Some Cops Just Can’t Keep a Secret

For incidents like the recent Midland City, Ala., hostage situation, our tactical bag of tricks doesn't need public exposure


Dave Grossi | Thursday, February 7, 2013

By now most people know about the Midland City, Ala., hostage incident, where 5-year-old Ethan was rescued and 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes died. In fact, most of you probably know more than you should about the incident.  

I admit that I followed the incident pretty closely, too. I have a few friends in the “Yellowhammer State” and have taught down in the Heart of Dixie a few times.

What really grabbed my attention was the scuttlebutt that followed after the entry was made and little Ethan was pulled to safety. I’m talking about the second-guessing by the print and electronic media on the tactics that led to the successful rescue and ultimate demise of Dykes. “How did they see that Dykes was armed?” “How did they know exactly where Dykes was in the bunker?” "How could they see in the bunker?”  

Both the FBI spokesperson Steve Richardson and Dale County, Ala., Sheriff Wally Olson handled the press queries perfectly. “It’s an on-going investigation” and “We’re not going to talk about the tactics we use.”

Great job, I said to myself. Dykes’ body hadn’t even been removed from the bunker yet. And as far as the ongoing investigation goes, most of us who’ve been in law enforcement for a few years know that there’s always the possibility of a civil suit being filed by Dykes’ survivors over the use of deadly force.

Then I made the mistake of reading some AP stories and listening to the national news reportage on the aftermath of the successful SWAT op. Sure enough, out popped the talking head subject matter experts, mostly retired feds and former hostage negotiators and tactics guys, who began to inform everyone about the capability of fiber optics cameras, where the most likely spot it would have been inserted, and how and where the distraction device was inserted. One even talked about the type of optics the SWAT cops weapons would have had. The most benign had to do with how the two explosive devices found on Dykes’ property would have been disarmed or disrupted.

I’ve had a little experience as a police spokesperson during my time as a uniform boss in upstate N.Y. and have had some training on the “fair trial, free press” guidelines. I know there are some things we have to disclose and some things we just shouldn’t disclose. Here are a few examples of some police trade secrets I’ve recently seen reported by “anonymous police sources that weren’t authorized to talk about the subject.”

  • The precise threat levels of certain police soft body armor;
  • Where and why distraction devices are inserted;
  • How far concealed wires worn by UC cops will go and where they are worn on the body;
  • and the most egregious I’ve seen: the methodologies used by long-term UC cops to infiltrate illegal drug, gang and/or gun operations or enterprises.

It just amazes me that retired officers and/or agents, who are seemingly intelligent and educated people, would run from a microphone of an inquiring reporter when they were on the job, but would knock down their own kids to get in front of a camera or microphone after retirement.  

Those of us LE professionals who have taken to writing as a side line, like the great authors and respectable columnists on Law Officer Magazine’s staff, will go to great pains to mask the identities and tactics employed by the police when we discuss actual incidents in our articles and stories. The reason is obvious: it's quite possible that our articles may fall into the hands of non-police people (i.e., lawyers, police posers, or in rare instances, ex-cops). But for some reason, the 10-second T.V. sound bite or brief newspaper quote is apparently just too irresistible for a few former folks who’ve worn the shirt.

If anyone recognizes themselves in this piece, I say to you: wise up. There are just some things we do to capture the bad guys that we must keep secret. Our tactical bag of tricks doesn't need public exposure.




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Dave GrossiDave Grossi, Law Officer's Tactics columnist, is a retired police lieutenant from upstate New York now residing in southwest Florida.

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