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Police practice emergency skills

January 15, 2001

Police practice emergency skills



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photos: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

SRT drill

Above: Members of the Washington County Specia Response Team prepare to enter te Washington Coutny Circuit Courthouse Monday during a mock drill involving a hostage situation.

Tactical team

Above: Members of the Washington County Special Response Team prepare to enter the Washington County Circuit Courthouse Monday during a mock hostage situation.

Crowded inside the briefing room at Hagerstown City Police station, 18 members of the Washington County Special Response Team were updated on a mock hostage incident at Washington County Circuit Courthouse Monday afternoon.

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Special Response Team (SRT) Commander Capt. Charles Summers said two relatives of a fictional convicted murderer seized the building during the man's sentencing and had taken hostages.

It was the SRT's job to see that the "hostages" involved in the training exercise got out safely, he said.

The incident wasn't real but SRT members treated it as if it were in order to hone their skills for emergencies, Summers said.

Made up of city police and Washington County Sheriff's deputies, the SRT conducts training exercises several times a year.

The SRT was created three years ago to make the most of city and county resources during emergencies, according to Summers.

Last year, the SRT was involved in more than 11 hostage or barricade incidents, many of them the result of domestic disputes, lost jobs or personal problems.

For Monday's drill, the team was split into three tactical groups that entered and secured the building. Meanwhile, a negotiating team tried to reach the "hostage-takers" by phone.

Inside the SRT command vehicle, Summers directed the movements of the tactical team and received information from the negotiating team by Hagerstown City Police Detective Gary Spielman.

The tactical team entered the building from a lower level and checked every room and hallway until they located the hostage-takers at the top of a second-story landing.

Officers moved in, blocking off all exits from the upper floor.

"We want to limit their ability to move around," said Summers.

The tactical team whispered through microphones attached to their headgear. Each officer carried as many as 66 rounds of ammunition and a few had bulletproof shields and mirrors used to see around corners.

With officers in place, negotiator Hagerstown Police Lt. Jack Hall contacted the hostage-takers, trying to find out their demands and convince them to give themselves up.

"We try to get a dialogue going and find a solution," said Hall.

Another officer acted as Hall's "coach," offering him advice on what to say and information about the hostage-takers.

Four hours after it started the staged incident ended with a show of force.

Tactical officers "shot" both role-playing suspects with blanks after they refused to cooperate and threatened to kill hostages.

Hostage or barricade situations are draining on a police department since they can last for hours and provide logistical challenges, Hall said.

Once the SRT gets a handle on the situation its members aren't in any hurry, he said.

"The longer it goes on the more likely rational thought will sink in, and if not, fatigue will sink in," he said. Either one can bring an incident to a conclusion, he said.

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