ARLINGTON – Wait… Negotiate… Wait… Negotiate… Wait… Negotiate… (repeat as necessary).
The Marysville Police Department’s Crisis Negotiation and SWAT teams spent hours in the hot sun Monday playing that game.
It was a game that day, but the training was taken very seriously as they don’t get to work together very often.
MPD detective Craig Bartl said just like in sports you have to practice to get better.
“It was a good discussion” afterward, he said. “It’s the little things. We did well, but we can get better.”
In this scenario, police responded to a call of shots being fired and a barricade situation. They found out that a man, his wife and two boys were inside, along with a neighbor boy who was wounded.
Even thought it was practice, the goal was the same as in real life – getting everyone out alive.
Negotiators got into position with the help of the department’s new Bearcat. It provided a bullet-proof shield as they moved into place 300 feet from the mobile home set in the Cadman rock quarry off Highway 9.
Negotiators hooked up with the suspect by cell phone. The longer they talk the better the chance for a peaceful ending, negotiators said.
The key for the negotiators was to try to bond with the suspect so he will turn himself in.
The suspect said his wife was going to walk out on him and take their two boys just because he couldn’t find a job.
He said they were hungry and wanted pizza. Asked if he had a gun, he said he shot a starter’s pistol at the SWAT team because he wanted to scare them off.
He said he didn’t want to give up because all police want to do is shoot people.
SWAT team members who were shot at said it was a real gun, as it kicked up dust. The suspect wanted the SWAT team to back off. He was told that wouldn’t happen because of the gun. He asked again about pizza and was told he needed to give up something to get that. He said no and hung up.
When the negotiator called back, he said he couldn’t get pizza because it was 10:50 a.m., and those businesses weren’t open yet. Others on the negotiating team gave him notes helping him figure out what to say to the suspect to keep him engaged. Finally, he said, “It’s pizza, or we’re done.”
The negotiating team contemplated what he might give up for a pizza. But Mark Thomas, the technical commander, kept denying the pizza request, which frustrated negotiators, but was done on purpose as part of the training. The negotiators blamed their boss. They wanted to get the suspect and his family a pizza, but the boss said no.
They then tried a different tact. They said their phone was dying so they wanted to give him a private phone they could talk on. The Bearcat slowly drove up to the house and SWAT members put the phone on the front porch. The suspect wouldn’t retrieve it, fearing he would get shot. “I’m trying to protect your life,” the lead negotiator said.
A friend of the boys, Ethan, called 9-1-1 and said he had an injured leg. Negotiators thought the suspect may not give up his wife and two boys, but he might the injured neighbor.
The agitated suspect yelled that he can’t believe he can’t get a $15 pizza. He hang up again.
On the seventh call between the two, the negotiator said, “I’m hungry, too.”
The suspect decided to trade pizza for the injured boy. Officers would deliver the pizza using the Bearcat and take the injured boy to safety and medical help. During a tense part of the training, the boy went on the porch, the Bearcat rushed up, the boy was put inside and the pizzas left on the porch. One of the suspect’s sons came out to get the pizzas.
During a break, the negotiating team said their longest real incident lasted 13 hours, and negotiations went on for 12 of them. Things some might think silly, like the importance of pizza, were part of that case.
“Time was on our side,” a negotiator said, adding that suspect came down off drugs, and nobody got hurt – although they did have to break into the home to capture him safely.
Back to the training, the perp seemed more relaxed once he ate pizza. The negotiator said he was a father, too. The suspect asked for a prosecutor. He had a record and didn’t want to go back to prison. Now that his demand for pizza was met he wasn’t sure what to do. He became irrational.
Eventually, negotiators were able to exchange some hostages for water, and then convinced the suspect it was in his best interest to bring his wife out and surrender.
At the tech center, Thomas said it’s best for negotiators not to lie because they can catch up to you. They have to weigh the risks and rewards in all parts of the negotiations.
“We won’t go away,” he said.