• Tactical Squad

    If you ask them, Pacific Grove police officers count themselves pretty lucky to be working in a community like ours, where violent crime is low and the citizens are, for the most part, law-abiding. But, as Chief Darius Engles points out, it didn’t just happen that way. “We have to remain diligent, we have to remain on patrol,” he says, to keep Pacific Grove what it is. “The evidence of a good police department is the absence of crime,” he quotes.
    Pacific Grove police officers, despite being understaffed, respond to 15,000 events per year. That’s one every 40 minutes, 24 hours per day, and one or two officers are required on each call. Calls range from “white collar” crimes such as the recent case of embezzling at McDonald’s restaurant to domestic disturbances to the rare, more violent crimes. “We tend to deny we’re at risk,” says Engles, because we live where we do.
    But we are at risk, and every Pacific Grove police officer knows it, according to Engles, who points out that Pacific Grove is not the safest community on the Monterey Peninsula, though it is certainly not the most dangerous.
    As a community, Pacific Grove has yet to experience what so many other communities have: The mall shooting, the hostage-taking, the crazed gunman at a party type of crime where a tactical team – a S.W.A.T. team – is vital. Pacific Grove has already experienced cases of suspects who were ready to kill themselves.
    More than 10 years ago, Pacific Grove had a tactical team, and Chief Engles was on it. Carmel had one as well, and Cdr. John Nyunt was on that one. But in light of research and reports at the time which pointed out the need for more extensive, professional training for such teams, both departments – and many others – disbanded their tactical teams and returned to reliance on the Monterey County Sheriffs Department for tactical support.
    But in recent years, money has been made available through Homeland Security at the national level, and a group of local police chiefs has begun to take advantage of the grant money to gain training for their officers. In August, 2007 the Peninsula Chiefs submitted a request for Homeland Security Funds to the GAA (Grant Approval Authority) in the amount of $140,000. The funds will help establish the regional Monterey Peninsula team and provide for equipment and training for the individual officers.
    The ongoing cost of the team will be different for each agency depending how many officers are assigned to the team, according to their memorandum. The cost to each agency will be far less than maintaining their own team and the anticipated cost of training and call-outs does not exceed the existing adopted budget for FY 07/08, according to Engles.
    The team will consist of up to 31 members, including commanders, from the participating police and fire agencies. The managing body will be established by a Memorandum of Understanding and will select team commanders and supervisors. Peninsula police chiefs will oversee the command of the team and establish a strict SWAT deployment criterion.
    The loosely-knit but dynamic “chiefs’ group” has existed for a number of years among Monterey Peninsula chiefs from the cities of Carmel, Pacific Grove, Del Rey Oaks,
    Monterey, Sand City, Seaside, Marina, and from California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB).
    They have often met to exchange information on an informal basis. “We all touch each others’ borders, we’re all contiguous eventually, and it makes a lot of sense,” says Engles, who points out that the “chiefs’ group” existed before he became Pacific Grove’s Chief of Police.
    The anticipated proposal will be the Pacific Grove Police Department’s participation in the Monterey Peninsula Regional Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT), Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) team and the Tactical Medicine (TM) team. Pacific Grove might provide two officers, Carmel might provide one or two, and so on. Funding for the training, and hopefully the team itself, will come from Homeland Security grants as well as local sources.
    “If departments had all the money in the world, they would simply develop their own teams. Because it’s not easy to put together regional teams. All of a sudden, you have eight city managers and eight attorneys and eight risk managers and eight chiefs of police. And to say ‘we’re all going to do it this way,’ it takes a lot of work. But the chief’s groups has done a good job, and I think we’re close to reaching an understanding and developing a regional team.
    “It is a cost-saving measure, and we are getting outside funds that we couldn’t get on our own,” says Engles. “. . . I would say this is the most cost-effective way, and it is Peninsula-smart. We are not being isolated, we are reaching out and grabbing the hands of our brothers and sisters.”
    According to Engles, the Monterey Peninsula Police Chiefs would have management and control of the regional team. “The guidelines and protocols will adhere to the California Attorney General’s guidelines as set forth in the 2002 Commission on Special Weapons and Tactics Final Report, and the 2005 Operational Guidelines and Standardized Training Recommendations as establish by P.O.S.T. (Peace Officers Standards and Training) in 2005,” he quotes. “The Chiefs will act as a steering committee and therefore give more latitude and control of the team. For example, the team may be deployed for high-risk warrant service, a deployment that the Sheriff’s Department may not oblige.
    The regional team would support the sheriffs department and vice-versa, but the thinly-stretched sheriff’s department would not necessarily be a part of the team. “The time element in SWAT deployment is a critical component of safety for the public and for patrol officers on the perimeter of a critical incident,” he points out. “The formation of a Monterey Peninsula regional SWAT/TM team would allow for the rapid deployment of a SWAT team into the cities of the Peninsula for a critical incident such as an active shooter, armed and barricaded suspect, or a hostage situation,” says Engles.
    Engles says some of the risk managers said they would be creating liability by forming the tactical group. But it is his confirmed opinion that, should they not form the group, the liability would be even greater. “Because we’re going to respond to [the event] anyway. It’s those unforeseeable, uncontrollable incidents that you know someday are going to occur, and you want to prepare for them.”
    The chiefs’ group is working on a model to take to their respective city councils whereby they would share regional resources. “We might also be looking at the model for traffic issues, drug enforcement issues and other investigations issues because our borders all touch,” says Engles.
    As the team is still in the formative stages, each department is doing the training independently, using the Homeland Security grant. Pacific Grove has assigned two officers to the school. One is a hostage commander and the other is a tactical commander. Cdr. Tom Uretsky is Engles’ choice for hostage commander, while Cdr. John Nyunt has already attended the training as tactical commander. The course involved resource planning, logistics, actual action plan for an operation, field tactics, equipment usage, and overall command and control of an event.
    “When I was on the old team I was an operator which was the officer being used in the plan, i.e. entry team for rescue or active shooter. This class [the recent one] involved more planning, the global vision needed to be a commander in charge of the incident,” says Nyunt.
    His partners in charge of the SWAT Command are Lt. Earl Lawson (California State University Monterey Bay Police) and Cdr. Chris Veloz (Seaside PD). The overall commander for the SWAT Team is Deputy Chief Mick Vernon (Seaside PD)
    “What this brings to PG is the opportunity to be involved in the combined effort to take on problems which affect all of our communities,” says Nyunt. “We will be better prepared because the utilization of resources is shared amongst the departments. This not only includes manpower and equipment. Experience and institutional knowledge is shared making us more professional and efficient in handling crisis situations.”
    The chiefs also point out that when a high-risk event occurs, it typically absorbs all available personnel. A specialized team of officers from cooperating agencies would ease the staffing needs of the affected jurisdiction and allow them to continue to provide normal police service at the same time.
    “We can’t say for sure that we’re not going to have this big incident and that’s what you count on us for – you count on us to be ready,” says Engles.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 2, 2009

    Topics: Front PG News


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