Response Team trains for frontline
April 30, 2009 · Updated 3:12 PM
By Teresa Herriman, The Courier-Herald
Bonney Lake Police Chief Bryan Jeter had just landed in San Diego when his cellular phone rang. So much for vacations.
Jeter is the commander of the Metro Pierce Special Response Team (SRT). The team was activated to retrieve a homicidal suspect, wanted by the Tacoma police, who was barricaded in a hotel in Fife.
Area police departments call on the SRT when situations escalate beyond their resources.
"You don't want to put untrained officers in situations where you expect them to be tactical," Jeter said. "They just don't have he training."
The SRT, formally established in 1998, consists of officers from Buckley, Orting, Sumner, Milton, Fife, Dupont, Gig Harbor, Steilacoom and Bonney Lake. Puyallup has its own team, but often works with the Metro Pierce team on operations.
Jeter said the Metro Pierce and Puyallup teams are in the process of merging.
Lakewood has conceptually committed to providing a team leader and one team of 10 officers. Lakewood Chief Larry Saunders is also working on getting an armored vehicle, Jeter said.
Currently, all 22 SRT members are always on call. The optimum number, Jeter said, would be 26 to 30.
"We don't have the luxury yet of two teams," Jeter said. However, once Lakewood is on board, the Metro Pierce group should be large enough to split the duty, so team members can work one week on call with one week off.
Once Lakewood and Puyallup join, Jeter expects upward of 30 total team members.
The SRT averages eight to 12 "call-outs" a year and serve all of the incorporated areas of the participating agencies. Tacoma has its own SWAT team that covers the unincorporated areas of Pierce County. Each group serves as a backup for the other in the event of an extended situation.
"The bulk of our work is (serving) search warrants," Jeter said. The team serves warrants in the most dangerous situations - narcotics primarily - but is also called to apprehend barricaded suspects, fugitives and make high-risk arrests. They are the ones to call in hostage situations.
The genesis of the present SRT began in Bonney Lake, but the impetus was financial.
In 1998, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department began charging local agencies for calls.
"One call-out cost us $5,000. Generally we have one or two in our city a year," Jeter said.
At the time, Bonney Lake had a trained entry team. They formed the core group, developing curriculum, policies and certification requirements. The chiefs asked Jeter to put the team together.
"I had a lot of help," he insisted. Deputy Chief Jim Collyer in Puyallup and former chief Rodger Cool were instrumental. Buckley, Orting, Sumner, Steilacoom and Bonney Lake officers formed the first team.
"In addition, Ken McDonough and Marc McIlrath were largely responsible for the initial training and structure of the team while my job was to set up the administrative portion of the team and make it work within the structure of a team," Jeter said.
The original team members from Bonney Lake included Kurt Alfano, Dana Hubbard, Warren Layton, McDonogh, McIlrath, Kelly Moras, Dan Packer, Mike Strozyk and Jeter. Of that group, only Hubbard and Jeter remain. Packer is now Bonney Lake Fire Chief and Layton serves as his lieutenant. Brian Byerley and Ron Sasaki were also part of the original team, from Sumner and Orting, respectively.
Hubbard, one of only two female team members, began as a hostage negotiator, eventually working her way onto the entry team.
"Her skills are on par with the rest of the team," Jeter said. "There's nobody who outworks Dana."
Jeter serves as the Special Response Team commander, with overall command of the team. He works closely with Lt. Eric Hamry of Milton, who runs the team.
The team works in tandem with tactical medics provided by American Medical Response (AMR), a national medical transportation firm that provides ambulance service to the area.
Although they are specially trained as tactical medics, they do not carry weapons. A team of at least two medics accompanies every operation to provide emergency care to anyone injured during operations.
To become a member of the Special Response Team, candidates must have three years or more experience with an agency, pass a rigorous physical agility test, firearms proficiency test and an oral interview.
Once accepted, members complete a 50-hour SWAT-basic course. The cost of training and equipment is covered by the officer's agency. Additional funding is provided through narcotics asset seizures.
Members of the Special Response Team contribute 10 hours a month in addition to their regular work schedule. They will spend another five hours a month on SWAT training.
"It is a dynamic field and changes rapidly," Jeter said. Depending on the needs of the individual and the team, officers will attend SRT-sanctioned hostage rescue schools, forced entry schools or Sniper Week at facilities throughout the nation.
Last week, 30 members of the Metro SRT and Puyallup's Special Operations Group participated in a weeklong SWAT school. Each day featured classroom sessions and hands-on training for rifle and pistol assaults, nighttime shooting techniques and hostage negotiations. A full day was spent on covert searches, to locate bad guys hiding in buildings. The final day of training focused on dynamic entries, like the types used to serve high-risk search warrants or when officers must enter buildings to rescue hostages. Students studied issues ranging from target identification to threat assessment.
The sessions were led by instructors from the International Tactical Training Company, a Southern California elite tactical training outfit. Scott Reitz, a former member of the Las Angeles SWAT team, and John Dohle, a current member of Metro SWAT, teach tactics refined during real-world experiences.
Reitz said he draws on actual cases to teach students what to expect prior to, during and in the aftermath of using deadly force.
The special training serves several purposes. It is a cost-efficient way of providing advanced training, since no one agency bares the sole financial brunt of continuing education costs.
"Plus, it's nice to have these extra-trained bodies on the front line," Jeter said. Tactically trained officers on shift are a benefit to the community.
The extra training opportunities also provide an incentive to keep officers in smaller communities.
"I can't reiterate what a great program it is," Jeter said. "The level of cooperation is impressive."
Teresa Herriman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org