‘Well done’ on standoff

Published 9:49 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What started out as a domestic disturbance at a home on King’s Fork Road on Tuesday evening quickly spun out of control into a dangerous situation that could have reached a heartbreaking conclusion were it not for the work of a group of fine professionals brought in to bring things back under control.

When police were called to the home at 7:20 p.m., dispatchers were told that a man had threatened his wife with a gun. While they were on the way to the scene, police officers learned that the woman and an adult son had left the house, leaving her 63-year-old husband inside. When officers arrived, he was still holed up inside the home, and it was unknown just how volatile things were.

It’s hard to find statistics on the outcome of such events, but a quick scan of the headlines from around the country that result from a Google search of the words “police standoff” reveals that a distressing number of standoffs end up with someone — and sometimes multiple people, including police officers — getting shot.

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Police officers are in a dangerous position when they arrive at a home where someone of unknown mental condition is barricaded with one or more weapons and a potential stockpile of ammunition to augment whatever bitterness has pushed them into the situation in the first place. Short of resorting to violent measures, there is no way to force those people to surrender, and ensuring the safety of themselves and innocent people who might be involved just makes their job that much harder.

But they’re paid to preserve the peace, and they take an oath to protect the citizens of their community, so police officers speed to the scene of these powder-keg situations, strap on their bulletproof vests and then do everything they can to make sure that nobody gets injured or killed.

On Tuesday in Suffolk, dozens of the city’s police officers did just that. Joined on the scene by a police negotiator and a SWAT team, they worked for two hours to get the subject to come out of his house unarmed and without threatening gestures. By 10 p.m., the man had surrendered without undertaking or causing violence and was detained on an emergency committal order.

Such a peaceful conclusion is exactly what police officers, SWAT team members and negotiators hope for in every incident they are called to defuse. Clearly, however, peaceful conclusions to these incidents are not guaranteed. Suffolk’s finest are due high praise for their restraint, for their discernment and for their poise in the face of a volatile and potentially deadly set of circumstances.