Emergency dispatch operators field a call from an upset woman. Her ex-boyfriend just called her and told her he's "checking out." But he's not checking out of a hotel he's checking out of his so-called life.
The woman tells the operator she recently ended the relationship due to his emotionally abusive behavior, and now he wants to end it all.
Officers arrive at the man's house, and he tells them to get off his property or he'll shoot them. Officers back off and set up a perimeter. No one goes in. No one comes out.
Negotiators arrive and attempt to call the man, but he keeps hanging up on them. Two and a half hours pass with no luck. Neighbors have been evacuated, and it will be getting dark soon. How long can the officers displace the neighborhood? How long do the officers wait before initiating some form of tactical application? Life must go on, even if one person on the block decides his life isn't worth continuing.
A SWAT cop can only remain attentive and mentally focused for so long. Officers can't remain in an advanced state of readiness for hours. Complacency and inattentiveness, along with mental fatigue, begin to wear on an officer's mind. This can place hostages, citizens and officers in peril.
According to Jim Fuda, negotiator (ret.) of the King County Sheriff's Office in Seattle, Wash., there are several possibilities at this point:
The subject has fulfilled their threat and committed suicide;
They are passed out/asleep;
The subject somehow escaped the residence and the police perimeter;
They are waiting for an officer to kill them upon a tactical entry (suicide by cop);
They have changed their mind and now plan to kill the police; or
They just need more coaxing.
Coaxing can come in a variety of forms, including a bullhorn pleading for a peaceful surrender, an intimidating loud noise from outside or some other tactic designed to convince the subject to communicate. Another method: Break out a window, or two, or three or four.
Breaking the Ice
Nothing is more startling than the sound of shattering glass. Restaurant conversations stop when a busboy drops a plate on the floor. The sound of a minor traffic accident involving crumbling headlights or street lamps startles pedestrians and other drivers.
Tactical officers can perform a break and rake to startle a barricaded suspect and spark communication when they're not responding to negotiations. A small team of tactical personnel can approach a window, break the glass with a hooligan tool and then clear the shards of glass by raking the tool along the edges of the window frame.
This technique usually involves breaking the glass in an upper corner and allowing gravity to do the work. Raking the tool along the top, sides and bottom of the frame will help clear the glass, which may cut an officer if they need to use this opening as an emergency entry. Officers involved in a break and rake should wear helmets, gloves, long-sleeve shirts and eye protection.
The break and rake tends to stimulate the barricaded subject. Up until now, he's been in control. He refuses to talk or leave his home. Then suddenly, his comfort zone is broken, exposing the interior to the elements and onlookers. Suicide is no longer private and isolated.
While some fear this could force a confrontation, the number of these incidents is low. It's just a reminder that officers are still out there and are not going away.
My unit has successfully deployed this tactic to spark communications. In fact, many subjects we were trying to reach actually called us wanting to know what was happening. A successful surrender is then negotiated.
Although this tactic has produced positive results, you can never accurately predict human behavior. It's entirely possible this action might cause the subject to take their own life if they fear the SWAT team might be entering the premises. There's also the possibility that the subject could retaliate with deadly force toward officers. Each barricade situation is unique and should be evaluated with sound tactics and concern for the safety of citizens, officers and the barricaded individual.
A break and rake is useful for a number of other situations as well. You can clear the window as a port for an emergency entry, for instance. Of course, this type of entry is the least desirable means to gain access to a residence. I've heard tactical officers say in training, "If this happens, we can go in through a window." These are usually cops who've never tried to get through a window bearing the equipment required to accomplish the mission.
You can break a window to create an opening for the introduction of chemical munitions, including either hand- or launcher-propelled chemicals. The amount of chemical used depends on the size of the target interior and the reaction of the barricaded subject. This is a critical concern and well beyond the scope of this article.
Diversions can be a viable option. A team may mask their movements or even their entries with the simultaneous distraction of windows breaking. Imagine the overwhelming effect of sitting in the living room of your home when suddenly you hear windows in your bedroom shattering, followed by the windows in the bathroom, the kitchen and then the living room. "How many of them are out there, and are they coming in?" would likely race through your mind.
Break & Rake Aids
Sending a team to break a window or two is time consuming and exposes the officers to unnecessary hazards. Window glass is usually easily broken by the impact of a variety of munitions launchers. Launchers in the form of 40mm or 37mm calibers armed with chemical or impact projectiles can be used to penetrate a home by targeting the windows. However, this may limit options. If an emergency entry is planned, a team will still have to approach and remove the remaining shards of glass.
Gas may be deployed into a residence, but you should consider the possibility of return fire from the subject. Launchers, which sound like gunfire, may prompt the subject to respond in self-defense.
PepperBall Technologies has developed an "ice breaking" projectile. It's a glass shattering, .68 caliber solid Teflon round with an abrased surface. (This projectile should not be used against a human target unless deadly force is authorized.) Each round costs a couple of dollars. For less than $20, an officer behind cover can rapidly deploy enough rounds to break all exposed windows. Double-paned windows, bay windows, sliding glass doors and even vehicle windows are no match for the glass-shattering round.
Pepperball also manufactures a nasty projectile that distributes an ominous cloud of PAVA (a pharmaceutical grade of OC) when it hits a hard surface. This deployment system and the requisite projectiles costs pennies compared to the cost of many other rounds.
Certain distraction devices may also be used to break windows without actually coming into physical contact with them. You can secure a distraction device to a flash-bang pole and deploy it next to a second-story window so that the positive pressure from the device shatters the glass, sending fragments inside the residence. Exercise caution on the ground during this maneuver, however, because the fractured glass may also rain razor-like shards down on tactical operators.
The Bottom Line
Whether you want to stimulate an unresponsive subject, open an emergency entry port or deploy gas, breaking a window can certainly satisfy this objective. Breaking a window can also excite a suicidal-barricaded subject, which can be beneficial to those trained to negotiate a peaceful resolution to a chaotic episode.
As tacticians, we're constantly looking for better ways to do our jobs. The preservation of life is paramount to us. So remember, a communications breakdown may be resolved by simply breaking the ice.
Greg Parrott is a lieutenant with the Lubbock County Sheriff's Office in Lubbock, Texas. He has 19 years of law enforcement experience, primarily in the areas of SWAT tactics, firearms and training. He's been the Lubbock Sheriff's Office tactical unit commander for the past seven years.