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Immediate steps to take during a hostage situation

Follow these steps to prioritize officer safety and facility security

Oklahoma Jail hostage AP21092703064410.jpg

In this Saturday, March 27, 2021, image taken from video released Friday, April 2, 2021, by the Oklahoma City Police Department from the Oklahoma County Detention Center, an officer is attacked by an inmate before police shoot and kill another inmate who was holding a homemade knife to the officer’s neck.

Oklahoma County Detention Center/Oklahoma City Police Department via AP

On March 27, 2021, Oklahoma County Detention Center inmates took an officer hostage and beat and stabbed him several times before one of the inmate suspects was shot dead. The inmates also used OC spray taken from the officer to assault him.

The inmates had been complaining about poor food, cockroaches in their cells and overcrowding.

Inmates obtained the officer’s keys and began opening cell doors to let other inmates out. Inmates placed the hostage (officer) on his knees and held a knife to the officer’s throat. Police and sheriff deputies responded to the incident on the 10th floor of the jail after an emergency 9-1-1 call was received from a jail captain describing the hostage situation. Police fatally shot one inmate suspect and regained control of the jail pod.

The officer who was taken hostage was transported to hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries after being rescued from this life-threatening situation.

The Oklahoma City hostage incident is a good example of why we need to cross-train and work with other local agencies. Other agencies should tour our jails and prisons with their administrators and front-line staff, so they get to know our environment in the jail or prison setting.

The following tips serve as a guideline to help you handle a hostage situation in your jail or prison. Please note all of these actions and notifications should be happening simultaneously.

Officers on scene

Officers on scene must immediately notify a supervisor and contain the area until properly relieved. They should gather as much information as possible, such as the number of hostages, the number of suspects/assailants, if any weapons involved and the exact location of the incident. This information should be relayed to command.

An attempt to develop a dialogue with the hostage-taker should be initiated in line with your agency’s policies and procedures.

Immediate actions

While the situation is being assessed, secure the scene. Limit radio traffic as unnecessary radio traffic could prevent a life-saving radio transmission. Place the entire facility on lockdown.

Command should determine if anyone not involved needs to be evacuated and then take the following actions:

  • Establish an inner/outer perimeter
  • Deploy more officers where needed
  • Designate a scribe as for any crime scene
  • Maintain all perimeters and inmate control
  • Notify outlying agencies
  • Set up a command center.

Immediate notifications

Notifications of the incident should be made to:

  • Local sheriff and/or police department
  • Your agency’s chain of command
  • SWAT commander
  • Crisis negotiation team
  • Emergency medical response
  • Any other divisions or agencies your emergency plans require for critical incidents.

When making a 9-1-1 call from jail or prison

Agencies should have 9-1-1 instruction cards posted in control rooms and supervisors’ offices. Issuing laminated cards to front-line staff is also a good idea.

When making a call, remain as calm as possible. Give the 9-1-1 dispatcher your name, rank and agency, then report the hostage situation. Provide 9-1-1 with location information such as South County Jail, long hallway dorms G&H. Provide all the details you can and answer all questions as best you can. Advise you will have a greeting party for sheriff’s deputies, police officers and EMS ready at the front entrance of jail or prison ready to escort them in.

Hostage situations require each of us to remain as calm as possible. Look, listen and think before making any decisions. Of course, in our line of work, we are doing all these tasks quickly because that is what we do to save lives.

One suggestion I have is for all agencies to have a reference manual for critical incidents made up for all members of your agency to use as a study guide and for “quick reference.”

Gary York, author of “Corruption Behind Bars” and “Inside The Inner Circle,” served in the United States Army from 1978 to 1987 and was honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant from the Military Police Corps. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gary York completed the 7th Army Non-Commissioned Officers Leadership Academy with a 96.6% in the Train to Train method of instruction. Gary received the Army Commendation Medal and Soldier of the Quarter Award while serving. Gary was a Military Police shift supervisor for five years.

Gary then began a career with the Department of Corrections as a correctional officer. Gary was promoted to probation officer, senior probation officer and senior prison inspector where for the next 12 years he conducted criminal, civil and administrative investigations in many state prisons. Gary was also assigned to the Inspector General Drug Interdiction Team conducting searches of staff and visitors entering the prisons for contraband during weekend prison visitation. Gary also received the Correctional Probation Officer Leadership Award for the Region V, Tampa, Florida, Correctional Probation and he won the Outstanding Merit Award for leadership in the Region V Correctional Officer awards Tampa, Florida.