April 10, 2013 8:59 PM
Having just returned from spending several days covering “Sniper Week 2013” for my old friends at Soldier of Fortune magazine, my sensors were activated for anything to do with the SWAT and Special Operations communities. After two days of informative seminars and two more days of elite competition at the rifle range, it was clear that the level of professionalism in this field is as high as ever.
In order to operate effectively, and stand up a team of sufficient size, many rural and suburban areas rely on combined teams, pulling personnel from multiple departments. Even in larger jurisdictions, many make SWAT a rotating assignments with team members coming on and off every two or three years, or SWAT is one of many special assignments. If you want to get something done, ask a busy person, goes the old business chestnut. However, it is too much to expect someone to maintain maximum performance in disparate fields across the law enforcement spectrum. “Put your sniper/gang unit/vice/narc hat on today, Bob,” is just no way to deploy personnel who are expected to make split second, life-and-death decisions.
However, incidents such as today’s hostage-taking in Suwanee, GA, indicate that these men and women can be called upon to rise to the occasion anytime, anywhere. In a pretty well-off suburb in the Atlanta metroplex, a suspect distraught over the sad state of his financial affairs called in an emergency, bringing a company of firefighter/paramedics to his home where his power and cable had been cut off for non-payment. The hostage takers demands included getting his utilities restored. After disorientation via flash-bang grenade was achieved, the SWAT team made entry and, after taking fire from the suspect, ended the incident with suitable application of terminal ballistics.
As the details come out on this most current case, it spins my mental Rolodex (it’s a plastic thing that we used to use to file business cards). The Atlanta fire department, after the Olympic bombing in 1996, was encountering something new; secondary explosive devices planted where emergency services would stage personnel and equipment in response to a primary bomb threat. Having done seminars with AFD personnel, I was asked for advice and made contact with one of “my people” who had been in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It was confirmed to me that this had been an old IRA tactic with hoax calls being made just to scout where police, fire and army would set up. The advice was to triple the standard standoff distance at such incidents.
Let’s think about that for a moment. No matter what anyone’s politics might be, fire-rescue and EMS personnel are generally considered to be on the side of good, only there to help. To use firefighters as pawns, as they were in the Suwanee incident, is just reprehensible. I wonder if the financially distressed homeowner had just walked down to the firehouse for a visit and told his tale would he have found them willing to “pass the boot” to help someone out…
Sadly, the dastardly principle here goes back much further than the 1990s. In the Vietnam War, bounties were offered by the enemy for killing U.S. medics and corpsmen. I had asked my late father about this because he had been assigned to the 555th “Red Horse” combat engineers out of Cam Ranh Bay and he assured me it was true. Few things could affect the morale of fighting men than to know that their medical support was in jeopardy. The whole point of medics wearing red crosses (recall the ambulances and tents on the TV show “M.A.S.H.”) was that it violated the rules of war and the Geneva Convention to target non-combatant medical personnel.
As the War on Terror and domestic tactical ultra-violence have shown us, the bad guys aren’t playing by any rules …