for law enforcement, and one of the most dangerous calls to answer. The fact that the person planned the event, presents all kinds of concerns for law enforcement. A planned barricade is one that will likely result in a forced conclusion, rather than the volunteer surrender that is more likely in an unplanned event that is properly handled.
Planned barricades are much more likely to involve motivated adversaries. That motivation can include multiple firearms or other weapons, and actual fortifications to make their location much more difficult to defeat. If the planning was extensive, then the suspect may have stores of water, food, and ammunition. More detailed planning may also include methods to defeat traditional law enforcement interventions like having a gas mask, portable generators, or other items for the long term barricade.
Though most barricaded subject calls are ended within hours of their start, the motivated and prepared suspect has contributed to 30% of all barricades lasting from 4-9 hours in duration. What may be even more troubling is the fact that almost 10% of barricades last from over 9 hours to greater than 36 hours.
These types of situations will quickly drain the resources of first responders, and can even begin to strain the abilities of larger agencies. Responding officers could be positioned in unfavorable locations, exposed to the elements, for long periods of time. Like any activity that is long term, those officers will begin to have their mental awareness and even physical endurance drained.
Traditionally patrol will call in SWAT teams to handle the inner perimeter surrounding the actual event, but patrol is still used to handle the outer perimeter and traffic control. The larger the outer perimeter the more resources that are necessary. The longer these events play out the more realistic need for having replacement officers and SWAT teams called in to assist.
Does your agency have an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with nearby agencies to provide mutual aid support? What does that involve? Will they assist in perimeter control, or even provide a SWAT team? Does the other agency assume command if they send in its SWAT team? If not, are there understanding about tactics, tools, and emergency action plans between the agencies? If your agency focuses all of its resources to the barricade will the other agency answer patrol calls while your agency is occupied? Who is going to pay overtime and other expenses? All of these questions need to be answered before the actual event confronts you – especially if it is a planned barricade with a subject who intends to go the distance.
Perhaps one of the biggest questions is how long is your agency willing to allow this situation go before intervention techniques are initiated. By this I’m referring to the introduction of chemical agents, the termination of power, gas, water, and perhaps even jamming cell phone coverage.
If this event is occurring in a neighborhood law enforcement has a legitimate concern to protect the innocent neighbors from becoming a victim should the barricaded subject start randomly firing. That means evacuating homes as much as legally allowable, blocking roadways to prevent unwanted vehicular or pedestrian traffic. If this event goes on for more than a few hours you can bet that the Chief, Sheriff, Mayor, Council, or any other public official with an influence is going to have their phone blown up with angry citizens. We would like to say that we would never compromise safety, but when the broken wheels of politics enter the arena, all bets are off.
This article has introduced who and what a barricaded subject is, and some of the many difficulties facing law enforcement officers responding to these events. In following articles I will discuss more particularly the means of law enforcement to resolve these situations, and just how the barricades were resolved.