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Members of the Northeast Oregon Regional SWAT Team undergo weapons training at their range south of La Grande, which is hosting the SWAT team as well as other special operations officers from the area for a weeklong training. (Kris Rasmussen / For The Observer)
La Grande playing host to first SWAT team school this week
Donning camouflage uniforms resembling military fatigues, officers from throughout Northeast Oregon are going to school this week.
La Grande is putting on its first basic SWAT school, hosting the Northeast Oregon Regional SWAT Team as well as other special operations officers from the area.
Since the formation of the Northeast Oregon Regional SWAT Team last year, officers have not yet had the chance to attend a weeklong program such as the one being held here this week.
Sgt. Gary Bell, commander of the regional SWAT team, said hosting the school in La Grande was more economical than sending SWAT team members elsewhere, as the La Grande Police Department had done in the past.
“We just want to expose the students to as much training to special weapons and tactics as we can,” Bell said.
Students at the SWAT school include members of the Northeast Oregon Regional SWAT Team, made up of officers from the La Grande Police Department, Baker City Police Department, Union County Sheriff’s Office and Baker County Sheriff’s Office. Other regional agencies represented include the Umatilla Tribal Police Department, Pendleton Police Department and Hermiston Police Department.
A weeklong training course is required for officers new to SWAT teams.
“It’s kind of like their basic training, if you will,” Bell said.
Training includes simulations, live fire training at the range and classroom lectures.
“This weeklong training is the in-depth course that’s going to expand on their teamwork abilities, but it also goes back through all the basics up through the advanced tactics. It’s just one more tool that’s being used to bring the expertise up for the entire team,” said Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner.
Lohner said his force has three officers on the regional SWAT team in addition to three tactical medics, who are undergoing training in Baker City.
The Northeast Oregon Regional SWAT Team has been doing some weekly training together, but this is the first extensive training to bring them together.
“I believe all the agencies in the region have worked well together for years,” Lohner said. “This is just another step in bringing these agencies together to better the entire region.”
Tapping into the experience of seasoned officers, students are learning from a retired FBI agent who served on the FBI’s hostage rescue team. The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office has also offered some expertise from its Special Operations Team.
“It’s nice having experienced instructors come out,” said Union County Deputy Cody Bowen.
Bowen, though not on the regional SWAT team, is a volunteer on the county’s own SWAT team.
“It’s been awesome, in a word,” Bowen said of the training so far.
Tuesday’s schedule had to be modified due to high winds. Bell said while the weather would not usually be a factor in training as it is realistic, the wind was so strong that they could not keep metal targets in place. The training will continue through Thursday.
Bell said it’s fortunate that the SWAT team does not have to be utilized often, maybe three to five times a year, but that it’s important to have that team for high-risk situations. Combining efforts to do so helps everyone save resources, he said.
“We’re definitely better working together than we are individually, so all of our communities benefit from that,” Bell said.