I was a cold, wet, hungry and tired rookie cop the night of my first standoff. I got the initial call, a domestic dispute, at 2AM, which was immediately upgraded when someone cranked off a few rounds. I flipped on the lights and sirens, floored the gas and was there in a couple of minutes.
I was the first on scene and, rather than knock on the door, I stopped and took cover. That’s when the mistakes started. First, I pulled directly in front of the house. Way too close, I realized and ran to the rear of my car and hunkered down. In my rush I had forgotten my jacket (it was winter), my hat (it was raining) and my flashlight (2AM, duh). For the next two hours I successfully auditioned for the role of human popsicle.
At some point in that endless night I also realized that the house number being discussed on the police frequency was not the one I had written down. I was actually two houses past the residence where gunfire had erupted only hours prior. I looked up and, shuddering, saw I was directly under a window that was dark enough to conceal a gunman.
That was my last mistake. I jumped in the car, pulled around the corner and made a full confession to my sergeant. He just grunted and told me to head back, because the house, according to the SWAT team, was empty. A lengthy report awaited me.
Somehow, I had missed the SWAT team entry? Apparently I had also missed seeing the suspect’s car leaving the scene as I was pulling up (he later turned up at an I-5 rest stop, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound). The reason for my lapses was inexperience and misplaced adrenalin.
I mention this long forgotten (and embarrassing) incident as a reminder that police standoffs happen all the time – in Pierce County and everywhere else. When the outcome is favorable, such as the one that occurred at La Quinta Inn by the Tacoma Dome on Tuesday night, it is barely worth a brief byline.
As reported in the Trib (10/16), Fife and Tacoma police officers arrested a man, wanted on a Department of Corrections warrant, without incident after a six hour standoff. While cops look on this as a success, however, the hotel guests, passersby and drivers who were inconvenienced by the standoff will mostly remember it as a lengthy and boring intrusion into their day.
When police standoffs are handled poorly – which does happen, unfortunately – the results can be horrific. The 1993 ATF raid on Branch Davidian cult members in Waco, Texas, is one of the more graphic reminders of how challenging it is to handle a standoff with heavily armed and unstable people. In the initial search warrant, four ATF agents and six cult members were killed. After a 51 day siege, agents again assaulted the compound. A fire broke out (set by either cultists themselves or a result of police weaponry) and 76 cult members died. It was a catastrophic and bloody failure.
The “barricaded subject” scenario, including the Waco example, continues to be dissected and improved upon by tactical specialists throughout the world. Some of the obstacles to a successful and nonviolent outcome, including boredom, overtime costs and traffic disruption, are man made. These obstacles highlight the one aspect that has remained unchanged over the years: Patience is not just a virtue – it saves lives.
So, if you are ever held up by police, caught in traffic, or had your day disturbed in the chaotic wake of a police standoff, just remember that there are worse things than being bored.