Officers compete in annual SWAT competition
From rescuing a downed officer by crawling through a water filled canal to saving a hostage, officers from the Waynesville Police Department put their skills to the test in an international competition last week.
It’s the fifth year Waynesville Police Department’s Special Response Team has participated in the SWAT Round-Up International, which is held in Orlando, Florida. Each year, the competition is stiff, with not only large departments from Texas and several across Florida, but also specialized teams from as far away as Sweden, Jamaica, Bosnia and Switzerland.
Challenging the teams as a unit, each competition event is ultimately training for real-life scenarios. Donning gas masks for a hostage rescue, traversing an obstacle course, shooting moving targets and rappelling down a tower are all examples of what the 10-person team faced during the five-day competition.
The Waynesville Police Department, which was the only North Carolina team in the competition, placed 24th — ahead of teams from Florida, Wisconsin, California and Brazil. This year’s first place team was the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.
And unlike other police departments that particated, Hollingsed said his officers work year-round having bake sales and other fundraisers to pay their way to the competition.
Although Police Chief Bill Hollingsed was pleased with the placing, he said the competition is less about coming out on top and more about what they learn while there.
“When you look at the teams we competed against from some very large agencies, we’re very, very happy with the results. Every year we do a little bit better, and that’s what we’re there for, to learn things from other agencies and make ourselves a better team,” said Hollingsed.
This year, he said the team brought back new shooting techniques, new ways to rescue downed officers and entry techniques for hostage situations.
Det. Tyler Trantham has participated in every competition, and says the team does intense training throughout the year to stay constantly in shape and prepared for any situation.
But being at the competition is a way to test their skills and their nerves that a gym doesn't provide.
"When you're there and training, our team always gels and we're closer as a team because we're relying on each other. This type of competition exposes you to a high stress, real-life situation that can't be duplicated otherwise," Trantham said.
In his opinion, there is not just one element of the competition that is difficult. It's the combination of physical fitness, shooting and being aware in an intense environment that is difficult, he said.
It's that test of mental and physical abilities that can be applied to a real-life situation.
Some of the scenarios in the event have taken place in small towns, not unlike those in Haywood County.
"To say these things can’t happen in Waynesville would be sticking our heads in the sand," said Hollingsed.
That's why they formed the team in the first place.
“We try to train and prepare for worst-case scenarios. Our philosophy is, we would much rather be prepared for everything and never need it, than the other way around. I just don’t want there to ever be a scenario here in Waynesville that we’re not prepared to handle,” said Hollingsed.
The special response team was most recently called in to help with what Hollingsed described as a high risk warrant arrest when an person barricaded himself inside his home. There have also been situations where people have held a family member hostage inside their home.
The team works closely with crisis negotiators, who attempt to find a peaceful resolution in all situations.
“In any scenario we have, we only feel like it’s successful if nobody is hurt. Our whole goal is to take someone into custody without having to use any kind of force,” he said.
Members of the current special response team include Master Officer Brandon Gilmore, Sgt. Tyler Trantham, Master Officer Heath Plemmons, Det. Rob Skiver, Officer Heath Pressley, Officer Paige Shell, Det. Brad Miller, Officer Sam Holland and Officer Zach Faulkenberry.
The team includes two crisis negotiators, Det. Scott Muse and Det. Keith Moore, to talk to suspects in hostage situations, and two intel officers, Det. Jeff Haynes and Lt. Chris Chandler, who collect background information on suspects for the team.