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Video review: Jail riot response training

A video of a New Mexico tactical team ending an inmate riot in a jail pod demonstrates key points to consider in a training plan

NM Jail riot.JPG

“Count time, count time. Everyone report to your cells for count! The sooner you’re in, the sooner you’re out!” This is something my partner, Detention Deputy McCall, and I used to say to the inmates when it was time for lockdown.

When we move inmates into their cells for a headcount, it can all seem routine. The truth is this can become a very dangerous and deadly situation at any given moment.

Inmates may refuse orders to return to their cells, become verbally belligerent and physically violent. They may begin destroying property or using issued items to assault correctional staff. This is why every day we must come to work mentally prepared for the worst, keep our head on a swivel and never become complacent.

In this video, we see a tactical team from a Sandoval County, New Mexico, jail ending an inmate riot in a jail pod. The inmates had refused to return to their cells, becoming disorderly, yelling and destroying government property. The tactical team is seen deploying a flashbang grenade into the pod and then moving in and taking control of the inmates. The detention staff did a great job responding to this incident. There were no correctional personnel injuries and everyone went home safe.

After watching the video, let’s review some safety and training considerations.

prison riot response Training plan

As I mentioned, all the personnel in this video did a great job and we can use this experience for training purposes. Always remember to train according to your agency’s policies and procedures and approved non-lethal and lethal tools.

Based on events in the video, we can outline a training plan:

  • Order inmates to return to their cells.
  • Inmates refuse and show signs of defiance.
  • Give verbal order again over the loudspeaker for inmates to return to cells and notify the supervisor. Many agencies have a policy that tells you which situations warrant immediately notifying a supervisor.
  • Inmates continue to show a bold resistance and disregard for authority.
  • Inmates begin to destroy property.
  • Do not rush into the danger zone, wait for back-up and a plan of action.
  • Have all your tools ready and available: Pepper ball gun, riot control pepper spray, TASER, flashbang, stun shield, riot gun with bean bags/rubber bullets, handcuffs and flex ties.
  • Prepare correctional emergency response team and follow team commanders’ orders.
  • Ensure riot safety gear is on and worn properly (protecting ourselves is the priority).
  • Identify leaders.
  • Deploy non-lethal means of choice on command.
  • Move in on command and take out the leaders and/or biggest threats.
  • Lockdown entire pod or dorm after all inmate threats are secured with restraints. (This can be done simultaneously as well.)
  • Separate leaders from the other inmates. (We used ISO cells.)
  • Remove all items from the area that can be used as weapons such as mops, brooms and other loose items.
  • Ask officers if anyone is injured.
  • Ensure any injured receive medical treatment.
  • Collect all evidence for outside charges.

Actions to take after the disturbance ends

After the dust settles, we must reset the tone of our daily operations and resume normal operations. To do that we should follow these steps:

  • Keep the problem dorm locked down for 48 hours with no privileges (option).
  • Write incident reports identifying inmates who assaulted staff, destroyed property and incited the riot/disturbance.
  • Maintain all evidence on a chain of custody form. Bag and tag properly.
  • Have jail detectives investigate and file appropriate charges with the state’s attorney’s office.
  • Check with all officers involved to ensure they have no physical injury or issues with what occurred during the incident.
  • Prepare information for the media.
  • Resume normal operations.

Conducting an incident debrief

Debriefing does not have to take place immediately after the incident. It is recommended to give your staff a mental break after a major incident and ask questions a day or two later. Why is it good to have a debriefing? Here are a few reasons:

  • Correctional leadership can gather valuable information from frontline officers to improve safety and security.
  • Enhances our development of staff communications with each other and middle management.
  • Facilitates teamwork in crisis situations.
  • We gain experience through strategic discussion and review.
  • It helps us develop better training and an understanding of what to look for in future incidents.
  • We can learn from answering the following questions: What was happening before the incident started? What happened during the incident? What happened after the incident? What can we learn from this incident going forward?
  • Finally, offer support to your personnel. The physical and mental well-being of correctional officers is the number one priority.
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.