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Cover Story

SWAT's Small-Town Question

Many communities do not field tactical incident units. How prepared are you?

April 01, 1998  |  by Dale Stockton

Know Your Limitations

Rainbow City is a small community of less than 20,000 people, policed by a force of 19 officers. Only two or three cars are fielded per shift. Unlike many small towns, the department had a small tactical team, but the team was equipped only with handguns and shotguns. Training was limited and real- life tactical experiences were infrequent.

After this tragic incident, Rainbow City purchased H&K MP-5s and Colt AR- 15s. The department also provided training with the weapons and upgraded the capabilities of its tactical team.

Det. Entrekin feels strongly that line level officers should have the ability to properly respond. "Every department, regardless of size, should provide every officer working the streets with a rifle in the car," he said. Entrekin is a realist, though, and recognizes that sometimes situations can be tactically overwhelming. "There's not much you can do when you have a maniac with 100- round magazines," he said.

In nearby Gadsden, Ala., officers reflected on the Rainbow City shooting and questioned what they would do if a similar situation arose in their tow. Chase Jenkins, an officer with Gadsden PD, is a friend of Entrekin. He has seen the impact of this incident on the families and co-workers of those involved. It has motivated him to examine the need for tactical response ability in his own department. Unfortunately, Off. Jenkinds reports that the general attitude seems to be negative towards the idea of a tactical team. "A SWAT team is not viewed as citizen- friendly," said Jenkins. "We just don't have the ability to respond to something like this in Gadsden."


Should small towns have a SWAT team? Or is a SWAT team an unnecessary move towards militarization, as some critics claim? Police officers have long been the first lime of defense for society and, while overall violent crime is down, the number of barricaded and heavily armed subjects has been fairly consistent, by some accounts even growing.

When a town does not have a special- weapons team, options in a tactical situation are essentially limited to whatever the responding patrol officers can do. Perhaps due to the frequent and extensive publicity of incidents in small towns across the nation, many police managers are asking what they would do if faced with a similar situation

In Hancock County, Miss., Major Matt Karl is the commander of the Special Operations Division, a joint- agency, special- weapons team. About three years ago, he became concerned that the law enforcement agencies in his area did not have the ability to response properly to a tactical incident. "We would have to just wait it out," he said. Referring to an incident which took place prior to his team's formation, Major Karl said "it was a mess."

Karl took the initiative to contact managers in two small, adjacent agencies, the Waveland and Bay St. Louis police departments, and developed a plan for a multiagency teactical team. Three years later, the team consists of 25 officers who handle any situation beyond the capabilities of patrol officers. The unit even assisted an adjacent county which did not have a tactical team after a barricaded subject held the local police at bay for hours. The situation was resolved peacefully and the subject was taken into custody.

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