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Correctional Hostage Rescue Operations - CHRT - Part 1

STL Joseph Garcia

Is Your Team Prepared To Handle These Types of Operations?

Caution: don’t read this article if you are weak hearted or get queasy easily. I’m going to discuss hostage rescue. It’s a popular subject among many teams we talk to. I’m not talking about the sexy, heroic movie stuff with villains and saviors, but the real world – life and death stuff. In hostage rescue the reality is that if you make a wrong decision, the consequences could be devastating. Operators, after you read this article, ask yourself if your agency is ready to handle hostage rescue situations.

I recently visited a team that wanted to demonstrate their hostage rescue capabilities. They showed up with hats and bats, and 22" barrel shotguns that were filled randomly with slugs, 00 Buck, and a few with beanbags. They were also wearing those outdated steel vests and fish bowl helmets, looking like turtles with panoramic reflective faces.

I watched a little and asked if they could see, or even breathe. They replied that their helmets fogged up, stank, and sometimes warped their view. Split second sight alignment was, of course, impossible. The team told me this was what an instructor taught them. Only dunces follow incorrect training.

At another demonstration, I viewed a team that was armed with batons, chemical agents, noise flash distraction devices (NFDD), and some kind of black strap device. Like the first team, they had the turtle-ish body armor and light bulb facemasks along with the straps and noisemakers—I’m not kidding!

There’s a point to this, and it isn’t to put down these teams, both of which are now working towards Tier 2 status. There is a difference between a well-trained/equipped hostage rescue unit and a poorly trained/equipped unit, just as there is a difference between correctional hostage rescue and street hostage rescue. There’s a big difference, and you need to understand it.

I want you to hear this loud and clear, operators: you are heroes, and men and women of honor. Those of you who know me or have been trained by team US C-SOG know that your ability to perform your duties safely and properly is a passion of ours. We work with you and for you. For example, we will not take on a client unless the agency has made a full commitment to backing their SOU-Special Operations Unit. We are passionate about giving you our best, so you can perform at your top level, safely and effectively.

So why write a two part article about hostage rescue? Why is it important to note the differences between correctional hostage rescue and street hostage rescue? Operators, we work in the most violent prison system in the world. In the 2 ½ weeks before this article’s writing, there have been 3 – yes, 3 – prison hostage situations in the US, in Arizona DOC, California DOC, and Illinois DOC. No staff members were injured, thank God, but the hostages in these situations are always hurt, mentally or physically. Often, injuries result from poor training, or misconceptions concerning specifics of the situations.

We Cannot Use Lethal Force… Huh?

I’ve heard this many times from CERT units and Corrections officers, enough times that I think it is a serious problem. It’s hogwash. You might have heard similar claims. Go to your use of force section and slide your fingers down the pages until you see something like "in self defense or to protect the life of… " There might also be words like imminent danger, serious bodily injury, or risk of death. Does this sound like any hostage situation you have experienced, discussed, or read about? You have the right (and responsibility) to protect your own life, the life of another corrections officer, a visitor, or an inmate, even if that demands use of lethal force, which, unfortunately, that responsibility sometimes does.

The supreme court has set precedent for every law enforcement officer (yes, you too) to have the right to match force and escalate, as long as it is justified and limited by the “Once Compliance Starts, Escalation of Force Stops” MO.

Operators, I know we do not carry handguns inside a facility, and that hostage situations are intimidating. We face difficult situations that require skills that are different, and sometimes beyond those required in street situations. You need to know that you are guaranteed the right to protect yourself and others. You might be tempted to use one of two routes: either “forget about being ready and call the police,” or think, “it could never happen here, because it has never happened here before.” You need to move beyond this mentality, and into a modern understanding of Correctional Hostage Rescue.

Understanding the Mission of Correctional Hostage Rescue

The general public’s stereotypical view of the corrections environment is: convicts riot, then the domineering prison “guards” arrive with long sticks and big helmets, and use smoke, noise, and yelling to gain control, then the riot is over. There are also those curious questions from the average Joe, "Do you really have hostage situations inside the facility? Do you really walk around inside without guns? Do you actually come into contact with inmates? You mean the inmates walk freely inside the facility?

Try explaining to someone you meet exactly what you do for a living and you’ll probably get a deer in the headlights look. Then if you want to make thing worse, explain all the things that inmates like to throw at us. The public doesn’t understand our “normal” work environment – TB, Staph infections, HIV and violence. Though the average police officer or military special operator has their own situations to deal with, they are not accustomed to the specifics of the corrections environment. You are the people that most understand your situation, and you should be the ones trained and positioned to respond.

The same principles apply to our CERT SOU. Work and train for the same environments in which you work. For the best chance of positive outcomes to hostage scenarios, who will be better suited; outside forces that train in our environment once in a blue moon, or teams that eat, live, train and work in corrections environments.

A Scenario for the Administrator to Consider

The local chief of police has asked you to deploy your CERT/SOU team to assist with a security operation for a major large-crowd event in your area, to which you are happy to aid. During the event, you receive a call that a violent riot has just broken out at your facility. The situation has surpassed the capabilities of your officers to control, and the situation is escalating. Do you stay at the event and fulfill your obligation? Of course not! Like any responsible administrator, you immediately inform your CERT/SOU Commander and deploy your team. You inform the local chief so he can call back-up to your position, and you respond to your core responsibility.

A SWAT team in the opposite situation would do the same. They would leave your facility to cover their core responsibilities, and the situation would fall back upon your team. It is essential that your team is trained, equipped, and ready to respond to these situations with or without outside help. A well trained CERT/SOU team will respond more efficiently than an outside team, with the added benefit of the established reliability of an internal team dedicated to your facility.

A facility is best prepared with a dedicated CERT/SOU team, one that can use outside teams for support, but is sufficiently trained and equipped to handle hostage situations in a safe and effective manner as they arise.

Okay Now for the Rebuttal Arguments!

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Continue to Part 2 >>

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