Police know danger can defeat the best planning

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Despite the best preparation, intelligence gathering and execution, serving an arrest warrant -- especially on a felony -- is an unpredictable event.

"The big unknown on any type of arrest warrant is the exact reaction you're going to get from the person you're going to arrest," said retired FBI agent and criminology professor Larry Likar. "Luck is a factor."

That's why it would have been impossible for the 12 law enforcement officers who showed up at the house in Indiana Township Wednesday morning to know that one of them was about to be fatally wounded while trying to arrest Robert Korbe on drug charges.

Sometimes, Mr. Likar said, everything can go according to plan and still turn out horribly wrong.

That's what happened Wednesday, when Special Agent Samuel Hicks was shot and killed moments after he and other officers broke down the door of Mr. Korbe's house. Mr. Korbe's wife, Christina Korbe, has been charged with homicide.

"The ability to predict future violence from somebody is incredibly difficult, if not impossible," Mr. Likar said. "I think the way they handled that arrest was quite standard."

As part of a 32-defendant round-up, 200 law enforcement officers from various local, state and federal agencies fanned out early Wednesday morning.

As is typical in trying to dismantle large-scale drug operations, officers go out early in the morning hoping to surprise their targets.

Standard procedure, said Mr. Likar, who teaches at La Roche College, is to execute the warrant at first light.

"You want to be visible as a police officer," he said. "You don't want people to mistake you for a burglar in the neighborhood."

An advantage for the police, he continued, is that suspects are usually less hostile in the morning -- maybe they're groggy or just more relaxed.

Further, Mr. Likar continued, you're more likely to find the criminal element home at that time of the day.

But a raid is a dangerous proposition at any time of the day, and even more so if drugs are involved, said Paul McCauley, a criminology professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

"It's almost a guarantee if you're going to go after drugs, you're going to find guns. And if there are guns, you should expect someone could pull the trigger," Mr. McCauley said.

That's why so much planning goes into the process of organizing simultaneous arrests in a multiple defendant case.

"You try to collect intelligence for these raids to figure out who's there," Mr. McCauley said. "I would think it's highly unlikely a guy's wife would shoot at them.

"But when you walk in that door, everyone's a potential assailant."

As part of standard procedure following a shooting, the FBI will send in a team from headquarters to do an independent review of the incident, Mr. Likar said.

The team, which would likely consist of about 10 agents, would analyze the crime scene, look at ballistics and interview everyone involved.

"This will be a very complex review because it's a multi-agency investigation," Mr. Likar said.

The goal of the review is to ensure that the agents involved followed not only the law, but bureau policies and procedures as well.

The team likely won't finish the investigation for several weeks, said Mr. Likar, who in his career was involved with two such reviews.

In the meantime, he said officers at the incident with Agent Hicks will have to undergo counseling and will likely be given time off.

"The people who were in that scene, dragging him out, will be put on administrative leave," Mr. Likar said. "They're not going to have them go to work."

That's the case for at least two city detectives who worked the raid as well.

"That was devastating to them," said Pittsburgh police Sgt. John Fisher, their supervisor with the Weed & Seed task force. "They worked with him. They knew him."

Jerome Sherman contributed to this story. Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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