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Touchy feely vs. SWAT


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  • Touchy feely vs. SWAT

    First of all, let me apologize for the length, but Daytona Beach News Journal is picky about how long articles can be accessed.

    Recent standoffs spur debate on use of deadly force

    When the Volusia County sheriff's SWAT team heard a gunshot inside a barricaded Deltona home, the marksmen didn't immediately blast their way in.

    Having used a battering ram to break open the door, they were coaxing a slight, 50-year-old woman from the home when the shot rang out from inside.
    Afterward, repeated attempts to make contact with the woman's husband inside failed. Several hours passed and deputies decided to fire tear gas and go in.
    That's when SWAT team members found the body of 63-year-old Donald Robinson, who died from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head.

    Two recent Deltona deaths -- the suicide and an earlier fatal shooting of a barricaded man by sheriff's sharpshooters -- have sparked renewed debate about the use of deadly force in standoffs.
    "It certainly wasn't a bum's rush to the door," said Chief Deputy Bill Lee of the April 2 standoff, the second in a week and the fifth incident in the last month in which police or civilians have fired shots in self defense.

    In the earlier standoff, the sheriff's SWAT team shot and killed Vincent Zirakian, 69, who fired on them from inside his home, Lee said.
    In both standoffs, the gunmen would not allow any type of communication to take place, even when deputies tossed cell phones through a window and tried to establish contact through a loudspeaker, Lee said.
    And in both standoffs, apparent mental distress on the part of the gunmen led to their deaths, Lee said.
    "Absent having a crystal ball, it doesn't negate the fact that these were very dangerous individuals," Lee said. "We train our officers and we rely on them to make good decisions in the field. If you believe your life or the lives of others are in danger then you are justified in using deadly force."

    The use of force does draw critics.
    "They don't need that show of force," Linda Murphy, an advocate for the mentally ill, said of the weaponry and sheer numbers of officers used in standoffs.
    "It scares them and the end result is obvious," said Murphy, president of the Volusia and Flagler chapter of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
    Lee is a 28-year law enforcement veteran who has been with the Sheriff's Office for 15 months and was formerly head of the Daytona Beach regional office of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He makes no apology for department procedure.
    "We have to think about protecting innocent lives of the officers and people in the neighborhood," Lee said.

    Steven T. Holmes, a criminologist at the University of Central Florida, said there's no easy solution in dealing with people in crisis, who literally see the standoff as "their last stand."
    "There are triggers," Holmes said. "For the person living on the edge, it's a rational decision, but the rest of us know it's an irrational situation."
    Often, police encounter someone who already has decided to kill or be killed -- the latter is known as "suicide by cop," Holmes said. "They lose all hope and it's a way for them to check out," Holmes said.
    Police, through their training and experience, recognize such circumstances, he said.

    Non-lethal weapons such as Tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas may not be enough to defuse the situation, even after coddling of a gunman by a trained SWAT negotiator, Holmes said.
    Randall Marshall, legal director of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, agrees to an extent.
    "The problem is the tradition of the show of force," Marshall said. "In some cases it actually ratchets up the situation rather than calming it down if the person inside feels like they are in a war zone."
    Steve Leifman, a Miami-Dade county judge and a mental health advocate, said there seem to be common stresses that send people over the edge -- mental distress, money problems, marital or domestic discord.
    "The less cavalry the better," Leifman said of the arsenals traditionally deployed by police agencies in standoffs.
    Leifman is a strong advocate of the "Crisis Intervention Team" established a decade ago by the police department in Memphis, Tenn. There, a select group of trained officers receives intense training from health-care professionals who donate their time and expertise to try to reach out to the mentally ill before they reach a crisis point.

    Dr. Randolph T. Dupont, a crisis intervention mentor and teacher, told The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, "We train (police) so that when they arrive on the scene, they can assess the scene and have the resources so they are able to de-escalate with the individual."

    The "Memphis model" -- in which authorities emphasize communication and counseling over a show of force -- has been adopted by about 50 large police departments across the country in the last several years, said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina.
    Alpert, however, said the overwhelming presence of SWAT teams has benefits, too.
    "When the SWAT arrives, a lot of times, people come to their senses and give up," Alpert said. "Rarely do the police have to fire."
    Sometimes, though, when a shot is fired, the result can be risky, he said, referring to an incident in Orlando two years ago in which a police sniper accidentally shot and killed a hostage.

    David Klinger, a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and an expert on SWAT tactics, said a SWAT team is forced to shoot to kill less than 10 percent of the time.
    Klinger said it's important for the public to realize that "a suicidal person can easily become a homicidal person."
    Occasionally, a police officer, even armed and supported by other cops, can become a victim of homicide in these circumstances, Klinger said.

    That point is not lost on Lee and other local police administrators when thinking about the 1982 killing of sheriff's deputy Steve Saboda, 35, who died from gunfire from a man with an assault rifle in a DeLand home who later fatally shot himself.
    Before the recent standoffs, the last Volusia or Flagler county resident killed by a police sniper was Helen Lucille McConnell, 61, of Oak Hill, a woman who fired a dozen rounds at police before she was killed at her rural home 11 years ago.

    I'll have more on this later, but now I have to go take care of some stuff....

  • #2
    Someone who wants to kill himself will do it if he really means it. When you have a barricaded, suicidal armed individual who refuses to talk, the only thing the police can do is protect the neighborhood and themselves. That includes dumping the armed suspect (which is what he has made himself) when he presents a deadly threat.

    These advocates for the mentally ill are absolutely clueless about how the real world works. Let them try to handle the situation and see what they'll do when bullets fly past.
    Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. - Ronald Reagan

    I don't think It'll happen in the US because we don't trust our government. We are a country of skeptics, raised by skeptics, founded by skeptics. - Amaroq


    • #3
      In the latest incident, 63 year old Donald Robinson had kept his wife from seeing her family for over a decade. They hadn't spoken to her in over 2 years. He was so good at keeping her hidden that neighbors didn't even know he was married.

      Prior to the whole thing going down, the Sheriff's Office was able to obtain a search warrant but held back on executing it for tactical reasons...they didn't want to set him off. Almost three days after obtaining the warrant, it was executed. There was no bum rush and there was no show of force. Deputies walked up to the door, knocked and saw her on the couch. As soon as the door opened, they heard the gunshot from inside, got her out and took cover. This is when SWAT got involved. In my opinion, they showed a great deal of restraint and compassion for the mentally ill.

      A week prior, a Deputy attemped a traffic stop on 69 year old Zirkanian. He failed to stop initially, but eventually complied. Once the Deputy approached the car, he sped off again. A check of the tag showed the tag was reported stolen. After a bit of follow the leader, the Deputy broke off the pursuit and radioed units to BOLO for it. Another Deputy thought he recognized the description of Zirkanian based on prior contacts with him and went to his residence. As he and the original Deputy arrived at the house, Zirkanian refused to show ID and pushed one of the Deputies. As they followed him to the door, Zirkanian entered first and armed himself with a 3 foot long Samurai sword that he had behind the door. He waved it at the Deputies at a distance of mere inches at some points. Zirkanian then closed the door and went to a bedroom where he was observed to be loading a shotgun.

      The hut hut boys were called in and they tried several times to make contact but to no avail. As they started taking up their positions, Zirkanian opened fire missing a couple Deputies by inches. In one of the volleys, Zirkanian was shot and died. This was after some fifteen shots of tear gas into a thousand square foot house.

      Zirkanian lead a hermit's life and was able to annoy every single one of his neighbors with his pack ratting, filthy home and yard and other odd behaviors. His family, who live out of state, knew of his mental state yet he was still living by himself.

      Now, here's my question to the warm and fuzzies....where was your grand scheme before all s*** hit the proverbial fan? You mean, after all this suffering from mental illness, suddeenly we're supposed to have a light bulb come on and say "oh, we need to help him out. I know he's firing at us and I know he's scared at all of the mean looking officers, but maybe if we gave him a hug he'd come around". Sorry, pal, but both had their destinies planned and both probably had their paths paved by the same types who are now blaming the officers. It wouldn't surprise me at all if both men had been Baker Acted in the past, but released prior to 24 hours (if that long!) with a clean bill of mental health.

      As far as a large group of officers provoking them, it just wasn't true. Zirkanian was set off by just one Deputy trying to see why someone is weaving all over the road and going 20 mph under the limit.

      If the head doctors want to help the mentally ill, then, fine, go do it. But, if they want to experience what happens when that mental illness isn't treated or is passed over by the rest of society, then strp on a duty belt, Kevlar vest, badge and a gun and become society's grabage man.


      • #4
        Here is an idea: Call out these "touchy-feely" bleeding heart folks and let THEM deal with the barricaded suspect. After all, if a "show of force" is unneeded, if all seeing weapons deployed is going to do is to scare these poor hapless individuals, then let the "self appointed experts" just walk up to the door and deal with them.

        Then stand by for the law suits when they get their asses blown away and their survivors sue US because WE didn
        6P1 (retired)


        • #5
          The fact that those guys were in their 60s just goes to prove that scumbags grow old, too.

          Our local mental health unit (now called Behavioral Health - let's go back to what it really is, a psych ward) typically releases inmates (sorry, clients) within eight hours or less if they don't have insurance. If they are insured, they stay for the full 72 hours or get committed for longer.
          Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. - Ronald Reagan

          I don't think It'll happen in the US because we don't trust our government. We are a country of skeptics, raised by skeptics, founded by skeptics. - Amaroq


          • #6
            I agree wit hwhat the others are saying here it is a catch 22 situation if we step back and show less force we are in trouble when a innocent by stander is harmed but if we go in and deal with the problem we are in trouble because we did not handle it delicatly. I say if your going to hold a hostage to include yourself and want a stand off with the police you better be prepared to meet your maker otherwise go seek help elsewhere. And if these people families know that there is a problem where are they at to help the person coupe with what is going on in the world. I say in both cases good job by the officers.

            Are you a Veteran? If so join AMVETS the only organization that accepts all vets no matter when or where they served. Contact me for more info.


            • #7
              See what happens when the police try to be touchy-feely. I hate being told how I'm supposed to be nice to every dirtbag I come across. I keep telling my Lieutenant, "If I wanted to be everybody's friend, I'd be a f*****g firefighter!" When the po-leece get called somewhere, it's because someone has gotten out of hand. That in itself says the "Mental Health" people aren't accomplishing their mission. I still feel a show of force is warranted in the barricaded nutjob scenarios to protect the neighbors and surrounding area. It's also nice to not have a stand-off or call in negotiators (as long as there aren't hostages). One yoo-hoo barricaded in his house and suicidal = a lot of teargas and a dynamic entry. Too bad we pander to the soft-hearted.
              NRA Life Member

              The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence. - Sir Robert Peel

              Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats. - H. L. Mencken


              • #8
                Well, first off, I don't want ya'll to think that Memphis PD is some sort of touchy feely department. They don't stroll around handing out hugs and kisses and singing Cumbaya, believe you me.

                They have a very good SWAT team. Their CIT program is also very good. They also have well trained Hostage Negotiators.

                This isn't an either/or type of thing.

                The above article has tried to make it one, but I think this just belies the author's lack of true understanding of the issue.

                This article trys to portray the "Memphis model" as if it's a Crises Intervention Team and that's it.

                Well that ain't the way it's done, and that ain't the way it's taught either.

                If you've got a barricaded gunman, sure you may have had CIT there at some point, but once it turns into a barricade situation, you've got HN's trying to talk the guy out and SWAT staging for entry if/when needed.

                In these examples, the police DID try to communicate... it was the guy inside who refused to communicate.

                My response for folks who don't like the way we handle things like this is this:

                Don't like cops? Next time you are in trouble, call a hippie!


                • #9
                  I think the author of this article is one of those "you didn't have to kill him, why didn't you just shoot the gun out of his hand?" types of people.

                  Reaching out to the mentally ill by using a CIT team is a fine idea, but when you have a barricaded gunman shooting at police, you dont have that luxury, as some people would think. When Zirkanian started shooting, he choose the road he wanted to walk down!


                  • #10
                    OK, I had to jump in here and speak my piece, because it's fairly evident that some of the posters here know little, if anything, about the nature of severe mental illness. That's not an indictment, BTW, just an observation.

                    I would like to make clear that I am *not* a mental health professional, just a fairly knowledgeable layperson who is currently struggling to get help for a family member with a thought disorder.

                    First off, "nutjobs" (AKA persons with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) did not choose to have the curse of a brain disorder. No one consulted them in the womb as to what genetic/biological propensities they wished to be saddled with, any more than us "normies" were consulted.

                    Secondly, anywhere from 40%-50% of all persons with severe mental illness also suffer from a syndrome called anosognosia, which roughly translates to "unawareness of illness". The functioning of the brain's right frontal lobe is so severely impaired that the sufferer is unable to perceive that their brain is not working properly and that their thought processes and beliefs are frequently illogical and irrational. Anosognosia has also been observed in some stroke patients, who simply do not recognize that one side of their body is now paralyzed.

                    Now, if you are firmly convinced that you don't have a problem, are you going to be particularly agreeable to taking meds and/or seeing a therapist? Non-compliance with treatment regimens is a major problem among the severely mentally ill, and anosognosia is a significant factor (but not the only one).

                    Thirdly, as has already been mentioned earlier, the system has largely failed the mentally ill. During the 1960s and 70s most states passed some type of legislation prohibiting involuntary hospitilization of mentally ill adults unless it could be demonstrated that they were an immediate danger to themselves or someone else. These laws were put into place in response to the outcry from civil libertarians about the abuse and neglect that some mental patients sadly endured in the so-called "snakepit" psych hospitals. Unfortunately, the comprehensive outpatient community services that so many of the politicians promised us would replace the state mental hospitals have, for the most part, failed to materialize. The end result of all this is clearly visible by going down to Skid Row in any major city. Here in Los Angeles, the mentally ill homeless are a fixture throughout the downtown shopping and business district. It truly is disheartening to see these wretched souls, filthy, ragged, covered in sores, eyes blank and uncomprehending, mumbling to themselves or shouting and gesticulating wildly at the empty air.

                    Which brings us to a fourth issue: why aren't these people's family members stepping up to the plate and getting them some help? Well, in many cases they *have* tried to help their mentally ill loved ones, often at the expense of their own mental health and financial stability. But just how much can you accomplish, really, with a grown person who's immovably convinced that everybody's out to hurt him/her and in any event, there isn't one damn thing wrong with them--it's the rest of the world that's screwed up? Unless and until the mentally ill person tries to hurt themselves or makes a specific threat to do harm to someone else, the families are just as hamstrung by the laws as the police.

                    This post has dragged on long enough, but I'd like to add that the people being discussed here were victims, both of their brain chemistry and of initially well-intended legislation that now serves to protect a person's right to be insane. Some of the macho warriors around these parts may feel that society's been done a service when the "fruitcakes" and "loonies" get taken out in these police standoffs. But when mental illness strikes someone you care about, you may start to view these "dirtbags" a little bit differently. And if that sentiment makes me one of the "touchy-feely" crowd, then so be it.

                    Some suggested reading material:

                    Surviving Schizophrenia by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D.

                    I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help! by Xavier Amador, PhD.

                    Websites about mental illness issues:

                    Treatment Advocacy Center

                    National Alliance For The Mentally Ill

                    Thank you for your consideration.
                    "They want the federal government controlling Social Security like it's some kind of federal program." - George W. Bush


                    • #11

                      In reading your post there are a couple of things that are evident.

                      #1 You know about mental illness.

                      # 2 you are totally clueless as to the dynamics of a barricaded subject situation.

                      While the mentally ill person never asked to be mentally ill, the people they hurt never asked to be hurt either.

                      I repeat again, if you don
                      6P1 (retired)


                      • #12
                        Don, and most everyone else here...

                        100% agree.

                        I am part of the crowd that also believes our courts should allow please of "Guilty because of Mental Illness" NOT INNOCENT.

                        When someone (ill or healthy) breaks the law, then it is just that: They have broken the law.

                        When a poor/sad individual with a brain disorder does not want to play nice and fire a gun at me... I don't give a rat's @ss who doesn't like it, I am firing back. If he actually shoots someone or myself when I am in control of handling the situation he put himself and the community in, then it is MY FAULT for inaction.. Sorry, buddy I'll see you in hell.

                        Now, if he wants to talk and work something out after getting into this situation, then I am 150% agreeable to that. So the end result IS his choice, not mine.
                        Education is nothing without experience to back it up.


                        • #13
                          MizCitizen: "OK, I had to jump in here and speak my piece, because it's fairly evident that some of the posters here know little, if anything, about the nature of severe mental illness."

                          I know this wasn't directed at anyone in particular, but don't assume that we don't know about mental illness.

                          We know it very well.

                          When there is some guy wearing nothing but a wristband standing in the middle of an intersection punching and kicking cars as they try to drive around him... it's the police that get wrestle him into custody and take him back to the hospital from whence he came.

                          We know very well that when many people are off their meds, they can be violent and EXTREMELY strong. I've seen folks punch and kick their way through two seperate plate glass windows and keep right on truckin' without missing a beat. I've seen crazy folks pick up an officer and throw him like a toothpick. I've seen them so strong that when they grabbed for the officer's weapon, they actually ripped the leather holster off the belt right along with it. Do YOU want to lay hands on that guy? I don't know about you, but it scares me to death and sure causes my wife to worry.

                          We know very well that mental health services is very important because when they do go off their meds, that's when we see them first, sleeping in the parks, walking around at 3am talking to themselves, jumping off buildings, and sometimes attacking other people.

                          Most of us are much more aware of the very real and serious issues of mental illness because we see a heck of alot more of it than most. It's the cops on the scene when they cut up their kids like game hen, or set themselves on fire, or wander around the freeway wearing their foil helmet.

                          However, while we may not blame the mentally ill, we also know that, through no possible fault of their own, they can be very dangerous to themselves and others and to US OFFICERS when we get called in to handle the situation after everything else has broken down.

                          It's not that we don't understand, or that we think it's their fault, it's that at the point of them taking hostages or going on a stabbing spree at the mall, it is a moot point. At that point; they are a danger to other people and to the officers that have the duty of taking care of the situation.

                          I don't like it when people try to make me dead, whether it's on purpose, or because their dog told them to. It's not going to make my family feel any better sticking me in the ground just because the guy who broke my neck was a paranoid schizo instead of drug dealer.


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