LA GRANDE OFFICERS TRAIN WITH 'THE BEST'

September 27, 2002 12:00 am
SAFE ENTRY: While in Los Angeles, La Grande police officers teamed with other trainees to enact scenarios they could encounter on the job, including entering a potentially dangerous home. (Submitted photo).
SAFE ENTRY: While in Los Angeles, La Grande police officers teamed with other trainees to enact scenarios they could encounter on the job, including entering a potentially dangerous home. (Submitted photo).

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

"In my opinion, and others', it's the best SWAT school in the world," La Grande Police Detective Jason Hays said.

Hays was one of four members of the La Grande Police Department to spend Sept. 9-13 studying and practicing at Los Angeles' Special Enforcement Bureau's basic school.

In spite of the media image, Hays emphasizes that SWAT (special weapons and tactics) situations are really about saving lives — the lives of officers, innocent bystanders, and even the perpetrators.

"We want everybody to go home when it's over," he said.

And thus, the SWAT school in Los Angeles, where the Special Enforcement Bureau receives an average of 200 calls per year.

Since La Grande Police Chief John Courtney is a former member of the SEB, La Grande officers are invited to attend the training schools at no cost beyond travel and lodging.

This year, Hays, Sgt. Gary Bell, Sr. Officer John Shaul and Officer Tony Barnett drove a donated truck to Los Angeles, packing all their tactical gear, weapons and the required 13,000 rounds of ammunition.

The week-long training, running 10 to 11 hours a day, is about one-fifth classroom work and four-fifths practical training, Hays said.

"They have several houses they own, a fairly large shooting range and a donated multi-storied office building" in which different scenarios can be practiced. Hays added that during the scenarios, officers and "perpetrators" use special paintball-like bullets in their guns.

"If you screw up, you ‘die,' " with a splash of paint, Hays said. "You learn from that."

But La Grande, even Union County, is a far cry from Los Angeles. Does the training translate?

"The stuff they teach," Hays stressed, "are good tactics, and are also good on patrol. It's good for building searches, and good for teamwork."

Shaul and Hays have both attended a basic FBI course on SWAT tactics, he said, while Bell has gone through the FBI's basic sniper course. This training was Barnett's first specialized SWAT school.

The East Los Angeles school was "pretty intensive," Hays said, and provided

the La Grande officers with plenty of information.

"They provide different ways to accomplish the same mission," Hays said.

"We would modify those ways to our own situations here."

For Hays, the basic idea that came from the SWAT school was "slow is fast."

Translated, Hays said, that means that for all the specialized equipment SWAT teams can call on, from rappeling gear to night-vision goggles to special shields, ultimate success comes down to the knowledge that "none of the equipment is good for us without utilizing good tactics."

Attending schools such as the one in Los Angeles, Hays adds, is also a way to be better prepared for what can and sometimes occurs in La Grande. "It's another toolbox to reach into when there are unexpected problems."

And the training doesn't just benefit La Grande residents. As with nearly every agency in Union County, the La Grande Police will help out in an emergency situations out of town when called upon. The police department currently has eight people trained for their special situations entry team and another two officers trained as snipers. Three officers serve as trained members of a hostage-negotiation team.

"We have a lot of liability and need to make decisions by just being out on patrol," Hays said. "When SWAT is needed, that just doubles or triples that

liability.

"When we go in (in high-stress situations), we're problem-solving."

Reach T.L. Petersen at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it