PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

October 11, 2006

Experience shows SWAT’s effectiveness

Kent Conwell column

Kent Conwell

If I should ever be taken hostage, I cross my heart and hope to die that I’d want the Beaumont SWAT team to come after me after the impressive exhibition I witnessed out at Ford Park a few weeks back.

Actually, I witnessed it as one of the hostages.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last year, I had the enjoyable and educational opportunity to attend the Citizen’s Police Academy sponsored by the Beaumont Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Port Arthur Police Department, and the Lamar Institute of Technology.

The 13-week class was held at the Jefferson County Jail Complex on U.S. 69.

Upon completion of the class, I joined the Alumni Association and volunteered to serve in whatever capacity any of the agencies needed.

Around the first of September, I received a call asking if I was interested in volunteering for a SWAT drill? Jeez! Would Wiley Coyote like to catch the roadrunner? You bet, I replied.

So, on a Wednesday, we gathered at Ford Park. Two other CPA volunteers were there, Mike and Frank, and yours truly.

Now one aspect of the academy and its association with the law enforcement agencies is the constant revelation of our local agencies’ capabilities as well as knowledge of some of the hidden challenges our officers face on a daily basis.

When the exercise coordinators oriented us, they explained that four Hispanic males, deserters from the Mexican military and police agencies, were slipping across the border, hitting banks and other money institutions, then sneaking back across the border before we could touch them.

Now, the truth is, I’m pretty naïve about that sort of thing. I looked at my buddies, Mike and Frank, and said. “Is that true?” They nodded, and the look on their faces told me I was some dummy fresh from the East Texas piney forest. 

Of course, being a simulation, we weren’t bound or held in isolation as would have occurred in the real situation, but the truth is, it was kind of chilling when I heard our captors shout on the throw phone, ‘Two minutes, or we’ll kill them.”

I don’t know about Mike or Frank, but the grin on my face wavered a time or two when I tried to imagine how it must feel for any pool soul caught up in a hostage situation.

Inside the building, things seemed to be moving slowly, but Mike assured me that as time passed, events would begin to accelerate.

From time to time, they would cuff one of us, tie a rope about us, and send us out the door to shout their demands. The exercise coordinator threw the SWAT team a curve when he had the Hispanic leader speak only Spanish.

But that didn’t stop the SWAT team.

Finally, one of the bad guys threw a poncho over me and one over him, and forced me out the door and into the driver’s seat of a waiting automobile. We didn’t get far because the SWAT team took out the car with a bullet in the engine. (not really)

We were about 40 yards from the building, so the bad guy held a gun on me and forced me to stand in front of him as he took a one-in-a-million chance to reach safety. He didn’t; they got him and made me lie on the ground. After frisking me and realizing I wasn’t a bad guy, they hurried me to safety, then returned to their siege.

The bad guys killed another hostage as a show of bravado, and when that happened, the SWAT team attacked, breaching the building and killing the remaining bad guys. Mike, the third hostage, heard the SWAT team coming through the back and escaped before the bad guy could dust him.

The whole exercise took about four hours, and the last thirty minutes was the icing on the cake. The unit critiqued itself. I was stunned to hear the detail to which each unit within the team went in such a simulated exercise, even to the point calling in a helicopter just case the bad guys reached the highway.

Each man and woman on that team knew exactly what to do. Their decisions were sound and rational based up the situation at any given moment.

Impressive.

I hope it never happens to me, but if it does, those are the professionals I want.

 Kent Conwell of Port Neches is an author and an educator. He can be reached at conwel@ih2000.net.