Enhancing patrol response to barricaded subjects: A three-step strategy
The “3 Cs” can increase the chances of successful decision-making and scene management during these complex incidents
By Lieutenant Charlie Ward
The topic of a barricaded subject is frequently discussed, but it is usually only addressed in tactical team training or command-level decisions. I’ve noticed that these calls often don’t receive the priority or attention they deserve at the patrol level even though this is typically where such situations arise.
Whether due to a lack of understanding of the situation’s severity, or uncertainty and hesitation about the first steps toward a resolution, patrol officers often proceed as if responding to any other call for service and primarily rely on luck being on their side. This isn’t their fault, as they often lack the necessary knowledge, training and planning on how to initiate the appropriate procedures.
This article is aimed at patrol-level officers, offering a quick, three-step method to employ when responding to a barricaded (or potentially barricaded) subject. These are three simple actions that can help set the event on the right course from the outset.
I’ve labeled them the “3 Cs” of patrol response to a barricaded subject, and they don’t necessarily have to be executed in any specific order. It is just crucial that they are completed and completed quickly. I coined the term the “3 Cs” to help officers remember them under stress. The goal is to execute these three tasks swiftly, allowing you to slow down and process the rest of the situation. While this method isn’t a comprehensive solution for the entire event, it can help guide officers during the initial moments of a patrol response.
Completing these three steps doesn’t guarantee that officers avoid a lethal encounter, the use of force, or any number of unpredictable situations. However, it does increase the chances of effectively managing curveballs and making more successful decisions as the event unfolds. Just like in golf, where a successful drive from the tee box requires properly teeing up the ball, handling a barricaded subject call successfully requires properly setting up your response. Achieve this by accomplishing these three tasks as quickly as possible.
What is a barricaded subject?
For this article, let’s clarify my use of the term “barricaded subject.” I’m referring to situations where a subject, aware or unaware of law enforcement presence, has sequestered themselves within a structure, whether they are alone or not. I approach both scenarios identically, ensuring that if the subject does become truly barricaded, our personnel and teams are already in position and prepared. I’m not referring to a hostage-taker in either case, but rather an individual who is inside a structure with others (such as family, children, friends, etc.). During your planning, it’s crucial to consider what actions should be taken with these individuals.
For the purposes of the initial patrol response, I also do not distinguish between a subject who is armed and one whose armament status is unknown. This approach is based on the preference to have all necessary measures in place should the situation escalate to an armed encounter, rather than being ill-prepared due to uncertainty about the subject’s armament. It’s generally easier to de-escalate and adjust strategies as more information becomes available, rather than having to rapidly escalate under pressure.
The principles I discuss for a barricaded subject can also be applied to scenarios in open-air environments where the subject is confined to a specific area. For instance, I encountered a situation with an armed suicidal subject who had self-inflicted wounds and was isolated in a space akin to a ball field. We managed to contain him to the field, established multiple contact teams with the necessary equipment, and confirmed that he had not committed a crime. However, due to his armed status and mental crisis in the middle of a public facility, we couldn’t depart from the scene.
The three Cs
These are the 3 Cs for patrol’s initial response to a barricaded subject:
- Contact team
- Confirm the crime
Containment is a straightforward yet frequently neglected or overlooked strategy when responding to barricaded subjects.
If a subject’s location is known and they are believed to be inside a structure or a specific open-air area, the initial responding officers must prioritize containment. Often, officers may not have complete information about the situation upon arrival. However, spending valuable time gathering that information without first ensuring containment can risk losing the suspect. They might have been in a specific location, but without containment, they could escape unnoticed.
Based on the information received from dispatch, if there’s a belief that the incident involves a subject inside a structure or localized area, one of the first priorities in your patrol response should be to contain them within that area.
2. Contact team
Contact teams are integral to barricaded subject responses. The importance of beginning to establish a contact team as one of your first priorities cannot be emphasized enough. Once it becomes clear that an incident may lead to, or already involves, an individual barricaded in a location, responding officers and supervisors should start coordinating a contact team. This includes deciding who will be on it, what tools they will need and where they need to be positioned.
This doesn’t require much time. Begin by determining “who” will be on the team and their location. Given the personnel you have available, who are the best “players” to assign to the team? Consider their tactical experience, ability to handle stress, communication skills, and qualifications with certain tools (e.g., shield, ram, LLIM, etc.). If you don’t have someone for every required role, that’s okay. Establish an initial team that can handle the task and adjust as more resources arrive.
Initial thoughts on location must involve points of cover and concealment. How close can you be while maintaining both? Are there multiple exits, and do you need a team at each? Does the team have security, meaning, can you prevent onlookers and other individuals in the area from approaching or driving up to the team?
Additionally, don’t fall into the trap of forming a team solely for the purpose of making an arrest, contacting a suspect, or making an entry if exigent circumstances arise. While these are all important tasks that the team may need to complete and should be prepared for, they are not the only tasks.
The team will also need to manage victims or witnesses that are inside a structure (this is a frequent occurrence so plan for it). Sometimes these individuals exit immediately upon realizing the presence of law enforcement, and the team needs to be ready for that. The team will also be used to provide vital intelligence on the location, surrounding buildings, adjacent areas that may need to be evacuated, etc.
The contact team plays many roles and will be one of the most valuable components in resolving the situation effectively. Therefore, the sooner a shift can start forming the team, the smoother the decision-making process will be, and the more effective the communication will be as the event progresses.
3. Confirm the crime
Confirming what information you have as soon as possible will help determine priorities and adjust them as new information emerges. We are all aware that the information received during the initial call dispatch is not always accurate or complete. That’s why confirming a crime (gathering pertinent information) and relaying it to the responding personnel is one of my top three priorities.
Understanding the context within which you are working is crucial. The response and setup for a suicidal individual in a mental crisis will differ from those for a wanted violent felon inside a structure. Both of these scenarios will require different approaches from a response to a suspect who has just committed a non-violent misdemeanor, a hostage-taker, and so on.
Knowing the elements of a crime and whether they have been met, as well as what the crime is (or isn’t), will help guide the course and the subsequent decisions that need to be made.
Every day, law enforcement officers nationwide respond to calls that involve or could lead to encounters with barricaded or isolated subjects. These incidents require numerous considerations, many of which aren’t time-sensitive and can be addressed as the situation unfolds and as resources or tactical teams arrive. For the initial responding patrol officers and deputies, I’ve found that quickly accomplishing and then communicating the above three tasks − containment, contact teams and confirmation − often sets them up for success.
These tasks not only foster an element of confidence within the shift but also ensure everyone begins the incident on the same page. Officers know what is needed, what has been accomplished, and what gaps might need to be filled, and can then guide the course of the incident. For responding supervisors and command staff, numerous decisions are to be made. Having these three tasks completed and communicated allows them to focus on command-level factors.
If patrol officers can accomplish these three tasks quickly, they’ll be well-positioned to react and overcome any obstacles that arise during the initial moments of a barricaded subject call.
Communication is a key element in all these tasks. As officers complete the tasks, they must communicate their progress to everyone else. This prevents duplication of efforts and continues to build confidence among the team and responding supervisors, assuring them that the shift has the incident under control.
Achieving these 3 Cs − containment, contact teams and confirmation − is a goal that can help you “control the chaos” in these complex situations.
About the author
Lieutenant Charlie Ward is a 20-year veteran of the Gainesville (Florida) Police Department. He has served on all three of his agency’s tactical units as an operator and as the Team Commander of the Emergency Services Team. In his career, he also worked in patrol, undercover narcotics, served as a K9 handler in street crimes and highway interdiction, as a patrol sergeant, and most recently as a watch commander. He is currently assigned as an Executive Lieutenant in Operations. He and a fellow lieutenant helped create and now coordinate the Gainesville Police Department’s annual Leadership Academy.