Dangers lurk in many corners for those in law enforcement

Apr 07, 2017

Incidents such as the one that unfolded near Main Street in Waynesville Tuesday are a stark reminder of the dangers law enforcement officers encounter on a daily basis.

Around noon, a 9-1-1 call came in from a man who indicated he had barricaded himself into his apartment and that he had a gun.

After patrol officers responded, it was determined the Special Response Team (SRT) should be mobilized and the entire area, including a section of North Main and Howell streets, should be evacuated, and traffic should be diverted. Officers took every step to ensure those in homes and businesses in the immediate area were warned and their doors were locked, knowing they could be in the line of fire at any given moment.

Almost immediately, rumors began to fly around town as to the nature of the situation, including suggestions of a bank robbery or even a hostage situation. Neither of those were true, though law enforcement communications indicated responders believed it was a hostage situation at the time.

The crisis did unfold near BB&T bank in the home of the suspect’s girlfriend, but information about a robbery and the girlfriend’s role was never reported by this newspaper because it couldn’t be confirmed.

Although officers had spoken with the individual at times, there were a lot of unknowns. At one point, plans were being made to storm the apartment, but there were concerns about dangers to the hostage officers believed to be inside.

The man had emerged from his apartment multiple times throughout the ordeal, but each time talks with negotiators and SRT officers broke down. Finally, after about two-and-a-half hours, as officers were preparing to use force to enter the apartment, the man presented himself on the front porch, and in a brief moment where he was distracted, an officer rushed in and tackled him.

In the end, there was no hostage, and the individual did not have a gun when he was tackled. There were no injuries to either the man or the officers.

No arrest was made after it was determined the incident was related to mental health concerns, and no charges were brought against the man. That the crisis was averted is a blessing to all involved. Because of the proximity to downtown, the incident was a very public reminder of all that could have gone wrong.

While the events that unfolded should serve as a reminder that those who protect us go above and beyond, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Just a few months ago, down in Florida at the SWAT Roundup, the Waynesville SRT was named the top national SWAT team, beating out large departments such as the Houston Police Department, one of the biggest in the country. And the rest of the personnel on the scene Tuesday mirrored the SRT officers’ professionalism.

“Your city and its citizens should be extremely proud of your police department and its SWAT team,” said Michael B. Weatherby, SWAT Round-up Committee Chairman and former Orange County, Florida SWAT Team Commander in an email following the SWAT Round-up. “In a world filled with uncertainties, your community should sleep well knowing that they are protected by such a dedicated and highly trained team.”

Luckily such situations don’t occur nearly as often in Haywood as they do in urban areas, but those who listen to scanners know they are not uncommon. The uncertainty of what could happen when things go wrong should be enough to prompt all to thank an officer for his or her service — even if the encounter is one that may lead to a fine.