‘Prepared for any kind of disaster’ " Grand County, Colorado
Grand County, Colorado
Granby residents may have been shocked to see several police officers in black combat helmets and bulletproof vests with drawn firearms storming into the Panthers Den youth center on First Street last Friday morning.
While it looked deadly serious, it was actually the culmination of a week of training by officers from the Granby, Fraser-Winter Park and Kremmling police departments.
They were being trained in SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) techniques.
Emerging from the Panthers Den with three “suspects” in tow, Sgt. Jim Kraker of the Granby Police, who was the assault team leader for the raid on the house, said the operation went well.
“The good guys won this one,” he said. “In this scenario, the building was a drug house where we had to serve a felony warrant. One of the wanted suspects was known to be armed and violent. In the course this exercise, we had to shoot that suspect when he attempted to fire a gun at us.”
The guns used during the SWAT training exercise fired only paint pellets. All of the “suspects” in the exercise wore protective vests and visors.
The three “suspects” apprehended during the raid were three Middle Park High School students who volunteered for the training.
“For this thing, I was a junkie asleep on the couch in the house’s front room,” said Heidi Gunter, a junior. “When the police rushed in, they yelled for me to stay on the couch and raise my hands. Then they took me into custody.”
Stephane Jerzyk, a French exchange student, played another suspect who was found in the building’s front room when the police charged in.
“I played another junkie,” he said. “The police came very quickly into the room and told us to put up our hands. They had their guns pointed at me and I cooperated.”
Aaron Trainor, a Middle Park High junior, played the part of the hardcore, violent drug offender who was armed. Located in a room at the rear of the building, he attempted to resist when the assault team tried to take him into custody.
“They came down the hallway yelling for me to put my hands up,” Trainor said. “I pulled out my gun, but I ended up shooting into the wall. They shot me.”
The accuracy of the assault team’s fire was evident from the splotches of paint across Trainor’s protective vest.
The police officers ran through a couple of different scenarios at the Panthers Den including one involving a hostage rescue. During the exercises, the assault team simulated using a specially designed battering ram and pry bar to gain entry through the building’s front door.
In another scenario, a police officer with a sniper rifle was positioned across the street in the second-story window of a house to provide covering fire for the assault team as it approached the house.
After completing training at the Panthers Den, the officers moved up to East Grand Middle School where they practiced moving in tight formations down the hallways with firearms at the ready as well as performing hostage rescue scenarios in the classrooms.
Last week’s training was under the supervision of Rob Cartner, director of training for the National Tactical Officers Association headquartered in Doylestown, Pa. A former Tulsa, Okla. police officer, he was a member of that city’s SWAT Team for 18 of his 25 years with its police force. He participated in over 500 SWAT operations during his career.
“It’s my job to prepare these officers to be able to handle any type of situation they may have to confront,” Cartner said. “And to do it as safely as possible for themselves as well as to protect the safety of the public.”
Participating in the 40 hours of SWAT training conducted Monday through Friday last week were 10 police officers, including:
Fraser-Winter Park Police ” Sgt. Dodd Jacobsen, Detective Amy Zacek Smith and Officers Travis Sneith, Ken Wright and Sean Curran
Granby Police ” Sgt. Jim Kraker and Officers Wayne Schafer, Dan Zacek Smith and Jose Sanchez.
Kremmling Police ” Officer Todd Willson.
The funds to pay for the SWAT training came out of the separate training budgets for the police departments. The local police chiefs said the allocation of the funds is more than justified.
“As law enforcement officers, we have a duty to be prepared to protect our citizens in any situation that may arise,” said Fraser-Winter Park Police Chief Glen Trainor. “To do that, we have to train and be prepared.”
Granby Police Chief William Housley agreed. “As recent history has shown, criminal situations requiring specially trained teams of officers to handle them can and do occur,” he said. “We need to be able to respond and do so quickly.”
Housley pointed to school shooting situations such as the Columbine High School massacre and the hostage-shooting situation at Platte Canyon High School in recent years. He said the SWAT training is also geared to handle situations such as armed robberies where suspects are cornered and take hostages.
“We all hope that things like this never happen here,” he said. “But we’ve got to be prepared to respond because doing so quickly can save lives.”
Housley and Trainor argued that trying to depend upon SWAT Teams from nearby counties such as Jefferson or Summit is not realistic. To get one of those teams to Grand County and prepared for action would take a minimum of 3-1/2 to four hours which could be too late.
Last week’s five days of training was a good basis for forming a cooperative SWAT Team between the three departments. They would also be prepared to cooperated with the Grand County Sheriff’s deputies in emergency situations.
“These 10 officers have had a solid week of training working together as a team,” Housley said. “We feel we need a specialty team like this here.”
Trainor agreed. “We have to be prepared for any kind of disaster,” he said. “We have to do our best to protect the public.”
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The Grand County Sheriff’s Office fielded 177 calls from Jan. 9-15 while dispatchers answered 487 calls for all first-responder agencies in the county.