Chief says SWAT team understaffed for 5 years

10/23/2007
BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Navarre
Navarre
Toledo SWAT teams respond to standoffs and assist in executing drug search warrants.
Toledo SWAT teams respond to standoffs and assist in executing drug search warrants.

Toledo police Chief Mike Navarre said eliminating the day shift of a specialized team of officers trained to respond to crisis situations, such as school shootings, is not a risk to public safety.

In fact, he said the SWAT team hasn't been fully staffed during the day shift for at least the last five years.

The team has relied on calling officers in when they are needed - a tactic Chief Navarre said has worked in the past.

"In a perfect world, we would have a SWAT team available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said.

But with a decline in uniformed officers, the department had to make adjustments.

The proposed change, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, leaves the police department without a SWAT team from 4 a.m. to noon.

Four SWAT officers are assigned to the day shift now. At least seven are needed to make high-risk entries, the chief said. "We have relied on having to call extra people if a need arises for a SWAT entry team," Chief Navarre said. "This is nothing new."

Some worry that not having the specialized unit readily available if a crisis situation arises before noon puts residents and police officers at risk.

When not called for a specific crisis, the SWAT team's daily duties include executing drug search warrants or participating in searches for high-priority suspects, Chief Navarre said.

But Chief Navarre said police training and the philosophy surrounding school shootings has changed throughout the nation since the tragedy at Columbine High School outside Denver nearly a decade ago. Police there waited for the SWAT team to arrive before going into the school while two students killed 12 fellow students and then themselves - a decision that was highly criticized.

As recently as last year, Toledo police officers responding to a school shooting also likely would have waited to go inside until SWAT officers arrived.

They are now trained to go inside the building and quickly apprehend a gunman in an effort to reduce the number of casualties, Chief Navarre said.

All 669 of the Toledo police department's uniformed officers received eight hours of Quick Action Deployment training earlier this year, a strategy developed by the North America SWAT Training Association to respond to shooters and terrorists.

The first three to four officers on the scene - whether patrol officers or detectives - group together, each with an assigned position, and enter the building to find the gunman, Deputy Chief Derrick Diggs said.

SWAT officers also would be called. "The whole idea is that when the call goes out that there is an active shooter in a school. We don't wait around for SWAT," Chief Diggs said. "We can't afford to wait."

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, said he agrees that police shouldn't wait to act until a SWAT team arrives if a gunman is inside a school.

However, he disagrees with sending in those who are first to arrive at the scene.

Mr. Wagner said because patrol officers aren't equipped with the same weapons or protective gear as SWAT officers, they are at greater risk to be injured or even killed.

"It's downright deadly," Mr. Wagner said. "The [QUAD] training is setting up officers to be slaughtered."

Contact Laren Weber at:

lweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.