Hot, tired and hungry: that was the unofficial motto for the Carson City Sheriff’s Office SWAT school as more than a dozen men trained this week for one of the department’s most difficult assignments.
The Sheriff’s Office held its annual SWAT school to train its existing members and recruit two new officers. For the men, it meant 40 hours of intense training in 90 degree heat, strapped with 65 pounds of gear trying to prove they have what it takes.
During the school, the students learned about all techniques SWAT from explosive breaches into residences to vehicle assaults to the variety of formations used during an incident. They learned what kinds of tools to use and how to most effectively utilize them while also neutralizing the threat and maintaining safety during an operation.
Their training also includes how to rescue hostages, regular breaches, operations and open field movements. After each lesson, all of the students participate in scenarios and practicals to make sure they know what they are doing in a situation.
“We want them to be get used to all of the equipment to know how to use it if a situation arises,” said Gomes. “Everything has a procedure and we need to see that they can complete the steps and do it right as they have been taught. We look at proper grip, stance, everything – we look for all the little details.”
The instructors run nearly 20 to 30 repetitions of each scenario to teach the students but also make sure that each time they don’t resort back to muscle memory and become complacent with an incident.
“Don’t turn off your brain, think right through it,” Sgt. John Hitch told the students.
The Carson City SWAT consists of 12 positions, including multiple sergeants in command, who respond to bigger incidents such as barricaded subjects, hostage situations and more. They also have their new partnership with the Fire Department to have three SWAT medics on the team to treat downed parties faster in an incident. Their goal is to save the lives of hostages, civilians and officers first in dangerous situations.
“We use the National Tactical Officer standards because it keeps us safer,” Gomes said. “When you violate those standards, you take a risk that someone may not get to go home.”
This year, the school had three new recruits: Deputies Israel Loyola, Daniel Reece and Cody Bindley. The three officers spent the week competing for two remaining spots on the team.
“It has been good,” Reece said. “I wanted the extra training and I think SWAT is super high speed of that. It’s just the basics: how to clear, how to approach a vehicle but just how to do it better. It is the same things we do for patrol just with that extra training and anything that helps me get home at the end of the day I want to be a part of.”
But it is a daunting task to take on for these potential new members.
“The mental part is the hardest,” Reece said. “You have to push through being tired because all of this is mental... doing the drills and messing up isn’t the hard part it is when you are physically exhausted and you still need to put your head in the game.”
“It is like trying out for high school sports, you have to give it your best and don’t cheat yourself or your team. I would be heartbroken if I didn’t make it but I have a clean conscious knowing I did my best.”
But in addition to the new members, for the first time in the department’s history, Carson City’s Special Enforcement and Gang teams participated with the SWAT team.
“They do a lot of the same stuff we do,” Gomes said. “So with them training with us, we can make sure we are on the same page, using the same tactics.”
Often, the SET and gang teams will utilize similar tactics and operations as SWAT.
“It gives the Sheriff’s Office flexibility when we are on patrol with a critical incident call,” said SET Sgt. Daniel Gonzales. “We have to tools and resources and now it gives us the training to go with those things. It also gives SWAT flexibility to integrate us in critical incidents... to use us as a resource in a capacity.”
This school isn’t easy. Before even being accepted to attend SWAT school, new applicants must test for the school first including a physical agility assessment, an interview with the oral board and a range qualification. Members must be in good standing with the department and prove they are exceeding in their normal assignments on patrol or in the jail. From there, the students and SWAT members spend a week learning and perfecting necessary skills they will need in the field.
“It is a lot to learn,” Gomes said. “We want to keep a full team, but we also want to be selective. It is a lot easier to get kicked off of SWAT than to get on it.”
“If you aren’t doing your primary responsibility 100 percent and doing it how you are supposed to, then you have no room on this team.”
The school has a 50 percent failure rate for new recruits. For a week straight, new recruits are yelled at, made to do hundreds of pushups and miles of running all outside in temperatures that reached nearly 95 degrees every day. Even during scenarios, they will periodically get hit in the legs with airsoft pellets when they make a mistake until its corrected. But it is necessary to weed out those who can’t handle the responsibility, stress and commitment to being on the team.
“It is a lot of mental strength,” Gomes said. “But we need to create that stress for them. We can’t duplicate the same stress as real world situations, but we can create some for them, but that is only because we want them to make the team... We like to get them hot, tired and hungry because it shows their true nature.”
“At the end of the day, they are still our brothers and we want to create that stress because we want to make sure they are doing it right.”
The instructors try to make everything as real as possible: using “bad” guys running around with guns, creating a number of possible scenarios and even subjecting the new recruits to the effects of CS gas that is commonly used in SWAT breaches.
During the third day, the instructors will fill a room in one of the Fire Department’s burn buildings with CS gas and make the recruits take off their gas masks inside.
“We want them to get used to the effects of it, so if they have a malfunction with their mask in a situation they know what it feels like and can continue to do what they need to do through it,” Gomes said.
The gas stings exposed skin, especially moist areas such as the eyes and nose, causing feelings of suffocation and burning.
But, the grueling trainings are what they signed up for, strictly because of the love of the assignment. Unlike other special assignments, SWAT members aren’t paid more for their involvement
“It is about integrity,” Gomes said. “There is a lot of additional training and risk (with being on SWAT) and we don’t get anything extra for it because we don’t want people on here who are here for the money. We want them to have heart.”
Once accepted, SWAT members have 10 hours of training a month to keep their skills sharp. Because Carson City doesn’t have a lot of high crime activity, SWAT call outs are infrequent thus they need to make sure they keep on top of their training when situations arise.
“Everything we learn are perishable skills, especially because we don’t get too many incidents in Carson,” Gomes said.