Can you tell me about our domestic armed security forces?
November 15, 2016 8:35 PM   Subscribe

This past weekend, I was involved in a lockdown in a public place in an upstate NY city, there were apparently shots fired indoors and we had to take cover in a small back room for hours while the police and other forces did their work. I'm still trying to process this event and my biggest questions are about the forces that secured the area and swept for the perps. Who are they and where did they come from?

For some reason, this is fascinating to me. Within a short time, the place was surrounded by cops and SWAT teams, helicopters and mobile emergency communication units. This was in Albany, NY. The incident turned out to be NDB, only in that it wasn't a mass shooting, wasn't political in a national or global way, but who knew at the time? Where are all of these armed forces living and spending their days? Are they city, state, federal, private forces? What combo?
posted by lakersfan1222 to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're in a state capital, so they've got a decent sized police force and can summon cops from nearby cities/counties. Albany PD has their own SWAT team. They also have command-center trucks and such, and those sit idle much of the time, the same way medevac helicopters do-- expensive, but vital. Odds are that most of the cops you saw were manning desks, out on patrol doing regular cop stuff, or possibly training or doing chickenshit like cleaning the command truck. They got a call about a shooting, and they activated a Shooting Plan, which probably starts by assuming a worst-cast scenario like an active shooter or a hostage situation, and then they re-prioritize all the cops in the city, and sometimes request help from nearby cities. The plan exists and sometimes they train on it; you can bet they have a similar plan for mass casualties (big fire, earthquake, plane crash), or mass demonstration, to try to prevent it from turning into violence.

When Albany's resources come up short, they would call in the NY State cops. Albany doesn't seem to have its own Bomb Disposal Unit, but the NY State Patrol does, so that's an example of a unit they'd call up.

Federal cops weren't likely involved unless they were in the area and self-dispatched to help out. The FBI has an office in Albany, and maybe some other Federal LEOs do too, but I doubt, for example, armed Postal agents rolled out for this one. Feds do have special regional resources for unusual attacks such as chemical/biological attacks, and of course NEST, the Nuclear Emergency Support Team, who'll turn up to deal with any briefcase nukes or dirty bombs that turn up. Feds also turn up for bombings, which trigger an anti-terror response.

Private forces? It's possible that the city is supplementing police forces with private, but I doubt it, and don't know who it would be if they did.

Where do they spend their days? Well, SWAT guys train all the time in a lot of cases; in others, they have some other police role in a regular uniform, one that gets dropped in an instant when their pager goes off,a nd then they put on the armor. Police have a lot of functionary positions, but when an emergency turns up, everybody can be called up because everyone has the training.

One other force that comes to mind is Department of Corrections. Not true in every state, but in NY, Corrections Officers are LEOs to some degree-- they qualify on guns but aren't really meant for law enforcement. But when a job, such as an area search, needs as many bodies as they can manage, I'd be willing to bet they would call Albany County Correctional or Green Correctional (NYSDOC) and ask them to start calling to see who's available (off shift) to turn out for a ard target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in the area.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:20 PM on November 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

This is fantastic, I think I've read it about ten times this morning. The SWAT website that you linked to is from Albany, OR, not Albany, NY, but that gives me a good idea about how to search for more info, and I was asking in general as well as specifically.

If anyone else wants to add info about other areas of the country and how the armed security and emergency forces are managed and deployed, please feel free.

(and, I see a typo in my question: I wrote NDB, which means nothing that I know of....I meant NBD as in "no big deal")
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:41 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sunburnt has a very comprehensive answer - my answer is a bit of a rural/smaller town perspective: Albany would be expected to have all of those resources in-house, and as Sunburnt says, other agencies come in if there is an issue of jurisdiction or additional resources (mutual aid) needed.

With some of the federal funding and military surplus issues that have come in the past 20 years or so, some smaller cities have a lot of firepower (I know this is a controversial issue, and I myself question some of the things they have. There is a town of less than 50,000 near me that has a tank. Seriously?). My own city of about 40,000 does have a small SWAT team that does high-risk arrests (the proverbial meth lab scenario), a dive team since we're by a river, etc.

But our state government has a lot more resources, and the smaller departments are highly encouraged to call for help. If you have a hostage crisis, you'd rather have a sniper who trains every day or so than one who trains once a week or once a month. Sometimes egos get in the way, but usually they bring in state.

I have a friend who is FBI, and they will come in, but they have to be invited, and that usually happens only if it's truly major. The FBI is more investigative than tactical; they don't really have armies of agents in Kevlar who can drop out of the sky in seconds like in the movies. In fact, the assistance often works the other way around; they investigate someone for a federal crime and involve local police in making the arrest if they anticipate trouble.

They generally get involved in longer term situations like multi-day hostage crises, major natural disasters (with a lot of crime potential), or extremely high risk lost/missing situations (as in, a person that was last seen with a known criminal taking them away, not "non-custodial dad picked them up from school")
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:25 AM on November 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oops, sorry on the mis-link. I also forgot to mention County cops; I'd assume Albany is the county seat of Albany County, and while city cops probably matter a lot more to Albany folks in the day-to-day, Albany Cty Sheriffs would also be around for trouble in the city, if needed.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:40 AM on November 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

The University at Albany Police Department may also have mutual aid agreements to support area public safety agencies, even off-campus.

For longer responses, states can request personnel/equipment from each other under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. That's been in the news recently because of ND's request for help with the Standing Rock pipeline protest.
posted by JackBurden at 11:10 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

The National Guard is also an option for really big deals, usually civil unrest. They are under the command of the governor* and they are a good supply of warm bodies when that's what's needed for a search, a blockade or other area denial, an emergency relief, evac support, etc. However, they take a bit longer to spin up, I'd imagine-- fine for a natural disaster that plays out over weeks, but lousy for, say, a police blockade that lasts part of an afternoon.

Nat'l Guard units from neighboring states can also be sent in, with the approval of their respective governos.

*Though Nat'l Guard can be seconded to the DoD during wartime, they can't be used in a domestic law enforcement role when they're part of the US military, so I'm referring here to units that're not called up for war.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:55 PM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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