Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - December 2, 2011

SWAT teams from Pleasanton and Livermore merge

'We are all very competitive individuals'

by Glenn Wohltmann

It's one thing to go breaking in doors or serving a warrant on a high-risk suspect with a team of officers you know and trust guarding your back.

It's another thing to do it with strangers, but that's what Pleasanton's SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) team has been doing with its counterpart from Livermore.

It's part of a plan to save both cities money and stay on top of industry standards, which, according to Pleasanton police Officer Larry Cox, was becoming difficult because of the personnel costs involved in maintaining teams in both Pleasanton and Livermore. The two teams worked together from time to time in the past but officially merged over the summer to form the East County Tactical Team.

"When we began working together we worked in two separate teams. Since June of 2011 we officially became one team and the teams are completely integrated," said Cox, a member of the joint team. " We have been working really hard, on and off-duty, to get to know each other on a professional and personal level. We have been able to meet each other's families and learned the strengths and weaknesses of each other. Trust is huge in SWAT and I believe every team member, regardless of Pleasanton or Livermore, has each other's backs."

It seems to be working. During recent required twice-a-year physical training qualifications, there was little competition between the teams, and it was difficult for an outsider to tell who was on which team. Some of the members themselves are fiercely competitive, though. During one exercise, for example, when a team member asked how many pull-ups a colleague was doing, he replied, "One more than you."

Cox said that goes with the territory.

"We are all very competitive individuals. We are constantly competing with one another," Cox said. "Competition makes us better and I believe brings us closer together as a team."

He said the joint team has one obvious advantage: 21 members as opposed to 10 or 11.

"The hardest part is that because we work for two different police departments, it is sometimes hard to communicate and keep everyone in the loop," he added.

While police in general have to maintain certain standards in physical fitness and shooting, for example, the SWAT teams take it to a higher level.

They have to run a mile in full SWAT gear -- including vest, helmet and an unloaded rifle -- which weighs in at 40 pounds or more, in less than 12 minutes.

"Our fastest time was in the six-minute range and our slowest was in nine minutes," Cox said.

They have to complete a 60-yard dash with a 40-pound battering ram and full gear in less than 15 seconds. Cox said all members made it in less than 12 seconds.

SWAT officers must do a 30-yard low-crawl wearing full SWAT gear including a department issued gas mask, within 60 seconds. The elbows and knees must touch the ground at all times. All team members finished in under 25 seconds.

They also have to climb over a 6-foot fence, unassisted, within 10 seconds wearing full SWAT gear. Team members completed the wall climb in less than five seconds.

Pull-ups and dips may be difficult at a gym; SWAT officers have to do both wearing full gear. Members completed at least five pull-ups and as many as 18, and all did at least 10 dips.

They must also practice rescuing a downed officer, dragging him 20 yards while both are wearing full gear, in 40 seconds or less.

"Most of our team members use a carrying strap and quickly drag the heaviest member. We have found this to be the most effective technique in moving a downed-officer," Cox said.

All team members are required to pass the test twice a year.

The tests are random and team members do not know when we are going to do the test. That way it keeps all of our team members working out and constantly staying ready," Cox said.

The East County Tactical Team is made up of three separate units: the SWAT Team, Sniper Team and Crisis Negotiations Team.

"Although we are three separate units we work together to solve critical incidents. The SWAT team is responsible for containment and crisis entry, the Sniper Team does over watch, covers the SWAT Team and intelligence gathering and the Crisis Negotiations Team is trained in verbal communication and is primarily responsible for communicating and attempting to coming to a peaceful resolution of any situation," Cox said.

The team also has dispatchers who respond to a call and handle communications directly between the officers without disrupting normal operations.

Now, the merged team is hoping for an armored vehicle. The team currently uses a 1980s-era transport van and unmarked police cars to transport SWAT officers.

Cox pointed to an October shooting spree in Cupertino that left three dead and seven others with gunshot wounds to the head.

"In order to be able to send SWAT officer to go in and rescue downed citizens (and) downed officers -- that's happening more and more -- that's one of the main reasons we need an armored vehicle," he explained. "The nearest one is in the county. They usually have theirs in San Leandro or Union City. By the time you get a driver, it would be upwards of an hour."

The East County team recently competed in Bay Area Urban Shield competitions, a 50-hour preparedness exercise for SWAT teams and other responders, including firefighters, Hazmat teams, EMS and bomb squads.

The local team may be new, but it came in at sixth place in a contest that drew teams from across the bay area as well as an FBI team and a team from Israel.

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