SWAT members are frequently called out to high-risk situations to utilize a range of skill sets. From handgun and rifle training to search techniques, Anaheim Police Department’s elite group trains monthly for various scenarios.
At a recent training at Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s North Net Training Center with firefighters, one other important skill was honed: getting through the door – aka breaching.
“We spend a lot of time training on guns, but we use breaching tools far more often than we do a gun,” said Lt. Brian McElhaney, who’s been on APD’s SWAT for 20 years.
During the training, SWAT members participated during hands-on demonstrations led by AFR firefighters on the various tools and tricks used to gain entry into homes and buildings.
They practiced using the fire team’s Halligan bar to more efficiently wedge open the commercial door simulator used in the demonstration. SWAT members also practiced breaking padlocks with an axe, as well as getting through certain kinds of screen doors with a push-pull type technique rather than by using a tool.
“We like to work with fire getting experience using their tools that we don’t have,” said McElhaney.
He said this type of training with firefighters has undergone a huge evolution since when he first joined SWAT 20 years ago – a time when there was very little interaction with the fire department.
“The integration of law and fire is an ongoing process,” he said.
With these kinds of cross-training exercises, SWAT is discovering the advantages of learning from other expert teams.
“It works out quite well for us,” said APD SWAT member Lt. Jeff Hemerson.
At the training, SWAT members also worked with a circular saw to cut through a metal door, and used explosives to open an entry point – an effective timesaver in many cases.
The decision to call out SWAT usually rests with the watch commander and field sergeant in a given situation. SWAT often is used in cases of barricading when firearms are involved, in hostage situations and during the serving of high-risk search warrants. The full team may be called out, or for less serious cases, a smaller group – the Rapid Response Team – can be called for quicker deployments.
“Sometimes you get called out three times in a month and sometimes you don’t get called out for three months,” said Hemerson.
The last call APD SWAT had was for a carjacking suspect from Westminster who was pulled over by Anaheim Police on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The suspect fought with the officer, attemptedg to remove the officer’s gun from his holster and fled into a nearby neighborhood, said McElhaney. It took 16 hours and the assistance of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, but the suspect eventually surrendered. In the process, several locks were breached to get through neighborhood fences.
APD’s SWAT is an ancillary assignment, meaning members of the team are assigned to other departments like patrol, investigations, traffic enforcement, etc. as their primary assignment. Yet team members must be ready for anything at a moment’s notice for full deployment.
Training also can involve other teams, including the Joint Hazardous Assessment Team, a partnership between Huntington Beach, Irvine, Anaheim and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department SWATs, fire departments and the OC Sheriff’s Bomb Squad. They are called out in scenarios involving hazardous materials or explosives and criminal activity. APD SWAT also trains with the OC Sheriff’s Bomb Squad to practice explosive breaching, said McElhaney.
Another key component of training is moving around to different locations to mimic real-life scenarios as much as possible. For instance, Hemerson said, if they hear of a building set for demolition, they’ll try to arrange a training session at the site before demo so SWAT members can practice breaching and break down some real doors.
“Your training revolves around the location you get,” Hemerson said.
McElhaney said the public often has a misconception (thanks to TV) of what police work can involve – including breaking down doors. Whereas TV police officers will typically run into the door or kick the door while facing it, this would not work in real life.
“I’m here to tell you, kicking a door face-on like that …you’re either gonna destroy your knees or you ram your foot right into the door and you’re stuck,” he said. “God help you if you have to get into a commercial door that opens outward and you don’t have tools. You’re not getting in.”