County hosts SWAT team training
A local SWAT team will conduct drills in public buildings in Washington County next week, although the buildings will be closed to the public at the time of the drills.
Washington County is hosting a training program next week for about 10 law enforcement agencies in southeast Iowa. The training prepares officers for intense situations, such as dealing with an armed suspect and a roomful of hostages.
To simulate those real-life scenarios, the SWAT team trains in public buildings using weapons that fire paint cartridges called “simunitions.”
The simunitions are approximately the size of bullets but are soft and not designed to do any harm. They leave a trace amount of paint on the target they strike. Washington County Deputy Eric Weber said that is a huge improvement over how the SWAT team used to train for high-risk situations.
“Before that, we used to play scenarios where you came into the room and said, ‘Bang, you’re dead’ to the other person,” he said. “So you didn’t know if you did it correctly. With this technology, you get a little paint on you if you did something incorrectly. You see what you do right or wrong and can adjust according.”
The team will perform these drills in the former Washington Public Library, the bottom floor of which is unoccupied and used twice a month for city council meetings. Weber said the SWAT team will drill in the former library on a day the building is not being used by Washington County Public Health.
The SWAT team will train throughout the five floors of the Federation Bank building, but it will do this on a Saturday when its presence will not disrupt business. The team will also train at the Washington County Courthouse, again on a Saturday so as not to interrupt a normal workday.
The tactical team has been granted access to the West Chester Heritage Building for training purposes. During the workweek, the SWAT team will train at the Washington Community Theater.
Weber said the SWAT team may use the Hamakua Youth Shelter to train in in the morning since the shelter does not open until 3 p.m. Weber said the team will train in a few empty homes as well, mostly homes in the countryside within a few miles of Washington.
The SWAT team will engage in live-fire target practice at the shooting range at Clemmons Creek. The lead instructor of the course is Steve Claggett of Dallas, Texas, where he worked with a SWAT team for over 25 years. He has requested Washington County supply a few junk cars to the range so the SWAT team can practice firing into a vehicle.
“Sometimes they’ll teach us ways to approach a vehicle or ways to break out windows or breach out the doors,” Weber said. “Or if you do have to shoot in or out of the vehicle, it teaches you what your rounds will do. It’s interesting to see what live rounds do to a vehicle.”
When the officers are not training in a building or at the range, they will be receiving instruction in classes taught at the National Guard Readiness Center in Washington. There are two classes, each lasting three days. The first, from Jan. 14-16, is basic training for officers who are new to the SWAT team. The second class is from Jan. 17-19 and is for experienced officers with experience in the SWAT team.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington Police Department will each send six officers to attend these classes. A total of 48 officers from southeast Iowa will attend the training.
Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator Larry Smith said an $18,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security is paying for the training. He applied for a $36,000 grant, which would have paid for two classes, both of which were five days in length, but that request was turned down.
Smith said that the amount of federal funding for SWAT training has gone up considerably since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He said in the early years after 9/11, the newly created Department of Homeland Security supplied local governments with money for equipment.
In recent years, Homeland Security has shifted its focus away from equipment purchases and toward personnel training, such as next week’s SWAT team program.