• January 28, 2015

Killeen Police Department Tactical Response Unit ready to respond in times of crisis

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Sunday, August 24, 2008 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:01 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

When a gun-wielding man hijacked a HOP bus on Aug. 14, the finest of Killeen's finest made saving lives their mission.

More than 20 members of the Killeen Police Department Tactical Response Unit including the Special Weapons and Tactics Team and negotiators were on-scene near Vive Les Arts at 12:05 p.m. trying to coax two suspects to surrender.

For more than 30 minutes, the suspect's accomplice shouted orders to negotiator Ryan McAtee.

'Is anybody injured?" McAtee asked.

"Doesn't look like it. We're all just hanging out," the accomplice said. "Is that against the law? Have I done something wrong? I paid my 25 cents."

The entry-react and perimeters teams protected McAtee with a shield and cover, while he repeatedly asked the suspect to abandon the bus. Officers crouched beside the Peacekeeper, KPD's armored vehicle, which sat about 20 feet to the right of the bus. They aimed their guns at the accomplice and the shooter, who paced up and the down the bus's aisle.

McAtee asked for the suspects' demands and for the hostages to be released. The accomplice told the officers to get rid of the Peacekeeper because it was scaring the hostages.

"I'm not a bad guy. I don't need to see no police getting hurt today," the accomplice shouted to McAtee.

Moments later, the entry team slid from the rear to the front of the bus as the negotiator kept talking.

When the gunman moved to the driver's seat, the entry team rushed in one by one, tackled the gunman, secured the unarmed accomplice and cleared the bus.

'Where failure is NOT an option'

Forget about failure. The motto worn on the backs of S.W.A.T. officers reminds them that even a mistake can cost lives.

A need to be perfect drives officers to train repeatedly to memorize their movements, refine their strategies and analyze each choice.

Aug. 14 was just another training day. No hostages were trapped on a bus. S.W.A.T. officers Jason Petty and Miguel Mirabel acted as the suspects.

For the S.W.A.T. team, the training felt real because the officers cannot afford to train half-heartedly. On this training day, they learned the ins and outs of local buses for the day when a bus needs to be assaulted to save lives. Each repetition rushing inside the bus tells their muscles to remember how to move and where to aim their guns if their minds forget when a gun is pointed at them.

"We train for the worst-case scenario. We train for complete chaos, and we do it over and over and over again until we can do it in our sleep," explosive breacher and entry team member Dallas Jennings said.

Officers practice every other Thursday and spend weeks out of town at conventions and training seminars. At those seminars, officers become better educated about anything from breaching doors with explosives to the principles of ballistics.

They exchange stories with other teams across the state about techniques that work and those that don't. They cannot afford to repeat another team's mistake.

Jennings followed a lifelong calling and joined KPD in 2001. He worked before

as a business manager with no prior law enforcement or military experience, somewhat of a rarity for KPD. He joined the S.W.A.T. team to be the best officer he could be and more than a traffic enforcement officer. The desire to be the best officer is a common refrain from S.W.A.T. team officers.

When all else fails

The Army helped traffic enforcement officer Steve Kirk mature, but it did not prepare him for S.W.A.T.

When his pager buzzes at 3 a.m., he leaves his wife and children and rushes to a scene uncertain whether he will see his wife again. He arrives on scene, receives an intelligence briefing and then instructs the marksmen team, which he captains, on where to hide to see but not be seen. His snipers' eyes watch the backs of the entry and perimeter teams. They report any movement inside the house to those teams so they have no surprises.

"We're the eyes and ears with the scopes. We can sometime see things they can't, even though they're right up front, but they're hiding

behind cover," Kirk said.

The hope is negotiators can use words to make sure nobody is harmed. If that fails, the entry team prepares to move in, with the perimeter team hidden behind them, making sure nobody can enter or escape the contained area.

The marksmen hide approximately 50 feet away.

If an entry is too dangerous, the marksmen may be called upon to shoot. When a marksman has to fire, all alternatives are erased. A bullet is the last resort.

Kirk has never fired his weapons at a scene, but a suspect has fired at him.

A man was held up in an apartment complex with a duct-taped and handcuffed hostage on Fourth Street a few years ago. Jennings was outside the front window with the entry team. They were trying to throw a cell phone inside so a negotiator could speak with the suspect. When they went to break the glass, the suspect fired a .45-caliber pistol and missed Jennings. The bullet whizzed by Kirk, who was a few dozen feet away behind some trees.

That was the first time Kirk was shot at. One time was too many.

A 24/7/365 part-time job

S.W.A.T. officers are on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Being on the 23-member S.W.A.T. team is more than the requirements of serving two years with KPD and passing oral, physical fitness and weapons exams. An officer must be a team player. The demand of constant teamwork means a lone-ranger or renegade puts the team in jeopardy, team commander Lt. Michael Click said.

The team environment contrasts with the self-reliance officers need when patrolling the streets. S.W.A.T. officers must care about themselves, but put the team first for the objective to be completed, a rare quality that makes filling vacant spots a challenge, Click said.

Officers describe the close relationship formed on S.W.A.T. as a brotherhood, where they support each other whether they have the black vest on or not.

Killeen S.W.A.T. is a part-time team, which means officers works other jobs within the department. S.W.A.T. handles situations primed for violence such as high-risk arrest and search warrants.

"S.W.A.T. is a special breed," Jennings said. "We need someone capable of making split-second decisions quicker than split-second."

Since 9/11, the S.W.A.T. team performs the added task of protecting prominent public figures. When former President Bill Clinton visited Feb. 23, the Secret Service called on S.W.A.T. for additional support.

S.W.A.T. also works special details, such as Operation: Blue Canopy. The team patrols high-crime areas in Killeen, such as downtown, and creates a strong presence by interacting with residents, making arrests and issuing citations. The S.W.A.T. team then pulls out and high-density patrols step up to maintain a safer environment.

Click has been with the S.W.A.T. team since its inception in 1984 when it had 12 officers and was aided by five negotiators. Now S.W.A.T. has 23 officers and is aided by nine negotiators.

When the officers break for lunch and joke like old friends about their wives, Click will sit alone under a tree, replaying scenarios in his mind until he figures out where the peacemaker should be situated to keep the officers out of the gunman's line of fire, but to keep him within the officers' sights.

There was no 3 a.m. page for help on Aug. 14. It was just another hot day training in heavy vests readying themselves. The only danger played out was imagined in their minds and that is the way they hope to keep it because when the guns are loaded and the suspects are not roles being played, anything can happen.

"To us it's just another day. To someone else it may be an exotic story," Jennings said.

Contact Victor O'Brien at vobrien@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468.

S.W.A.T. Team Breakdown

Entry Team

Team size: 7 officers and 3 medics. Medics fill in for both the entry and perimeter teams.

Gear: Load-bearing vests designed to carry extra ammo, breaching tools, diversionary devices and a gas mask. They also wear bullet-proof helmets.

Weapons: A Sig .40-caliber pistol and a M4 semiautomatic rifle.

Role: To move up close on an objective and be prepared to move in and take down a suspect if negotiations fail.

Perimeter Team

Team size: 7 officers

Gear: Load-bearing vests designed to carry extra ammo, breaching tools, diversionary devices and a gas mask. They also wear bullet-proof helmets.

Weapons: A Sig .40-caliber pistol and a M4 semiautomatic rifle.

Role: To assist the entry team where needed and establish a controlled, safe area around the perimeter of an objective, be it a home or a bus.

Marksmen Team

Team size: 5 officers

Gear: A mobile vest for transporting high-powered scopes

Weapons: A .308-caliber bolt-action long rifle and a Sig .40-caliber pistol

Role: To keep a 360-degree view of an objective to make sure the entry and perimeter teams encounter no surprises should they need to enter.

In the rare situation that negotiations fail, snipers may be called upon to fire upon a suspect.

Negotiators

Team size: 9 officers. Negotiators are part of the Tactical Response Unit, which the S.W.A.T. team falls under. They are not part of the S.W.A.T. team.

Role: To listen to the suspects and negotiate a safe solution to a given situation.

PEACEKEEPER

The Peacekeeper is a bullet-proof, armored car with four-wheel-drive functionality. The vehicle allows officers to move close to an objective without compromising personal safety. The shell is constructed from a 1970s model armored car purchased from the military and the chassis is a 2004 Dodge Ram.

– Herald staff reports

More about

More about

More about

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.