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      Miami--Complicit Compromise

      Bob Pilgrim

    The desire for good press by agency bosses in an effort to gain political points with an agency's hierarchy and public can backfire and put officers unnecessarily at risk. The compromised ATF assault on the Brach Davidian compound in Waco, Texas is a tragic example of this often-fatal leadership flaw.

    It was 0500 hours and the Miami DEA office was crowded with agents and police officers. A large number of coordinated arrests were to be made and Frank, with Paul and his partner Carol listened intently as the boss made target assignments. Their attention was immediately elevated when the agent in charge advised that the next drug dealer had boasted to undercover agents that he would kill any police officer who attempted to arrest him and that he was always heavily armed. You guessed it, this gem was assigned to Paul and Carol, who was from Frank's group, with the comforting words, "to anticipate a gun battle" with him. Their team consisted of two first-rate SWAT officers and the two agents.

    Paul was a veteran of New York and Miami and he and Frank had been involved in several shootouts together. Paul knew the police officers and with Carol, he had utmost confidence in the team. Frank jokingly told Paul that he was going with them because he didn't want to see some saphead blow him away. After getting everyone's input and considering several possible scenarios Frank decided that the safest way to take this bad ass down was to attempt to arrest him at his residence. His house was situated as the end of a cul-de-sac and therefore it was difficult to establish prolonged surveillance without compromise. Also, because of the location it would be difficult to affect the apprehension as he left his house to get into his car. Frank was concerned over getting into a high-speed chase. Time was also of the essence, because the head shed either incredulously leaked or formally went public and the local Miami newspaper in their final evening edition announced in front page b! anner headlines the eye catching phrase "Up to 250 drug arrests due today." Since their opponent had pre programmed himself to resist arrest this pre operational publicity would greatly diminish the critical element of surprise.

    Before sunrise Frank did a couple of drive by recons to familiarize himself with the layout of the area. He rejoined the team a block away and finalized their plans. One of the officers would place his marked cruiser in the driveway and the agents would wear raid jackets so they would not be mistaken for his competition. Carol and one SWAT officer covered the rear exit. Putting the sledgehammer down momentarily, Paul and Frank initiated the operation by simply ringing the doorbell and loudly announcing several times in Spanish, "El Policia, abre la puerta." Paul spotted someone checking them out through the curtains and the subject's wife opened the front door. Her husband, the target, was standing behind her and when he saw the uniformed officer he slammed the door catching Frank's hand in the door-frame as he attempted to withdraw it. Frank immediately picked up the sledge and in spite of his ripped open hand gushing blood he battered the door open.

    As they cleared the door, Frank could hear the words, "El Policia" being shouted from the rear of the house. This announcement was answered by glass breaking, the crack of a pistol shot and the blast of a shotgun. Their expectations had been realized and a gun battle was in progress. Frank left a covering officer in the front of the house and sprinted to the back yard. The SWAT officer was aiming his shotgun through the shattered rear window. "Balm-balm-balm," he saturated the room in an attempt to stop the subject who was bobbing and weaving like a prize fighter. "Click," shotgun empty, the SWAT officer dropped to a knee to reload. The subject's previous threat was not an idle one and inspite of the firepower massed against him he seemed to be unfazed. Through a sliding glass door, Frank spotted him crouched next to a large wooden dresser prepared to shoot the officer if he exposed himself again in the window. Frank yelled at the officer, "He's going to shoot you, stay out ! of the window." Taking a kneeling position, he gripped his forty-five as tightly as he could. Blood is an effective lubricant and it was quite difficult for him to get a firm purchase on the grips. He was 20 yards out from the subject when he focused on his pistol's front sight post and squeezed one off through the glass. In spite of the spidery hole punched through the glass door he saw the drug dealer pitch over on his back. It was a close miss, but the big bullet smacked into the dresser and shards of splinters ripped into the subject's face and that took the fight out of him. However, he quickly disappeared from view.

    Suddenly, there was yelling and a lot of commotion in the front of the house. Paul and Carol sprinted in that direction. Frank and the officer moved up to the sliding glass door. It was locked, but the glass yielded to the butt of the shotgun. The bedroom bore dramatic evidence of the devastation that buckshot can work and amidst the damage was the subject's 9MM Walther P38, lying on the floor surrounded by several spent shell casings. The SWAT officer and Frank cleared the house rear to front and the drug dealer's wife was nowhere to be found. At the first sign of trouble she split and left her old man to sort things out. The other officer, Paul and Carol had their bad boy cuffed and proned out and that's when Frank learned that he was not seriously wounded. Ironically, but anticipated by the team was a newspaper at their feet with the stellar headlines announcing the planned mass arrests of drug dealers planned for early that morning.

    LESSONS LEARNED:

  • No amount of pre operational publicity is ever justified, unless it is a ploy to get the subject(s) to react in some manner and expose themselves. In this case, it almost cost law enforcement personnel dearly.

  • Mass arrests and provisional task forces have their downside. Teams are created among personnel that frequently are unfamiliar with each other and how they operate. Even highly trained and competent personnel may not immediately mesh and disaster can ensue. However, in this case this ad hoc team was able to quickly adjust to a very dynamic situation and affect the arrest.

  • When expecting violent resistance it is often preferable to attempt the arrest when the subject is on unfamiliar ground. Remember, the advantage is always with the defender and a structure, even if occupied for a short period of time affords the occupant with numerous tactical advantages over the assault team. In situations where the arrest will involve a forced entry, consider employing a tactical response team to affect the apprehension. If not, have enough men to contain and isolate the target and have negotiators on alert should it turn into a hostage/barricade situation.

  • Examine the habits of the subject and strike when he/she is least alert. Authorities should choose the time and place. Unfortunately, politics can influence these decisions and place raid personnel at a dangerous disadvantage.

  • Shotguns are great raid weapons, but buckshot possesses limited penetration and patterns are unpredictable. Slugs are appropriate medicine for vehicles offering far more precision and hard target penetration. However, it's never a good idea to be out in front of a cast of supporting smooth bores.

  • Are you a serious gunman? Try sliming your hands with motor oil and firing those four rounds in one-second drills you are famous for.

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