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Reporting on standoff situations

One of the toughest breaking news stories for a news reporter to face are standoff situations like the one we saw tonight in Granger. 

I have been on the scene of dozens of standoffs and although the plot is typically very similar, the challenges are often very different. 

The obvious goal in a standoff is to make sure that everyone comes out alive -- the person that is barricaded, any hostages- if there are any, neighbors, police and media. It is often very difficult to get real-time information, good video, and good pictures in a standoff event. We are typically kept at a great distance from where the standoff is taking place for our own safety. Cops are good about briefing us, but we also understand the pressure they are under in these situations, especially if the suspect has a weapon. 

In April, I was on the scene of a barricaded gunman in South Bend -- the young man in his 20's let both of his women hostages go and after the course of about an hour stepped outside, raised the gun to his head and shot himself in front of all of us. That image is burned in my memory; it was horrific to witness. 

These standoff events typically end very quickly, but some are drawn out for hours and hours, like we saw tonight. In most cases, they can be wrapped up in an hour or two.  It is rare to see a situation like these unfold for several hours. Tonight proved that they can be very unpredictable (for the full story on the standoff in Granger click here).

Another problem that comes up is in live reporting. Officers really don't want us to be live during a standoff event, and will often ask us not to be or to change our camera angles so if the suspect is watching he isn't able to see the tactical efforts being made outside. In extreme cases, like tonight, they will actually cut power to the home to disable them from any outside information. 

There were a lot of questions tonight on our ABC 57 Facebook page about why it took so long. Many were posting that they should have just gased him or had the SWAT team rush inside. You have to think it only takes 1/2 a second to pull the trigger of a gun. If you have a person that is unstable and highly upset and easily agitated, rushing inside or setting off a flash bang can cause that person to get startled and maybe make a poor decision like taking their life. These negations are a delicate dance -- of all communication, the wrong thing said or done can mean life or death, the last thing you want to be is rushed!

The standoff tonight in Granger with Corwin Brown of course gained a lot of attention because of who Mr. Brown is. With his local ties in the state of Michigan and Indiana from U of M, the Detroit Lions, and Notre Dame. This standoff we would have covered the same way regardless of who was barricaded inside. 

It was quite an effort tonight by our area police officers, emergency personnel, and SWAT team. 

Let our thoughts be with the Brown family as they work through such a difficult time. 

I hope this blog was able to offer some insight on what we have to deal with when working in these high stress breaking news situations. Job well done to Tony Spehar and Jaclyn Kelley on their reporting tonight.

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