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|Area lawmen practice for hostage situation|
By Michael DeVault
The scenario reads like a law enforcement nightmare.
Two unknown gunmen have stormed a theater and taken hostages. Eight people are inside and their lives are in danger.
That was the situation placed before the Monroe Police Department's Special Response Team at Strauss Theatre Center on Wednesday.
MPD officers joined with representatives from the Morehouse-Bastrop combined SWAT team for an afternoon of training sessions aimed at honing officer response skills to hostage situations.
Capt. Hank Smith said the MPD special response team averages approximately 50 dispatches, or "call-outs" per year.
"Most of those are high-risk drug search warrants," said Smith, SRT tactical commander. "But we do have some hostage situations, hostage rescues, barricaded suspects, or mentally challenged individuals who may be off medications."
During the two-hour training exercise Wednesday afternoon, officers took turns as gunmen, hostages and rescuers.
As part of the training, officers acted as if the scenario was real and worked quickly to secure the theatre before determining which individuals were perpetrators and which were victims.
"Hands up. Hands up," officers yelled as they burst into the theater, training weapons drawn.
When one suspect produced a machine gun, officers moved quickly to respond and return fire. Officers then handcuffed all people — victims and perpetrators alike — before clearing the theatre.
The entire scenario lasted less than two minutes.
Following each two-to-four minute exercise, officers were debriefed by training officers to allow time for critiques, comments and questions.
Smith said these training sessions represent ideal scenarios but still provide officers with invaluable insights into hostage situations.
"In these scenarios time is on our side and we don't have to rush anything," Smith said. "We work very closely with the CIT teams — crisis intervention teams."
Crisis intervention teams respond to real-life scenarios along side the special response team.
Smith said he has trained with SWAT teams from around the country, but believed the Monroe team was among the best.
"That doesn't come naturally," Smith said. "We have to train, we train hard and often, to maintain that level of professionalism."
Smith said Wednesday's practice was just part of the 30-50 hours a month special response team members spend in training sessions.
"When the situation arises, no matter the situation, this group will be ready and will lead the way in neutralizing the threat," Smith said.
Smith added such events do not necessarily mean hostage situations.
Monroe's special response team assisted with responses to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, sent officers to Jena during the Jena Six march, and even provided protection for the president of the United States.
"We consider it more of an honor to serve on this team than a responsibility," Smith said. "Each of these guys volunteers."