Hemet-Murrieta Police Regional SWAT – formed in 1996 – one of oldest in CA
All photos courtesy of Hemet PD and Murrieta PD.
The Hemet-Murrieta Police Regional Special Operations Unit recently conducted joint operations at an undisclosed location in the city of Hemet, according to a brief release from Hemet PD. The combined operation occurred on April 7.
“The Hemet-Murrieta SOU began operating together in 1996. So our joint team is one of the oldest in the state,” Hemet Police Chief David Brown explained.
The purpose of the SOU is to maintain a team of highly trained officers who are prepared and equipped to resolve critical incidents that go beyond the scope of normal police operations.
Commonly referred to as a SWAT team, the SOU’s primary objective is to save lives and protect citizens, by quickly resolving critical incidents with decisiveness and precision. The newly formed combined teams will utilize an existing variety of specialized tools, weapons, and team-based tactics, co-developed by the two cities.
This combined team “trains twice a month, 10 hours each training session and they’re really good at some specialized skills, so they are a little bit above and beyond what a regular patrol officer can handle. So it’s necessary to have such a team” according to Murrieta Police Lieutenant Tony Conrad.
Specialized tools are an essential part of SOU/SWAT operations
The SOU has many specialized tools. One such tool is the Ranger, is a small Doppler radar device that can access through building walls and tell officers whether somebody is inside breathing and if they’re moving around. It can also give officers a better idea of how many people are inside the property. The Ranger can give officers a lot of intel before they actually make entry or even while officers are searching inside a building.
“In addition to the Ranger, we use robotics a lot, according to Conrad. “So we like to get a lot of practice using the robot to go through and actually look into rooms and areas, Kind of to soften up the target a little bit before we actually put live people in there.”
Combining the two city’s teams saves money, enhances training
“In light of the tragic San Bernardino IRC (Inland Regional Center) terrorist attacks, Hemet & Murrieta citizens are fortunate to have this highly trained unit available for immediate response,” according to the press release from Hemet PD.
“We have an excellent relationship with Murrieta PD and we have combined our resources and experiences of over 20 years to better serve our communities. Our regional approach to OSU/SWAT was one of the first of its kind in California and has proven to be a very cost-effective model.”
By combining training, equipment, staff and the combined knowledge of the two departments, the two cities have reportedly already saved thousands of dollars. Their hope is to be able to not only save money, but to provide rapid SWAT response to incidents occurring in both cities.
“There is no doubt our patrol officers have phenomenal equipment and great training. They handle 99% of the problems that occur between the two cities,” Conrad said. “But from time to time, you are going to need to get a search warrant service that needs to be completed and you’re going into an environment that require specialized training. That’s what these guys have. Whether it’s their ballistic vests, the marksmanship they have, some of the specialized training and skills they have, we also deploy gas, we use our K9’s in a tactical environment, obviously we have armor.”
Echoing Conrad’s statements, the Hemet Police Department wrote that it’s SOU members use specialized weaponry, surveillance devices and other equipment that go well beyond standard-issue police gear. They are equipped with specialized firearms, armored tactical rescue vehicles, door-breaching equipment, riot control agents, less lethal options and specialized K-9 teams. They also utilize heavier body armor from their patrol counterparts, as well as ballistic shields, entry tools and tactical robots.”
“The Hemet police department has a Lenco Bearcat Armored Vehicle, which is common; you’ll see it all over the place.” “Murrieta PD, obtained their armored tactical rescue vehicle through the DRMO (Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office) process,” Conrad explained. “This process is basically a way that we get federal equipment that’s no longer being used by the military.”
“We pulled this piece of armor and retrofitted it for SWAT/city use, so they’re both armored. One is just a piece of equipment that you generally don’t see and that’s our armored rescue vehicle,” according to Conrad.
“It’s a over 20 feet long and weighs about 23,000 pounds. It’s really not intended to transport people from point A to point B, it’s really intended to be a large piece of steel out in front of a problem, in case somebody has a high-powered rifle. It’s a place we can put a team, get them close into a problem and have them protected behind armor.”
A rigorous selection process for a demanding job
SOU team members are selected from the ranks of the two separate departments and serve on their city’s SOU as a collateral duty, in addition to their regular assignments. Team members must stay in excellent physical condition and must demonstrate superior marksmanship.
Being a member of either department’s SOU is an assignment above and beyond the regular assignments held by all team members. While assigned to the SOU, officers, corporals, sergeants and paramedic/firefighters assigned to the team continue to work their primary assignments in patrol, K-9, detective bureau, traffic division and local fire stations.
Prospective SOU members undergo a rigorous selection process, with emphasis placed not only tactics but physical fitness, which are both stressed to ensure an officer will be able to withstand the rigors of dangerous and highly volatile tactical operations.
“Applicants are required to pass stringent physical fitness and agility evaluations, marksmanship qualifications and teamwork assessments along with scenario and oral testing to ensure they are not only fit enough but also psychologically suited for tactical operations,” according to a Murrieta Police official. “After an officer has been selected, the potential member must attend and pass a SWAT academy in order to make them a fully qualified SWAT operator.”
The importance of maintaining a well-trained team
for major emergencies and crisis’ is essential
“We have a tactical unit, which was first formed in 1995. We work with the City of Hemet Police Department. Between to two cities, we pool our resources…and we have about 30 operators, including four tactical medics that are with the unit,” Conrad explained in an interview posted to Murrieta Police Department’s webpage.
“We pretty much handle all the tactical problems that occur within the city of Hemet and the city of Murrieta. We also are a big part of the (Riverside County Sheriff’s) tactical group, Conrad explained.
“We meet with the county’s (Emergency Services Team) about once a month and there are times they will ask for Mutual Aid, where they ask our tactical team to come out and help with a larger problem throughout the county.”
Specially trained firefighters and paramedics are an integral part of the SOU/SWAT
“The city of Murrieta has four tactical medics assigned to our team. We actually took four fire department personnel that are medics, we gave them specialized training and we actually attach them to the team, according to Conrad.
“Those are the folks we rely on to deliver life-saving services, pretty much immediately. For example, if we are serving a search warrant, they’ll be close by in case a citizen or officer goes down, they’ll be the person that comes in and delivers that service.”
“Most of the two department’s medics come from combat military deployments, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. “Obviously, we know that we need to have a tactical medic in the field. Some of our medics have done it with the military for years,” Conrad said.
“Minutes tick away and it’s absolutely critical to somebody’s health and well-being. So if they’ve been injured or they’ve been shot, that immediate life-saving attention pretty much can save their life, until we can get them to a hospital.”
Tactical armored vehicles play an integral roll in SOU/SWAT operations
The two department’s armored vehicles can also rescue injured citizens. “We know, from what we have seen all over the country, people do have sniper rifles,” according to Conrad “We have hills all around Murrieta (and Hemet,) so we’ll use that piece of equipment if we needed to, to rescue children and citizens with it. We can also rescue (injured or pinned down) officers with it.”
“It depends on where they’re at and some of the factors involved in the situation, but the reality is, if we had an officer go down and they were injured or pinned down somewhere, we could get that armor from the station, which is in central Murrieta to pretty much anywhere in southwest Riverside County in about 15 to 20 minutes,” Conrad explained. “It’s always ready to go. We would start it up, move it to the location, meet with the incident commander there, ask what they needed and get in there and rescue the person. So it can be done quickly. If it’s within our city, the city of Murrieta, we can be there literally in ten minutes.”
Continued, regular training is essential
SOU team members train twice a month for ten hours each training session. “POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training – by the State of California) mandates that we train on certain topics. So we do a lot of building entry (training,) we do a lot of surrounding and call out training, we practice our search warrant scenarios and we work with our K9’s.”
Todays training just happens to be that we’re working on large building searching techniques, with a large team,” Conrad said. “Sometimes we’ll go in with a five or ten person team and the dynamics change if you have 25 different operators and multiple team leaders. A building like this, with 200 plus thousand square feet is very unique.”
At some point we may be tasked, especially in the city of Murrieta on the south end of the city, we have large buildings the team may be tasked with going in and searching for somebody and it’s very different from searching a residence; so we get some repetition on a building like this and we do it at least once a year.”
Training as a dedicated team from the two departments vital
Regarding a recent combined training operation, Conrad explained. “When you have to go into a shopping mall or let’s say a big-box store, like a Wal-Mart or a Best Buy, we may have to separate the team into three or four different search elements with team leaders assigned and they all have to work together. So that’s what we are working on today. ”
“(These teams) have a lot of pride and I’m fortunate to be the (Murrieta Police) lieutenant on this team. These guys very close, they train hard, they’re in great physical condition” according to Conrad.
“Every training day we get out, we get a lot of physical conditioning in the morning and then we meet as a team, Conrad continued. “Many times we’ll go over Power Points and talk about what we are going to train on for the day. Then we’ll get a good six to seven hours training scenario in and that will be the end of our day.”
“I have a lot of pride with this team. I live in this community. I know a lot of (our officers) do as well and if this team was called upon to handle almost any problem in southwest Riverside County, I have no doubt this team could handle it and do it very well and likely save people’s lives if they needed to,” Conrad said.
SOU assisted by a highly-trained Hostage Negotiations Team
The SOU is enhanced by a highly trained Hostage Negotiation Team, which responds with SOU team members to a variety of crisis situations, as needed. Using a variety of state of the art communications gear and techniques, it is the job of HNT crisis negotiators to help bring about a peaceful resolution to all critical or crisis situations; preferably with little or no injuries to those involved.
Although the two cities have not faced many recent hostage crisis’, the HNT is often called upon in cases of barricaded suspects who refuse to surrender, suicidal subjects who may have weapons, and other potentially dangerous and potentially violent conflicts.
HNT members use skills learned in training courses to communicate with the barricaded suspects and/or hostage takers, working to help resolve the situation without violence. Team members’ duties include serving high risk search and arrest warrants, performing hostage rescues, subduing barricaded suspects and engaging heavily-armed criminals.
Community interest and support is essential
“There are a lot of people who are very interested in what we do. There’s a couple different things we do to show the community what our team’s all about,” Conrad said. “Number one, you’ll see us out at SWAT demos quite a bit. We do it at the local schools, generally elementary schools during Red Ribbon Week. We’ll send a team out there with two or three operators and we have an EZ-Up and we will pass out information and let the kids come up and look at the armor and whatnot. We do that also at city events, where you’ll see a lot of SWAT demos at Town Center Park.”
Now that the two departments have combined their once separate specialized teams, the newly combined Hemet-Murrieta Police Regional Special Operations Unit hopes to be better able to serve the citizens of both cities, whom they are sworn to protect.
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