Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Ten things the Philippines bus siege police got wrong
A security analyst who has worked in counter-terrorism with the British Army and Scotland Yard, Charles Shoebridge, says the officers involved in Manila's bus siege showed great courage - but they were not properly trained or equipped for the task.
Here are 10 areas where, in his view, they could have done better.
The first officers who tried to storm the bus were driven out by gunshots from the hostage taker, former policeman Rolando Mendoza. "They showed great courage to go on board. It's very crowded, just one aisle down the middle of the bus. But once you get on board it's not unexpected you are going to be fired at. Squads like this have to be made up of very special people, specially trained and selected for their characteristics of courage, determination and aggression. In this case they acted as 99% of the population would have, which was to turn round and get out. They didn't seem to have the necessary determination and aggression to follow the attack through."
2. Lack of equipment
The police spent a long time smashing the windows of the bus, whereas explosive charges (known as frame charges) would have knocked in windows and doors instantly. "They had no ladders to get through the windows. They smashed the windows but didn't know what to do next," Mr Shoebridge says. "They almost looked like a group of vandals." Their firearms were also inappropriate - some had pistols, some had assault rifles. Ideally they would have carried a short submachine gun, suitable for use in confined spaces.
3. Lost opportunity to disarm the gunman
There were numerous opportunities to restrain the gunman, Mr Shoebridge believes. "The negotiators were so close to him, and he had his weapon hanging down by his side. He could have been disabled without having to kill him."
4. Lost opportunity to shoot the gunman
The video of the drama also shows there were occasions when the gunman was standing alone, during the course of the day, and could have been shot by a sharpshooter. "You are dealing with an unpredictable and irrational individual. The rule should be that if in the course of negotiations an opportunity arises to end the situation decisively, it should be taken," Mr Shoebridge says. Either this possibility did not occur to the officers in charge, he adds, or they considered it and decided to carry on talking.
5. Satisfying the gunman's demands
"I wondered why the authorities just didn't give in to all of his demands," says Charles Shoebridge. "A promise extracted under force is not a promise that you are required to honour. Nobody wants to give in to the demands of terrorists, but in a situation like this, which did not involve a terrorist group, or release of prisoners, they could have just accepted his demands. He could be reinstated in the police - and then be immediately put in prison for life for hostage taking." The Philippines authorities did in fact give in to the gunman's demands, but too little, too late. One message promised to review his case, while he wanted it formally dismissed. A second message reinstating him as a police offer only arrived after the shooting had started.
6. Televised proceedings
The gunman was able to follow events on television, revealing to him everything that was going on around him. This was a "crucial defect in the police handling", Mr Shoebridge says. He adds that police should always consider putting a barrier or screen around the area, to shield the scene from the cameras and keep the hostage taker in the dark.
7. No element of surprise
It was clear to the gunman what the police were doing at all times, not only because the whole incident was televised, but also because they moved "laboriously slowly", Mr Shoebridge says. The police did not distract him, so were unable to exploit the "crucial element of surprise".
8. Safeguarding the public
This boy, a bystander, was hit by a stray bullet
At least one bystander was shot, possibly because the public was allowed too close. The bullet from an M16 rifle, as carried by the gunman, can travel for about a mile, so preventing any risk of injury would have been difficult, Mr Shoebridge says, but a lot more could have been done. "When you saw the camera view from above, it was clear there was little command and control of the public on the ground," he says.
9. Using the gunman's brother to negotiate
Relatives and close friends can be a double-edged sword, Mr Shoebridge says. While they may have leverage over the hostage taker, what they are saying cannot be easily controlled. In this case, the gunman's brother was included in the negotiations - however, at a certain stage he became agitated and police started to remove him from the scene. The gunman saw this on television, and became agitated himself. According to one report he fired a warning shot.
10. Insufficient training
In some parts of the Philippines, such as Mindanao, hostage taking is not an uncommon occurrence, so the country has some forces that are well trained in the necessary tactics. The detachment involved in Monday's incident clearly was not, says Mr Shoebridge. After smashing the windows, one of the officers eventually put some CS gas inside, though "to what effect was not clear" he says. A unit involved in this work, needs to be "trained again and again, repeatedly practising precisely this kind of scenario," he says.