Six fifteen in the morning; it’s still dark. My partner slides into a shopping mall parking space affording a clear view of the front of the house. I cruise by and report over the radio that there are two cars in the driveway. The front room curtains are open, and an interior light seems to be coming from a kitchen. The house is on a corner, and I take a position across the street to observe the north side. We settle in and wait, watching. All is quiet at the house.
The city is awakening. Lights are on and people are getting ready for their day. In the house next to my target, a TV flickers and a woman is moving about doing whatever it is that she finds necessary at this early hour. The TV goes dark, the lights go out, and she is no longer visible. Cars leave the apartment house complex where I am secreted. An older Hispanic male strolls by carrying a paper cup, presumably containing coffee.
The police radio, volume set low, crackles and comes to life. Others are organizing. A Command Center with tactical dispatchers is nearby. The fire department and an ambulance company have personnel and equipment stationed there as well. Everyone is preparing for the high risk operation.
I’ve seen the scenario dozens of times such that I can recreate it in my mind. Ballistic vests and helmets are donned. Web gear is strapped on suspending handguns, knives, flashlights, and other assorted paraphernalia. Shoulder weapons are checked to be sure that the magazine clips are loaded and seated properly. Radios are tested to ensure that they function well. The tactical commander checks and rechecks his troops and their equipment. He goes over his plan one more time. There is no change at the target residence. I have nothing more to tell him.
Even though they have done it many times, the tension is building. The SWAT team previously taped out a mock-up of the interior of the house on the concrete in an underground parking lot, and earlier this morning practiced the entry and search procedure. All acknowledge that the best of plans can go wrong. Drastically wrong. Take a life or have your life taken. No one knows what is in the cards. In our favor, SWAT is a team of professionals. They train together and operate as one, as much as humanly possible.
When I started this business, SWAT teams were few and far between. The agency I worked for at the time did not have a SWAT team, and we blue-suiters did it all. Not a good idea to just throw a bunch of armed guys together without specialized training. We’re lucky that things went as well as they did. I’m a detective now, a surveillance guy. Let me do my job and the SWAT guys do theirs.
The clock marches relentlessly toward the jumping off time. The awakening world, within the microcosm of my view, is calm and has no clue as to the controlled violence that is about to unfold; Controlled violence that can suddenly erupt into chaos. That fact is not lost upon the officers intending to disrupt the tranquility of the quiet corner across the street from me. Each of the officers knows that there is a possibility that things might go wrong, terrible wrong, and that he might not return to his family at days end. But, it is not something that he dwells upon.
The sky begins to lighten, and the troops are moving. An unmarked police car pulls to the curb directly across from me. Two helmeted snipers, dressed in fatigues, exit the car and deploy to the rear corner of the target property. A ladder placed against the perimeter block wall facilitates a quick appraisal of the back yard. The snipers report their observations and disappear behind the foliage of the adjacent property.
An old woman shuffles down the sidewalk on my side of the street oblivious to her surroundings and the lethality moving in her direction.
Several marked and unmarked police cars approach from the south. Sliding to the curb, a team of heavily armed officers exit their cars as silently as possible. They fall into a predetermined formation and quick-step up the sidewalk toward the target house. Marked police cars shut down vehicular traffic approaching the residence.
The V-150 Armored Personnel Carrier, which looks like a big black beetle on wheels, suddenly appears from the east and drives up over the curb and onto the lawn facing directly toward the front door. I irreverently call the metal behemoth the Dung Beetle.
Knock and notice, a verbal demand for entry under the authority of a search warrant, is broadcast from a megaphone at the front door. No reply to the demand for entry. The order is given, “Deploy the diversion.” A flash of light and an explosion rocks the neighborhood. A second, and then a third. Smoke from the flash-bangs rises slowly in the cool morning air.
Two women in their early 20’s bolt from an apartment to my left with a loud exclamation of, “What the shit?” They run to the front of the apartment complex for a view of the action.
Hooks attached to a long stout rope are driven into the metal of the front security door. The other end of the rope is secured to a winch cable on the front of the V-150. The Beetle backs up, and the rope goes taut until the security door is snatched from the door frame and lands in the front yard. Sequentially, the team members make entry into an unpredictable environment of inestimable hazard.
Eyes must rapidly adjust to the varying light conditions to discern threat from non-threat: booby trap bombs; viscous dogs; children; guns; and compliant or hostile people. Room by room, the systematic search proceeds. Split-second decisions of shoot or don’t shoot as gun barrels train upon every potential animate threat. Handcuffs snap on, and the detained are escorted to the living room.
The crowd of lookie-loos is growing. There is nothing to see, all the action is now inside the house. Nevertheless, they stand, gawk, and gossip as cellphone cameras capture the moment.
Twenty minutes later, the “Code Four” message over the radio signifies that all is secure. The next phase of my work, searching for evidence, commences. We subsequently find assault weapons, money and narcotics.
As Orson Wells aptly stated
, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Read Dave Grossman’s piece, On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs
It’s all in a day’s work for a Sheepdog.Links in this Blog:Sheepdogs Keep the Wolves at Bay
On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs - Dave Grossman