MIDLOTHIAN — Each time the Southern Regional Response Group is deployed on a call their team’s motto, “Servo Vita,” or preserve life, is factored into every decision that is made.
This regional SWAT team is comprised of law enforcement officers from the Dallas and Ellis Counties.
“Carl Smith, who is our chief now, was the assistant chief at the DeSoto Police Department. He came up with the idea of getting all of these area cities to join to form a mutual-aid agreement. They based it on what they did on the fireside called the Ellis-Dallas Unified Cooperative Team,” Midlothian Police Department Capt. John Spann said. Spann also noted the EDUCT who share resources and equipment.
“They molded this after EDUCT and used the same bylaws and everything, but got these cities together to have a fully functioning special response team," Spann continued. "In 2004 is when it all got started. We didn’t go operational with the special response team and the crisis negotiating team until 2008 when all the paperwork had been done and it actually became a functioning unit.”
The cities that make up the team include the Midlothian, Red Oak, Ovilla, DeSoto, Lancaster, Glenn Heights, Cedar Hill, Seagoville and Highland Park Police Departments. The team is funded through a combination of grants and financial contributions made by each participating city. The SRRG responds to calls, when needed, in each of the contributing cities.
According to the DeSoto Police Department’s website, the mission of the Southern Regional Response Group is to provide the department with a dedicated highly organized and a specially trained unit that can respond to and resolve a crisis situation.
SPECIAL RESPONSE TEAM
The SRRG is made up of two components that include the special response team and the crisis negotiation team. Both components work hand-in-hand so a safe outcome can be achieved on each call. Team members are highly trained and go through 260 hours of selection and initial training. Those hours are in addition to the 40 hours of basic special weapons and tactics school they have to go through, as well.
The team can be deployed for such calls as an active shooter in a school, serving high-risk felony warrants, a barricaded subject or a hostage situation. Each member of the special response team has a unique role to play. Some of the team’s operators have specialized knowledge on items such as non-lethal munitions, while others have medical training.
“Highland Park, for example, their department is a department of public safety, so all of their officers are trained in firefighting and as paramedics. A couple of those are guys are on the team and they are medics,” Spann said. “They go in with the entry team. So if anybody, be it the suspect or the officers, get hurt they can get immediate treatment by a paramedic. So that is nice to have that on the team.”
Spann said the SRT operators go through 20 hours of training twice a month to remain sharp and proficient. The special response team is made up of about 30 operators but not are all operators available to respond to calls all the time.
Operators serving on the team as serve in different roles at their department such as patrol officers. Due to their department’s resources like available personal they might not be able to answer a call. Operators’ also carry all of their equipment with them so they can respond to a scene if called upon.
Response time depending on location ranges from 20-45 minutes.
CRISIS NEGOTIATIONS TEAM
The crisis negotiations team is made up of five negotiators. These officers go through additional background and physiological testing to ensure that they are able to handle the different situations they might face in the field. The negotiators go through an eight-hour training each month.
“In all the training, they teach you to establish a rapport with that person. Let them know whatever,” Spann said. “I tell you what is going to happen. You don’t ever promise anything that you can’t deliver on. With the exception of like 'I want a helicopter and a million dollars,' and they even know that is something that we can’t do. It is all about (building) rapport.”
Spann said when there is not a hostage involved it works in the favor of the team and talking is the best option. He added if there is no chance that the person is going to harm himself or herself or anyone else there is no reason to escalate the situation by sending operators in. That could cause a person to think, “This is the end” and put up a fight, Spann said.
When the SRRG arrives on a call, they are briefed about the situation at the command post before. At the scene, a perimeter is established. A large military surpluses vehicle called Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected, also known as an MRAP, is used by the team and positioned near the front door of the residence to provide protection for the operators and provide an intimidating presence.
“When we get there, they will usually go ahead and breach the front door and that team pulls back. Then one of the negotiators either through the PA system on the MRAP or we have got a portable speaker system that is set up by the front door,” Spann said. “Usually we get on the loudspeaker and we announce ourselves 'this is the police, I need everybody at 110 Main St. to come to the front door with your hand up and follow the instructions of the officers.' There are usually officers staged at either side of the door.”
Spann said — on the calls that he has been on with the team — there have been a few times where operators have had to go in to bring the subject out but all have ended peacefully.
Spann said he has served as a negotiator on the team for the past year and a half. The calls he has experienced have involved asking a person to come out of their residence safely and not any type of two-way interaction.
“This last year, we had an average of 30 to 35 times we were called out. That is about average. It comes and goes. Just like yesterday, we were on standby to go to Seagoville for a situation over there,” Spann said. “When we are on standby we get prepped up with whatever we need and get ready to go. Then we get called off. We have had a couple of those.”
Spann said in any city that the SRRG responds to for a call that the local police department directs the incident deciding on what actions to be taken. However, the commander of the SRRG team makes all of the tactical decisions.
Spann said grants have paid for equipment like tactical vests and gas masks, but operators have to purchase their own weapons. Larger items, such as the MRAP or up-armored Humvees, used by the team have been acquired through the Defense Logistics Agency’s 1033 program.
According to the DLA’s website, the law enforcement support office facilitates a law enforcement support program, which originated from the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1997. This law allows the transfer of excess Department of Defense property, which might otherwise be destroyed, to law enforcement agencies across the United States and its territories. No equipment is purchased for distribution. All items were excess, which had been turned in by military units or had been held as part of reserve stocks until no longer needed.
“Since its inception, the program has transferred more than $6 billion worth of property. In 2014, $980 million worth of property (based on initial acquisition cost) was transferred to law enforcement agencies,” the website stated. “Requisitions cover the gamut of items used by America’s military — clothing and office supplies, tools and rescue equipment, vehicles, rifles and others small arms. Of all the excess equipment provided through the program, only five percent are weapons and less than one percent are tactical vehicles. More than 8,000 law enforcement agencies have enrolled in the program.”
REGIONAL SWAT CONCEPT
The Southern Regional Response group is not the only group of law enforcement organizations that have pooled their resources together to serve their communities.
According to the City of Leander website, Leander along with the cities of Georgetown, Cedar Park Police and Fire Departments and with tactical medics from Williamson County EMS make up the Central Texas Regional SWAT team.
“The chiefs of police and fire from these cities realized the importance of a collaborative effort to create a competent and proficient tactical team including well-trained negotiators and tactical medics,” the City of Leander website states. “With the growing demands for tactical response in all three of the rapidly growing cities, the joining of resources into a single, fully functional tactical team benefits each department and the communities they protect and serve.”
Another area SWAT team is the North Tarrant Regional SWAT team. According to the City of Roanoke’s Facebook Page, the team is made up of the cities of Roanoke, Keller, Southlake and Colleyville. The SWAT team can consist of up to 25 operators and also includes a medical doctor as a part of it.
Spann said there have been a few agencies that have come from out of state to take a look and see how SRRG operates.
“The national tactical officers association and the Texas Tactical officers association have had evaluators come to the Southern Regional Response Group to evaluate the team’s unique model,” Spann said. “I think that it is becoming more common now but when they started this whole idea back in 2004 it was relatively new.“
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