By Warren Wilson
Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to follow and signup for notifications!
Who else is old enough to remember “throw phones?” We used them when there was a barricaded suspect. It was our (SWAT) job to port (make a hole via a door or window) in the structure and physically throw a ruggedized corded phone inside. The suspect would then, in theory, pick up the phone and talk to the negotiators.
With the advent of cell phones, throw phones mostly fell out of favor in the ’80s and ’90s. I never enjoyed the thought of deploying the phone. Partially because of the team’s necessary exposure and proximity to the house – which we had to do on most barricades while disconnecting landline and electric service – but mostly because of the telltale cord we had to drag along behind us. It made a stealthy approach that much more difficult since a suspect inside the house simply had to visually trace the cord back to the approach team’s precise current location.
The cord also limited how far away the negotiators could be from the negotiated party.
Finally, it divulged the negotiator’s position allowing family or friends of the subject to interrupt the process. These limitations, coupled with the ability of law enforcement agencies to access almost anyone’s cell phone number, pretty much killed that old technology.
Still, there are some drawbacks to negotiating with someone who has an open cell phone.
Often these incidents are started by interaction with other people, mostly family. Continued interaction between the barricaded person and those with whom he or she is in conflict exacerbates the situation. I’ve seen this happen on multiple calls.
In the landline days, we would just shut off the business or residential phone line. That made the throw phone their only mode of communication and law enforcement their only contact.
There might be a way to get at least partially back to that considering most cell companies will comply with an emergency service disruption request from law enforcement.
LETS Corporation has a wireless negotiating system called “Respond.” It’s a proprietary phone switching technology that includes a ruggedized First Net (AT&T service that gives priority to first responders) cellular phone. The phone can only be used to call or text numbers selected by the deploying agency.
The audio and texts between the negotiator and subject (only) are recorded and can be monitored by other negotiators, administrators, or even the SWAT guys. Those recordings are readily downloaded to the unlimited storage provided by LETS.
I remember countless hours spent outside of a home or business waiting for a radio call to make entry and for the occasional update from the command vehicle. It would have been helpful to hear how negotiations were going and get intelligence in real-time. With LETS Respond, the cover team can speak to the negotiator through the app without the subject hearing them.
Fly on the wall
My tactical unit was what is often referred to as a “brains and brawn team.” In other words, we had no technology like fancy cameras that can be stuck under doors or robots to clear rooms, or even a drone, at the time. Because of that, during barricaded subject calls, the team was essentially limited to the information we could hear directly from inside the residence or what we were given via radio from the negotiator.
LETS Respond’s cell phone allows the negotiator to turn on the microphone and access either the front or rear cameras, adjust the angle, or zoom in and out. It can also show all video views simultaneously. That video and audio can also be shared with anyone in the group live since Respond allows for unlimited users. That would have been helpful and I’m a little jealous of teams who have or will have this ability in the future. The camera’s GPS and even flashlight can be activated remotely. If the subject refuses to answer the phone, one-way voice messages can be sent through the phone like a remote bullhorn. Did I mention I’m a little jealous?
All of the monitoring is done through a simple smartphone application. But the system also allows calls or texts to be made from a computer. Using the app, team members can communicate with each other and even see each other’s location. Again, that’s something that would have been incredibly useful to us on more than one occasion.
Respond and connect
When you are dealing with someone in crisis, you must make contact with them so you can begin to build a rapport. After that, you have a chance to influence their behavior. You can’t do that without speaking to them. LETS Respond will be one of those advancements in technology that will make cops and the public safer. And retired SWAT guys jealous.
About the authorWarren Wilson is a captain, training commander and rangemaster with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.